“What’s the word?”
“Respect!” shouted the teenage farmhands at BoysGrow, a two-year program dedicated to teaching entrepreneurship to urban youth through agriculture and farming.
The 10-acre BoysGrow farm outside Grandview plays host to 30 to 40 boys, ranging in age from 15 to 17. They work, eat and learn on the nonprofit farm three days a week during the summer, and twice a month during the school year, said founder John Gordon Jr.
Some graduates of the program even return to participate in building projects, work on the farm as members of the staff or just hang out, Gordon said. Tristan Simmons and Jose Gonzalez, for example, who both began at BoysGrow in 2014, are now among the junior staff.
The two help lead activities and make sure the workers stay on track, they said.
“I enjoyed the time I had two years ago and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to come back,” said Simmons, 17, who lauded the holistic nature of BoysGrow programming.
For Gonzalez, just being on the farm, joking around with the other guys and listening to music while working on difficult projects, were enough to bring him back the rural setting, he said.
That camaraderie is rewarding, Gordon said, and he’s grateful that the returning farmhands can demonstrate the program works through collaborations with younger BoysGrow members.
Nurturing positive growth
BoysGrow sprouted from Gordon’s belief that young men in their mid-teens can benefit from keeping active and getting their hands dirty — all while learning about entrepreneurship and the many nuances to farming, he said.
“Farming is just the vehicle and we just needed something that we could use to teach them how to run a business,” Gordon said. “You need something manual at that age and I just think the life lessons in agriculture and farming are so many.”
Gordon didn’t initially realize that the farm would become a refuge for some of the boys, he said, noting many use farm work as an escape from the stresses of school and family life.
“Keeping them involved, I think, is critical,” Gordon said. “But no matter what the situation is, no matter what their background is, or what their family situation might be at that age, every kid can use as many positive influences they can get throughout their last couple of years.”
Cultivating fundraising, culinary expansion
BoysGrow’s annual Farm Fest fundraiser is set to return in September with celebrity chef Lidia Bastianich, an Emmy award-winning TV host. The family-friendly event is expected to include activities for children, 10 local restaurants providing food, and live music, Gordon said.
“We definitely tried to make it, from a financial standpoint, very approachable for families,” he added, referencing $50 tickets for adults and $15 tickets for children. “We just want to get people connected to [BoysGrow], to food, and to what’s going on in the city.”
BoysGrow also aims to break ground on the newly rebranded, BoysGrow Farm Kitchen, in the next two to three months, said Gordon.
The nonprofit raised 80 percent of its $1 million goal throughout the year Gordon, Bastianich, and others have spent workshopping and promoting the idea, said Gordon.
“The city of KCMO has been very receptive to what we’re doing and also with the build, they’ve been very very helpful. The foundations and corporations that we’ve approached… Everyone’s been very open and excited about the project,” he said.
The Farm Kitchen is expected to include office space, a canning center, a space to store and process harvest, a full kitchen, and an education and event room, Gordon said.
The space will be available for rent to outside companies looking for a rural setting close to the city for corporate retreats and staff training space, said Gordon, while also supporting the BoysGrow mission.