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Mitzvah Garden continues to grow the good in KC

School’s out and while summer doesn’t officially begin until June 21, the Mitzvah Garden KC crew has already been working for months in hopes of growing a bumper crop of foods that will help the less fortunate in Kansas City.

“We hope Mitzvah Garden KC creates an environment of nurturing to provide physical and spiritual sustenance throughout our Jewish and wider community,” said Ken Sonnenschein, who serves as co-chair of the garden along with Larry Lehman and Andrew Kaplan. “As our motto says, it takes a garden to grow a community.”

This is the second year for the newly expanded Mitzvah Garden KC. Sonnenschein said it all started in the fall of 1999 when volunteers from Congregation Beth Torah built 10 raised beds for gardening at Village Shalom as part of their mitzvah day. Last year the garden expanded to include ground at The Temple, Congregation B’nai Jehudah.

“We have gone from 840 square feet to 10,000 square feet and now 15,000 square feet,” explained Lehman. “It has been wonderful synergy among the leaders and the various Jewish organizations who have participated by donating time and equipment and funds to make Mitzvah Garden KC possible.”

The goal of the Mitzvah Garden KC is to provide healthy food alternatives to those less fortunate in the community; to create a sense of community among the Jewish congregations of Kansas City; develop a self-sustainable and long-living charitable program for all ages; and to create an experiential learning environment for both religious and secular studies. Plantings include tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, beans, sweet potatoes, squash, zucchini, cantaloupe, watermelon, pumpkins, onions and gourds.

Mitzvah Garden KC sells some of its produce to help buy seed and plants for the next year. But most of the produce is donated to help others in the Jewish community through the Simcha Box Program a collaborative effort between Jewish Family Services and Yachad: The Kosher Food Pantry.

“Last year we also donated produce to pantries at Center of Grace and St. Anthony’s. We estimate that we were able to produce over 3,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables last year and we hope to produce even more this year,” Lehman said.

When the garden expanded last year, it also expanded its scope of both volunteers and funders. Sonnenschein, who has been involved with the garden since its inception, said those expansions have been “awesome” and has allowed the garden to grow in every way.

One of the major funders of Mitzvah Garden KC is the Herman Levikow fund of the Menorah Legacy Foundation, which is under the guidance of Gayla Brockman.

“The condition of the funding was that we participate in the foundation’s Beans&Greens Program, which enables people with Snap cards (food stamps) to receive $2 of fresh produce for every $1 they spend at nine different farmers markets. Last year we participated in the Sunday market in the Rosedale neighborhood of Kansas City, Kan., which is an area without a grocery store that is known as a food desert,” Lehman said.

This year, Beans and Greens has a mobile market. So instead of staffing booths at farmer’s markets, the mobile unit will pick up produce from growers like Mitzvah Garden KC, store it and deliver it to the markets.

“Our hope in participating in this is that it will help provide us enough ‘seed’ money for planting next year,” Sonnenschein said.

The garden has several new things this year. One is a gourd house that people will be able to walk into that will have gourds hanging from the walls and ceiling. Also new this year, Sonnenschein said, are birdhouses at the gardens which will encourage insect-eating Purple Martins to make their homes there.

“We already had one family move in, but their home was damaged by wind,” he said.

In addition a vineyard has been planted at the entrance to the garden to compliment the fig trees already growing there.

“We are moving toward having a demonstration of the seven species (shivat haminim) mentioned in the Torah,” Sonnenschein said.

Another exciting thing, Sonnenschein said, is the work taking place “toward creating a sustainable irrigation system using collected rainwater to water the garden and be a demonstration project for other community and home gardeners.”

Lehman said that last year the garden had some raised beds that were available for preschoolers to plant flowers and vegetables, which are being reconstructed for use again this year.

Along those lines, Lehman said one of the garden’s essential components is education. He explained that Jewish holidays related to planting and harvesting are often celebrated at the garden. Study sessions related to planting and the Torah are also held.

“It has been wonderful for children who visit us to understand the original significance of horseradish, the seven species, corners of our fields and other important agricultural lessons,” Lehman said.

A small, but devoted, core group of individual who volunteer their time at the garden on a regular basis. At the end of last year’s planting season, Mitzvah Garden KC chose two “extraordinary volunteers who made special contributions to the garden” by awarding them with the Golden Trowel Award. Last year’s Golden Trowel winners were Gayla Brockman, Emily Greenbaum, Brenda Ruppel and Ben Sharda.

Sonnenschein added that there is always an open invitation for anyone to come and help.

“The groups who have helped us this year and last have been essential in our bigger projects that have involved construction and planting. We are usually in the garden on Sunday mornings and as the weather warms up our starting time will be earlier,” Lehman said.

“There is no limit to our capacity to grow the good in our world,” Sonnenschein added.

To be placed on the Mitzvah Garden KC mailing list, which is already sent to more than 240 members of the community, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..