Two years ago, Scott and Jennifer Ward bought the old Greenlease farm, just next to the Lee's Summit and Kansas City limits and Longview Lake. The farmhouse had been untouched since 1994. "There were overalls in the closet and there was maple syrup in the cabinets," Scott says."This farm was the nucleus for his entire dairy operation."
But the Wards didn't come from an agricultural background. While Jennifer owns the gluten-free Be Free Bakery, Scott is a financial investor. "I'm more of a finance person," he says. "People I talk to say 'Scott, I would never have imagined you as a farmer.' I love it."
They were looking for a new bakery location when they noticed the "for sale" sign just two miles down the road. "We bought the farm from [Bill Ziefle] in 2012," Scott says. "The rest of it was kind of a blank canvas." They needed someone to farm the ground and restore the house. Kevin Blake and his wife were looking for just that opportunity. The couple arranged a visit to the farm to meet with the Wards. When they left, they had a deal.
Blake and his wife now live in the restored farmhouse. The dairy barn has also been restored, and will soon be the new bakery, where Jennifer also plans to teach baking classes. Her recipes includes numerous brownies and cookies, including cacao, coconut oat raisin, Ceylon cinnamon, and bittersweet chunk. "I wanted to make it more localized," she says. "Gluten-free is the fastest growing segment of the food market in the country. It's a phenomenal opportunity." Some things, like cacao and vanilla beans, must be imported, but they hope to grow some ingredients. "One of our big ingredients is teff grain, and we'd like to grow the teff here," Scott says.
To fill out the rest of the canvas, Scott contacted Katie Nixon with Lincoln University's Small Farm Outreach Program and community development specialist with University of Missouri Extension in Clay County, Crystal Weber. Weber, who teaches a course on local food systems development, says farms like this are on the rise. "The majority of our class, save two families, were all from the metropolitan area." This ranges from three consecutive backyards between neighbors, to the 20 acres the Wards farm. For some families, it's a full-time job, selling produce to local markets. Others grow it for their own consumption.
There are a number of reasons for starting an urban farm, from wanting to learn more about food production to creating a central grocery store in a neighborhood without one. Weber says Kansas City is well-suited for this kind of agriculture. "It's one of the least developed cities in the country," she says. "There are large pockets of our city that just haven't been developed."
You will find more on the Ward's story here.