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Gary and Carol Gadbury are urban farmers in Manhattan, Kansas, where they work on a large backyard plot to raise vegetables, fruit, chickens and cereals.
“We kind of have a woodland garden area and a vegetable garden area and a small orchard,” Carol says.
These practices are a natural culmination of the Gadburys’ careers. The two met through Carol’s brother – Gary’s undergraduate roommate. At the time, Carol was returning home to be a nurse practitioner, but both were interested in gardening, herbs and medicinal plants. Despite this, both pursued “corporate paths” until more recently.
“It’s sort of like we came full-circle back to where we started from – getting back closer to the land,” Gary says.
However, their diverse backgrounds have played an important role in their farming. As Carol says, “it all kind of ties in.” A former docent for school children’s programs at a local native prairie preserve, Carol holds her master’s degree in anthropology and has experience in marketing. Gary is the former department chair of statistics at Kansas State University. Gary retired a few months ago, giving the two of them more time to focus on urban farming.
“We’re both home and working on our next project,” Gary says.
Currently, that project involves both an immediate focus on their own plot and a broader look at improving farmers’ networks in the region.
Their garden currently has a few ongoing projects, including a fall crop and new raccoon netting. The fall crop is planted where their moveable coop has sat for the past six months, and though they planted it “a little bit late,” the Gadburys are prepared with a moveable greenhouse.
“As it gets colder, we can plop a greenhouse over it and extend [the growing season],” Gary says.
Meanwhile, the raccoon netting comes from a field day the Gadburys attended recently. Local raccoons were getting “too comfortable around the chickens” and raising concerns about the Gadburys’ corn. While attending the Practical Farmers of Iowa field day hosted by Darla and Michael Eeten on Sept. 14, they found a solution: solar-electric raccoon netting.
This isn’t the first time that that Gary and Carl have been able to incorporate lessons from Practical Farmers of Iowa events. At the 2017 annual conference, the two attended a session on carrot production, presented by PFI member Gary Guthrie, that helped them learn how to properly grow carrots. This year, that paid off in a bumper crop.
Despite living in Kansas, the Gadburys have been active members of Practical Farmers of Iowa since 2015.
“We found Practical Farmers because we were both interested in sustainability and some of the issues in farming,” Gary says.
To this end, the Gadburys have used a variety of practices to encourage sustainability in their own garden. These include a variety of cover crops, such as cereal rye and three or four types of clover to restore soil health; saving their own seeds; and using organic practices in their farming.
Gary and Carol also engage in small-scale research on their urban farm, “testing things out” in 3-by-6-foot plots – which Gary says are often micro versions of practices they’ve observed at PFI field days and from other farmers.
Gary is also interested in adding goats and possibly a pond to the urban farm, but Carol has her reservations, especially if it might encourage more raccoons to visit.
With an eye to the longer-term, the Gadburys have started working to build networks with other farmers in the Flint Hills region. Given the ruggedness of the area, most farmers are ranchers or work on small farms.
“We have a nice farmers market,” Gary says. “There are a lot of local farmers that sell meat – and, of course, their own produce.”
It’s at this market that the Gadburys have started to work. Inspired by Practical Farmers of Iowa field days, Gary and Carol have begun talking to local farmers about their interest in allowing people to visit their farms to see what they do there.
Gary and Carol have also been invited to speak with researchers at the Kansas State Olathe campus about urban farms and farm-to-table initiatives in Kansas City. Gary hopes this meeting will be an opportunity to encourage on-farm research and greater engagement among farmers, researchers and consumers in the area.
“A lot of farmers – they’re skeptical of results,” he says. “One of the things I would do, if farmers were interested, is [highlight] some of the on-farm research projects they can do themselves.”
For this project, Gary and Carol’s backgrounds will be invaluable. Gary hopes to help advise farmers in setting up their experiments, while Carol is more involved in the communications aspect of the project. Together, they hope to build a better local network and to improve public health through affordable access to quality, healthy foods.
For Gary, improving consumers’ knowledge of where their food comes from is important. Carol is also invested in expanding outreach to involve students and adults in the community to learn more about urban farming practices.