Cultivating Confidence on the Farm

BoysGrow – a Kansas City nonprofit for teen boys – uses farming as the backdrop for an education in entrepreneurship, leadership, community, and more.

| March / April 2018

In 2010, when John Gordon Jr. launched BoysGrow, a Kansas City-based nonprofit that teaches urban youth about farming and entrepreneurship, he might have had an inkling about the possibilities that his fledgling program might offer. But he surely never could have imagined that just a few years later, BoysGrow would own a permanent 10-acre farm on the outskirts of the city, or that its retail culinary products would be featured in a dozen of Kansas City’s most noteworthy restaurants, markets, and grocery stores. More importantly, how could he have imagined that his program participants — boys ages 14 to 16 — would cite lessons they had learned related to self-confidence, responsibility, teamwork, dedication, discipline, health, and pride, just to name a few.

Planting the Seed

John got the first spark of an idea for BoysGrow while working with at-risk youth as a case manager for a Systems of Care unit in Chico, California. John saw one troubled teen relocated to an urban homestead, where the family raised crops, chickens, and other small-scale agricultural products. John says he watched as the boy completely transformed and quickly gained a sense of pride and self-confidence after taking on more responsibility and succeeding on the farm. And he saw how farming and raising crops and animals offered an intense feeling of accomplishment, responsibility, and connection, all while being quick and easy enough that at least a portion of the results could be achieved in as little as a few weeks.

A few years later, John left California to return to Kansas City. A native to the area and the son of two entrepreneurs, John began contemplating a career path that would enable him to run his own business and give back to his community.

Taking Root

What John had witnessed on that California homestead stuck with him, and as he volunteered at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Kansas City, he thought about developing a program that could deliver those same benefits to urban youth in the area.

As he considered the idea of a farm-based nonprofit, John began to see other benefits he could tie into a program like this. If they could convert the crops they grew into marketable products, the nonprofit would have something to sell — and that would mean teaching youth not only the responsibility of farming but also recipe development, product logo and package design, sales, and marketing.

John’s first task was to find land. He began by locating a metro-area farm that was willing to donate 2 acres of its farmland to the nascent BoysGrow program. Next, John had to find his first class of teens. He recruited via a radio show called Generation Rap on the Kansas City radio station Hot 103 Jamz! (KPRS-FM 103.3) and through a local community group. In its first year, 12 boys participated in the program and created their first for-market product: Salsa Orgullo. BoysGrow was now officially off the ground.

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