The Giving Grove was founded in 2011 by three of the current Board members: Kevin Birzer, Greg Finkle and Ray Makalous. Deeply concerned for the growing number of hungry people and seeking a way to provide more sustainable, nutrient-rich food, these three began exploring the idea of creating edible tree gardens across the metro area in order to feed the hungry.
After expanding to a six-person core team and spending a year researching and planning, the founders decided on a model based on four principles:
- community involvement
- orchard stewardship
- sustainable and organic growing practices
- an equitable harvest and sharing with those in need
The edible tree gardens (orchards) would be planted in food deserts, vacant lots, next to food pantries, on school grounds and at communities of faith. Expert advice was sought from horticulturists, farmers, local extension agencies, nutrition experts, community leaders and landscape architects as the idea took shape.
Several important steps followed. In 2012 Rob Reiman was hired as Executive Director and Ray Makalous as Director of Outreach. In 2013 The Giving Grove became an official program of Kansas City Community Gardens, sharing office space and a similar mission. An important partnership was established early on with After the Harvest, a gleaning organization that will collect from many of the orchards designated for food pantries. Other orchards are designed to serve the neighborhoods where they are planted, primarily low income food deserts. The first 13 Giving Grove orchards were installed in spring 2013, followed by the hiring of Matt Bunch as Lead Horticulturist. More orchards were added that fall and in the following spring. Now each year brings a new series of plantings and partners, including recent arrangements with local city departments and both Heartland and Truman Habitat for Humanity.