A new venture for Powell Gardens, Kansas City’s botanical garden, will give area residents a chance to taste the fruits of the Gardens’ labor—fresh, organically grown tomatoes sold at select Cosentino’s Price Chopper stores this summer.
Powell Gardens, a not-for-profit public charity, featured a temporary International Vegetable Garden in its early days and since 2009 has grown more than 2,000 types of edible plants in the Heartland Harvest Garden, which is the nation’s largest edible landscape.
Telling the story of food—how it starts, what it looks like and how it tastes—has been an important part of the educational mission of the Heartland Harvest Garden, said Eric Tschanz, president and executive director.
“Our new high tunnel tomato project lets us really focus on the dimension of taste,” Tschanz said. “But the project also accomplishes four goals that tie back to our mission: It provides fresh, local produce to the community; it gives us the opportunity to experiment and teach other professional growers; it promotes our brand in the commercial market; and it increases earned income to keep our botanical gardens growing.”
High tunnels are Quonset-style greenhouses that are naturally heated and cooled without heaters or fans. The tunnels at Powell Gardens (located on a piece of the Gardens’ property that’s not open to the public) are 200 feet long, 16 feet tall and 31 feet wide with 5-foot-tall side walls. Seven tunnels cover 1 acre of ground, where staff is tending 4,200 tomato plants this season.
For its first season, Powell Gardens selected two tomato varieties: an heirloom called Cherokee Purple and a red slicing tomato known as a strong high tunnel producer.
“Experimentation is part of our goal,” Tschanz said, “so we grafted both of these varieties onto a vigorous disease-resistant root stock. So far they’re growing and producing fruit as if supercharged.”
The new operation, which was funded by nine donors in part to provide an additional income stream for the not-for-profit garden, is managed by Sarah Masterson, a graduate of Kansas State University who studied high tunnel production for her graduate degree. Masterson and her staff use all organic methods and are working toward full certification.
Powell Gardens is selling the tomatoes primarily through Cosentino’s Price Chopper stores, currently including locations in Brookside, Leawood, Lee’s Summit (Woods Chapel store) and Blue Springs North.
Several restaurants, including Port Fonda, Lidia’s, Chaz on the Plaza and Café Sebastienne, also have featured the tomatoes on menus this summer.
“Our goal is to produce some 60,000 pounds of tomatoes this year,” Tschanz said. “We’re also planning field days for local growers and already learning many lessons we’ll carry forward into next season. We hope Kansas City will seek out Powell Gardens tomatoes and enjoy them, knowing every purchase helps support their local botanical garden.”