Food Cycle KC, Shawnee curbside compost company, grows orchard to help feed the hungry

Food Cycle KC

Alan Staples (left) and Karen Ramsey, the husband-and-wife team leading Shawnee-based Food Cycle KC, a composting business, are now planting an orchard on the Ramsey family farm in Eudora. The couple hopes to donate the fresh fruit they grow there to local individuals and families with food insecurity. Photo credit Leah Wankum.

The couple behind Shawnee composting company Food Cycle KC is now planting an orchard, with plans to donate the fruit they grow to folks with food insecurity.

The company launched in November 2019 with the goal of eliminating the impact of food waste on the local environment.

Alan Staples and Karen Ramsey, the husband-and-wife team who started Food Cycle KC, collect participating residents’ composted food waste curbside and use the refuse as organic matter to help grow produce on their farm of 26 acres in Eudora in western Johnson County.

Now, the couple is planning to launch an orchard in partnership with nonprofit Kansas City Community Gardens and the Kansas City, Mo.-based nonprofit Giving Grove Inc.

Staples’ and Ramsey’s main goal, they say, is to grow fruit and donate it to organizations such as Harvesters, which can deliver the fresh food to those who need it most.

Alan Staples shows how composting works on the family farm.

“When we look at coming full circle, it’s creating a compost to grow things, so now we want to not just give compost back to our members and to community gardens for them to grow things, we have this farm with plenty of space,” Ramsey said. “So we also want to finish that cycle out by growing things that we could also then feed back into the cycle to help reduce food insecurity, and help individuals who don’t have enough access to fresh produce in the region.”

How Food Cycle KC works

As a curbside composting company, Food Cycle KC started with about half a dozen of Staples’ and Ramsey’s neighbors.

Now, they serve 250 residential and commercial clients, or members, across the Kansas City area, most of whom live in Johnson County. To see how to sign up, go here.

Ramsey said they were more recently inspired to grow their composting efforts into a full-fledged initiative by Climate Action KC, a regional consortium of elected officials and metro leaders working to propose ways to combat the effects of climate change in the Kansas City area.

“The people that are doing this are so engaged and so excited to have something concrete that they know they are doing,” Ramsey said of Food Cycle KC’s members.

The full cycle of the composting company is three components: eliminate food waste by turning it into compost, give the compost to gardeners to grow more food and grow food to give to people who need nourishment.

That last leg of their efforts is to address food insecurity in the local community.

Hopes for up to 4,000 pounds of food per year

The national nonprofit Feeding America reported in 2018 — the most recent year for which data was available — that Johnson County had a food insecurity rate of 9%. Food insecurity is defined by the USDA as occurring when people do not have reliable access to enough food for a healthy lifestyle.

The Giving Grove orchard will be located on a few acres of the Ramsey farm.

“The main thing for us has really been trying to find ways in our lives to be of service to our community,” Ramsey said. “So this has definitely been a journey for us to find ways to engage in that way, and also just to be able to be creative in what we’re doing.”

Food Cycle KC has started a Kickstarter fundraiser to support the Giving Grove at Ramsey Farm.

They estimated it will cost a total of about $3,500-4,000 to plant up to 60 trees. Launching the orchard will initially cost $1,000 to plant the first 30 trees.

Once the orchard is fully planted, they hope to have apples, pears and jujubes (or red dates), among other offerings.

The trees will take about two years to mature before they bear fruit. Staples and Ramsey say their first round of trees could produce up to 4,000 pounds of food per year.

Staples said they hope to donate almost all of their fruits to Kansas City-based Harvesters, which can store fruit in climate-controlled temperatures and distribute it year-round. For him, the work comes full circle with their goal of helping their community and also the planet.

“The universe is telling us this is a great path,” he said.