Noticing Neighbors Kanbes Markets
Kanbe’s Markets is on a mission to make fresh, affordable produce more accessible in Kansas City. This organization works to eliminate food deserts by talking to owners of convenience stores, gas stations and corner bodegas about selling their produce. From volunteers, to local farmers, to shop owners—every hand in the process helps to empower neighbor’s food choices. As of today, Kanbe’s Markets has now been open for five years and is hosting an outdoor music festival to celebrate! Kanbe’s Fest is happening at their warehouse site from 2-7 pm, with the proceeds benefiting their work to eliminate food deserts. I sat down with the Kanbe’s Markets founder, Max Kaniger, to learn more about the organization.
For our readers, can you explain a little bit about Kanbe’s Markets?
Yeah, absolutely. So Kanbe’s Markets is a nonprofit organization working to eliminate food deserts—areas without consistent access to fresh, healthy and affordable food. We do that by partnering with the mom-and-pop neighborhood convenience stores, and we bring them everything that they need to make selling healthy food easy.
So you're going to stores that are already in place, and just partnering with them. Where does the produce come from?
So the produce we get mainly from a few local wholesalers. We'll get like C&C Produce and Liberty Fruit are two local, family owned but bigger wholesalers here in Kansas City. We'll go to them and they'll have stuff that we buy at regular wholesale prices, stuff that they will discount for us, and then they'll have stuff that they donate—and then we have volunteers that sort through the donated products. It is quality food that goes out to the stores. And the balance of that process is how we're able to price things affordably.
What was your lead into this area? What made you aware that this was an issue?
I think I became aware of the issue as I got older, getting through college, starting to travel a little bit, learning that not everybody had the same experience with food growing up that I might have. The more I learned about our food system, the more it seemed like a fixable problem. And really any opportunity to bring people together, especially around food, which is really important to me, seems like something I wanted to take a shot at.
It sounds like every step of it is bringing people together, because you've got the volunteers, partnerships in where the produce comes from, and then people buying it from the convenience stores.
Where in the process have you been surprised by people's generosity?
Every step of the process, because you kind of nailed it. It is all about people. Food is kind of the byproduct or medium for us to do what we really love to do, which is bring people together. It just happened to be the thing I was good at and most comfortable with. I get surprised all the time, and it really is at every level. You'll see, whether it's on a time like today and having you reach out to help us share our story and expand our platform, that's a wonderful surprise and not something you had to do. I mean, there are thousands of people around Kansas City that you could be talking to right now and you chose us. So I'm really appreciative of that. I think that was one of the earlier lessons I learned—I thought people we knew would be the ones that might lift us up and carry it forward. And so often it would be a random person that I didn't know, or hadn't known for very long that would really care. They would get connected and help in a way that I never saw coming.
So making sure that I take the time to get to know anybody or everybody that might be willing to listen or help has been important.
The store owners and the people in the community we serve have been the biggest shift. When we first got going in 2018, I had done like a pilot for a few months. So I talked with one store over a four month period, and we distributed about 2500 pounds of food. Then I was like, all right, let's get it going. That's pretty good, let's move forward with this idea. So I raised some money and was able to launch with four locations. So I figured that if one store did 2500 pounds over four months, four stores could probably do about 2500 pounds in the first month. It ended up being close to 20,000 pounds of food that we moved through those four stores in that first month. So people were receptive, which was encouraging. Especially because a lot of the feedback I got before we started was that people don't necessarily want to eat this food, and that it's not going to sell well in these stores.
Seeing people show up and stand out and be there to show: no, we very much want and value good, healthy food. Which I figured, but it was cool to see it happen for real. Then just every day, the number of times when I was delivering that people would hold the door open for me, or ask if I needed a hand, or see how they could get more involved or learn more about it. It was a constant.
It's really cool because the numbers are big, but that really just shows each individual person impacted, you know what I mean? Each one having access to produce. Max: Yes. Hayley: Have you had any cool stories where you got to see that moment happen for someone?
Max: I think we put it on Instagram not too long ago. We got a video from one of our store owners, who sent it in. There was a 77 year old woman who was in the store with her daughter and some other members of her family, and she was just so excited to have the food there. She talked about how easy it made it to have it right down the street from her.
There was a guy that was coming over to one of the stores, and he had loved to cook but hadn't done it for a while. But having it so easy to get, he'd actually started cooking more again. And you know, it's hard to cook for just yourself. So he ended up cooking more and getting to know some of the other people on the floor in his apartment building.
He’d just make extra food and start talking to his neighbors, which turned into hanging out with them. It really did kind of melt me a little bit.
Wow. Just another way food brings people together, and you wouldn't even expect it.
If someone would like to get involved, what are some accessible ways that they can join?
Oh, wow. That's a great question. We need help in every way you can imagine. And I do mean that. I don't think most people have heard of us yet. So the first step would be shooting us an email at email@example.com, giving us a call, or messaging any one of our social media channels. We need volunteers constantly. One way would be sharing our story, sharing this interview so that more people can hear about it. That really is how we get the word out. As far as showing up, we do need people in just about every way you can imagine. And for me, I really want people to do what they care about. So if they want to come and get their hands dirty by sorting some produce, I'd love that. But if they're more interested in graphic design, we need help with that. If they enjoy taking photos, we need help with that. If they want to spend time getting to know people in around Kansas City and neighborhoods that they might not be from—we are constantly out trying to listen to the community so we can tailor our response to what people ask for.
The more people that can engage on our behalf, the more responsive we can be.
If people are good with computers, I'm not. We have a hope to reorganize our data and make it more approachable for more people. There's a big need for inventory management, because so far it is still done on Google sheets. If someone cares, and wants to get involved, I'm happy to find something that they’d like to do.
Those were great specific examples, and I see what you're saying—there are a lot of different avenues to join.
How have you seen goodness in the community through this project?
How have I seen goodness through this project… I mean, that's kind of the whole point, right? It’s to spread love and bring people together. I think my favorite ways to see goodness around this work are the ways I don't anticipate it: I never would have imagined that it might introduce neighbors to each other. I never anticipate how much I will learn from people, in the fun recipes shared and cultural differences we get to see as we meet people in the stores.
It’s those small moments, like restocking one of the coolers. Somebody might come up and say that they know they want to eat good produce, but they don't really know how to cook it. And before I can even answer, there is someone's grandmother behind me in the aisle sharing a much better recipe. Then I'm pulling my notebook out to listen! The times where I get to step back, see people connecting over food, and watch it unfold are some of my favorite moments that happen.
All media originally published by Kanbe’s Markets via their online platforms.