In 1911, Kansas City constructed a city jail and workhouse where prisoners grew crops to gain work skills as a rehabilitative measure. That site provided fresh crops and produce for the city and region until 1960. In the years since its opening, the Municipal Farm site also operated as a tuberculosis hospital, a city cemetery, a Missouri National Guard facility, a Kansas City Police Department shooting range, munitions testing and detonation site, canine training area and helicopter pad. The site has also hosted the Kansas City Community Gardens, another farm, a cement company, city public works offices, limestone quarry, sewer pump station and a native bat habitat.


Today, the storied Municipal Farm site is nestled in the heart of downtown Kansas City between the Kansas City Zoo, Swope Park and Truman Sports Complex (home to both the Super Bowl and World Series-winning Chiefs and Royals). Most of the historic buildings on the site have been demolished, and only the National Guard, public works and water station remain. But the century of varied use left its mark. Due to the potential presence of hazardous substances, the municipal farm received yet another designation—as a brownfield site.
Kansas City Municipal Farm map A graphic created by the Heartland Conservation Alliance to demonstrate plans for future use as detailed in the sustainable re-use plan. 

Residents asked the city to develop a plan for the unused area and the city responded by leading a public planning effort funded by the EPA’s brownfield program to clean up the 441-acre site. The resulting Municipal Farm Sustainable Reuse Plan recommended a combination of ecological restoration, urban agriculture, community gardens and outdoor recreation in coordination with residents. In 2013, Heartland Conservation Alliance adopted the site as a keystone project for the Blue River Urban Waters Federal Partnership. That decision led to funding for restoration, increased public awareness of the site, and further development of the Sustainable Reuse plan.

"With ongoing support from EPA's Brownfields program and the community, we created a solid and economically feasible plan for this area. Nature based solutions are the future for smart cities."

– Gerald Williams, Lead Planner at City Planning and Development Department, KCMO


In 2015, Heartland Conservation Alliance and the City of Kansas City won a $500,000 award from Missouri Department of Natural Resources as part of the state’s program to compensate for groundwater resources contaminated by the release of hazardous substances associated with the former Kerr McGee facility in Kansas City. That funding provided for the permanent restoration and protection of at least 15 acres of critical groundwater recharge area, including shallow marsh, wetland, hardwood forest and riparian corridor. The project focused on invasive species removal on the west side of the property adjacent to a 20-acre urban farm managed by Boys Grow, establishing a small, representative string of sustainable development projects as outlined in the plan.

The restoration work was a collaborative effort, featuring water testing by the US Geological Survey, Five Star program funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and land restoration and youth education by Boys Grow. The Conservation Fund further provided leadership and expertise in developing a perpetual conservation easement to protect the restored areas from future development. Members of the planning and restoration team include the US Forest Service, National Park Service, Missouri Department of Conservation, Mid-America Regional Council, The Conservation Fund and The Nature Conservancy.

why it matters

The Municipal Farm site is a major historical and environmental landmark uniquely situated in a bustling downtown setting. It offers opportunities to connect city dwellers and underserved communities to the Blue River, bring nature trails into an urban setting, and promote wetland education. In addition, urban agriculture offers a unique economic and environmental opportunity for neighborhood residents and provides a healthy and sustainable source of food for Kansas City.

"The restoration and community outreach at Municipal Farm is a perfect example of a public-private partnership. It shows what we can get done when we work together."

 – Scott Schulte, Board of Directors, Heartland Conservation Alliance

The Municipal Farm Sustainable Reuse Plan is a model for 21st century development that not only seeks to restore and build upon the site’s natural resources, but to set the stage to assess and clean up other brownfield sites in partnership and support of local underserved and economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. Currently, the Sustainable Reuse plan remains underfund, but the many acres of implementation are a visible testament to the strength of public-private partnerships and the multiple benefits that nature-based solutions provide for communities.