Budding youth entrepreneurs at BoysGrow need more room to cook their farm-to-table meals, John Gordon Jr. said.
“The culinary program has really taken off,” said Gordon, founder of BoysGrow, a nonprofit that teaches inner-city boys entrepreneurial skills through farming. “We were wanting to grow that aspect of BoysGrow, but our farm has a small, residential studio apartment for a kitchen.”
“We’re pretty limited on what we can do with boys in that space,” he added. “The refrigerator literally opens up into the stove, so if someone’s cooking and you open up the fridge, you’ll hit them.”
BoysGrow now is in the midst of bootstrapping funds to build a new, 3,200-square-foot culinary center at the southeast Kansas City farm, Gordon said. The building not only would address the need for a certified kitchen and canning center, but also provide additional office and event space, as well as a post-harvest handling area.
Sixty percent of the funds already have been raised, Gordon said, with BoysGrow mounting a final push via crowdsourcing to reach its goal. Chefs Lidia Bastianich, owner of Lidia’s, and Howard Hanna, owner of The Hotel Rieger, appear in an Indiegogo video in support of the effort.
BoysGrow’s two-year program currently peaks during the summers when 35 to 40 boys come to the farm to harvest, clean, process and cook produce grown on site. A professional chef guides those on the culinary team, which provides meals on the farm throughout the summer. Chef John Williams, who recently sold his Kansas City restaurant Pot Pie, was among the most recent to teach classes at BoysGrow, Gordon said.
“We had multiple meals where every single thing came from the farm,” Gordon said. “That’s a pretty cool experience for the boys.”
Once funded and built, the new center would “muscle up” both the culinary and farming operations of the nonprofit, he said, noting expanded vegetable production for sale to BoysGrow’s list of local stores and restaurants.
“On the farming side it will be a game-changer because we’ll have significant refrigeration and post-harvest handling area,” Gordon said. “It will allow us to pick produce a day or two before, as opposed to having to pick everything that day, and having to get it in the coolers, get in the trucks and get it out to the stores.”
That will help slow down the process enough for the boys to participate more in the business side of the operation, rather than staff members rushing to get everything to market, he said.
“It will be night and day as far as what we can offer the boys,” Gordon said, noting the space also will allow for general public events like canning classes and cooking demonstrations with visiting chefs.
With BoysGrow about 25 minutes from downtown Kansas City, Gordon is eager for the center to help draw more community members to the farm, he said.
“This is obviously built to serve our youths, but it we want it to be an opportunity for the whole city to get engaged with us too. There will be plenty of opportunities for small community events, small dinners,” Gordon said. “The location has a nice country feel to it. We think it’s a pretty cool experience to come out, be in the culinary center and cook with food and learn more about food on the actual farm that the food came from. It’s a unique opportunity.”