Devotion

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Devotion is only one of many generous descriptors that could be used when speaking about Ben Sharda. Ben started his tenure with Kansas City Community Garden more than 30 years ago and, under his leadership, the organization has seen substantial growth in the number of Kansas City residents whose lives have been positively impacted by its programs and services. Because of his love of gardening and expansive knowledge on community gardens and community organizing, Ben is always actively looking for ways to share his expertise. He leads regular, free workshops across Kansas City, teaching people to successfully grow their own healthy food as a way to cut down on grocery costs and improve their health, and routinely meets with community members to gauge needs within different neighborhoods. As Executive Director, Ben has overseen the creation of almost 500 community gardens that produce over a half a million pounds of fresh vegetables and fruit each year. His passion for gardening and his devotion for his city has resulted in a more beautiful urban space and a connected community of families who are taking control of their own health and food supply.

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Because of the prevalence of food insecurity in certain Kansas City communities, Ben understands the need for more affordable access to fresh food. It's his personal mission to continually fight hunger by empowering Kansas City households and community groups to establish food-producing gardens in backyards or at vacant or underutilized lots. The ultimate goals of Ben and KCCG's work are to improve food access, revitalize neighborhoods, reduce blighted and unproductive or unsafe areas, increase urban green space, enhance community equity, and improve residents' health.

Hunger and food insecurity are tied to a host of physical and social health issues. Poor work performance and employee turnover, obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other serious ailments are all exacerbated by a lack of nutrition. (RTI 2014). A substantial number of Kansas City residents also report they don't eat fruits or vegetables regularly, something recommended by the CDC for good health. (KC Health Matters); (CDC). Ben Sharda’s community gardening design directly and successfully addresses these issues, as Kansas City families consistently report increasing their daily servings of fresh fruit and vegetables and improving their physical health each year they participate in the organization’s programs. Ben's leadership has resulted in more fresh food for hungry families, improved health via exercise and better nutrition, and increased knowledge sharing and community trust: A stronger Kanas City.

The thing I most admire about Ben is his dedication to his clients. No matter what, Ben will always drop everything he is doing to help answer a gardening question or solve a plant problem. He knows that the entire point of the organization is to help all individuals be successful in harvesting enough produce to reduce their grocery cost and improve their health, and no task is more important than that.

An award of 50,000 dollars can have a big impact for an organization the size of Kansas City Community Gardens. Our organization would use the award to expand its Beanstalk Children's Garden, now celebrating it's 10th anniversary. The Beanstalk Children's Garden is an urban oasis located in Swope Park in Kansas City, offering an immersive experience for children and their families. Participants can touch, see, smell, and taste all of the fresh plants, fruits, and vegetables grown on-site while learning from experienced staff who utilize STEM-based educational curricula about gardening, insects, and nutrition. KCCG welcomes all visitors to the Beanstalk Children's Garden but actively targets underserved youth in Kansas City by partnering with school districts from the urban core, focusing services on students from schools with high rates of free and reduced lunch enrollment. In 2016, over 4,000 children and their families visited the Beanstalk Children's Garden. KCCG is currently in the process of expanding the Garden's footprint. We'd like to add a classroom and kitchen, making space to provide free workshops on-site in the Garden with youth and community members, while also adding more fruit trees and bushes.

Kansas City Community Gardens appreciates the opportunity provided by Buffalo Trace Distillery and Eagle Rare Bourbon to celebrate and honor Ben Sharda's work in the Kansas City community.

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