Two Kansas city growers receive grands to provide fresh produce

"We brought life back to the soil"

Two businesses located in east Kansas City, Missouri, Ophelia's Blue Vine, and Black Hawk Security and Neighborhood Watch recently received $25,000 grants that will help them address key issues in their community: fresh produce and safety.

"We brought life back to the soil," Mike Rollen, who started Ophelia's Blue Vine as an urban farm in honor of his grandmother, said. Rollen turned once-contaminated dirt into healthy soil on a plot of land near East 24th Terrace and Vine Street.

Fittingly, on the Vine Street property, which he bought from the Land Bank of KCMO five years ago, Rollen grows eight herbs in dirt that previously was contaminated and deemed brownfield land by the EPA due to likely pollution or soil contamination from previous industrial or commercial use.

It cost $30,000 to test and purify the soil during the last several years. The city gave Rollen a grant to help out, but remediation came out of pocket. I couldn't let the people down, so it was whatever it took," Rollen said. "And it's been a struggle to get water, to get electricity, to build up the infrastructure. Had a lot of 'no's' but we kept pushing forward."

KCMO's east side has long been a place where fresh produce is hard to find. Rollen said he knew he could do better than the herbs he saw in grocery stores, which come from out of town. Now, people can pre-order their herbs online and pick them up at the greenhouse or Rollen will even deliver them. "I started urban farming seven years ago because I wanted my boys to know what real food tasted like," Rollen said. The revitalization of the properties he utilizes serves as a metaphor for the change he wants to see on KCMO's east side.

Ophelia's Blue Vine received its grant from the Generating Income For Tomorrow, program, or GIFT, a Kansas City-based nonprofit that provides help to promising Black-owned businesses on the East Side. "It was an honor to get that money," Rollen said. "It makes me know that the community, especially the Black community, believes in me. So, that's why we're just pushing so hard to get out and feed more people."

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