Linda Geist
  • Robert Harris, a senior architectural engineer with Dialectic Engineering, is one of the firm’s volunteers who help with the 18 Broadway Urban Garden in downtown Kansas City. Photo by Linda Geist.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Food and hope for the hungry are growing in the heart of downtown Kansas City.

Since 2016, professionals from Dialectic Engineering have grown fruit and vegetables on a once-vacant city block. Produce goes to After the Harvest for use at a nearby community kitchen run by Nourish KC, a group that fights food insecurity.

University of Missouri Extension horticulturists Tamra Reall and Catherine Bylinowski work with gardeners and partners such as Dialectic Engineering at the 18 Broadway Urban Garden, at 18th Street and Broadway near the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.

“This garden is an example of MU Extension facilitating efforts to improve the lives of all Missourians,” says Bylinowski. “It is a unique example of an urban food garden that educates the public, educates volunteers and allows area businesses and organizations to be good neighbors by providing community service and food to those in need.”

The Dialectic engineers tend the garden before and after work and during breaks. Dialectic is one of nine organizations that have adopted more than 90 plots on four terraces with skyscrapers and highways as their backdrops.

The 18 Broadway Urban Garden was introduced to the public in 2010 and has provided fresh produce for the community since 2011. MU Extension Master Gardeners maintain 20 raised beds and concrete planters of fruits, vegetable, herbs and flowers. Their goal is to demonstrate crops appropriate for urban agriculture while promoting sustainable gardening practices.

Dialectic engineers say they like the change of pace gardening offers from their workplace, where there is order and structure. The garden instead is unpredictable, dependent on Mother Nature and affected by the challenges of a changing climate.

They have added their own engineering personalities to the garden beds they adopted. Each day, they weigh their harvest and record it on a clipboard in the garden shed. But, “because we’re engineers,” they created a spreadsheet to compare daily and yearly harvests, says Robert Harris, a senior architectural engineer with the firm.

At other times, engineering designers like Xander Higgason find ways to improve support structures at the garden. Scott Thraen, a project manager, says he has used his first season of volunteering to learn about horticulture and have an outlet to give back to the community.

“It feels good to know that we’re doing something that makes a difference,” says Harris.

In early spring, the engineers get the garden beds ready for the growing season. The beds are prepared by hand, and the property owner provides funds for seeds. They weed, water and harvest throughout growing season.

Produce is picked, weighed, recorded and put in a refrigerator in the shed for pickup to be taken to Nourish KC. In 2016, Dialectic volunteers harvested 1,200 pounds of food. The average yield is 400-600 pounds on Dialectic’s plot, and the entire garden averages more than 3,300 pounds of produce each year.

Volunteers for the nearby Kansas City Community Kitchen, part of Nourish KC, chop up fresh fruit and vegetables for lunch in the kitchen at 750 Paseo Blvd. Much of the food comes from urban gardens, such as 18 Broadway, and partners such as Whole Foods.

After the Harvest “rescues” food that is still edible but may be nearing its expiration date. They transport the food in refrigerated trucks to the kitchen. They also pick up donations from churches and other groups to stock the kitchen’s food pantry for anyone who is hungry.

The community kitchen volunteers and staff cook 500-600 hot, well-balanced, from-scratch meals Monday to Friday. The “zero barrier” kitchen (no questions and no cost) prides itself on offering “dining with dignity,” says general manager Mark Bartholomew.

Volunteers wait on guests in a restaurant-style setting where donated fresh flowers decorate tables. Guests can take flowers to beautify their spot in the world or in some cases, to decorate a grave. It’s a perk that softens the harshness of poverty for a bit.

The kitchen also offers prepared food to go, including meals for those without refrigerators. Staff provide information and referral services.

Learn more about Master Gardeners of Greater Kansas City at

Robert Harris, a senior architectural engineer with Dialectic Engineering, is one of the firm’s volunteers who help with the 18 Broadway Urban Garden in downtown Kansas City. Photo by Linda Geist.
Volunteers and staff of the Kansas City Community Kitchen prepare cherry tomatoes from the 18 Broadway Urban Garden. Guests are served fresh fruits and vegetables in a restaurant-style setting. Photo by Tamra Reall, MU Extension.
In addition to picking up garden produce from the 18 Broadway Urban Garden, After the Harvest “rescues” donated food from grocers for the Kansas City Community Kitchen. The food is still edible but may be nearing its expiration date. Photo by Linda Geist.
In addition to produce, MU Extension Master Gardeners brighten the 18 Broadway Urban Garden with flowers as a backdrop to the downtown skyline. Photo courtesy of Catherine Bylinowski, MU Extension.

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