Fox & Pearl nourishes produce, pollinators, and backyard presence

Hive mind.
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Kristine Hull of Fox and Pearl. // Photo by Liz Goodwin

I want you to imagine a world without avocados.

For those who shudder at the thought, it gets worse. Picture farmers markets and retail giants alike with no strawberries, no tomatoes, no apples, and—perhaps the biggest gut-punch of them all—no coffee. But that’s just the beginning.

“What kind of twisted nightmare is this?” you may ask. It’s more of an encroaching reality than a bad dream: it’s a world without bees.

These pollinators face many challenges from human hands that cause their population to dwindle. As urban development sprawls into territory formerly occupied by nature, bees have less room to buzz about and help local growth thrive.

Fox & Pearl wants to change that. The bistro—led by its two owners, Chef Vaughn Good and General Manager Kristine Hull—is building an urban garden.

Complete with six beehives courtesy of a collaboration between Fox & Pearl and urban beekeeping organization Bee KC, the garden is situated in a formerly vacant lot across the street from the Westside restaurant.

Visitors can traipse up the hill behind a bus stop to see the bones of the project, guided by the beacon of glittering aluminum garden beds eagerly awaiting their inhabitants. That’s what I did, following Hull’s lead as she pointed out which perennials, herbs, and edible flowers would plant roots where.

“These will be fairly low-maintenance plants that we can use in the restaurant,” she says about the future crop. “The in-ground beds will be butterfly bushes, wildflowers, and a lot of native plants that create visual interest and draw pollinators over. I’m not a professional gardener, so I’ve got to start with something easy.”

The flora in the garden will enjoy a symbiotic relationship with the bees, their multicolored hives located just behind the growing area. Hull smoothed her hands over the boxes to feel their vibration and activity levels. Once, she heard a story about beekeepers having longer lives due to the sonic frequency of the buzzing. She says she’ll be a frequent visitor of the hives.

It is a beautiful irony that such a small creature may hold the power to extend the fate of humans and much of our preferred vegetation.

Fox & Pearl’s bees will spread their wings to local foliage and backyard gardens for miles, nourishing local and seasonal eating beyond the James Beard-nominated kitchen. The insects fit right into the restaurant’s farm-driven and micro-seasonal approach to cooking. In fact, the bees themselves may be the most hyperlocal farmer the eatery has on their supplier list—they’ll be using raw honey from the hives in marinades, vinaigrettes, desserts, and cocktails.

“One of our big internal projects is bringing people closer to their food. We want the farmer to be at the forefront because we aren’t here without them. I think people have a disconnect to that in urban environments,” Hull says while circling the bee-borhood. She crunches honeycomb-imprinted wax under her boots with each step.

Not only is the quality of locally-grown food just plain better, but Fox & Pearl feels better about spending their cash with the little guy.

“I firmly believe the saying ‘your dollar is your vote,’ and what you spend your money on is what you are supporting,” Good says while listing the reasons why he chooses to support Midwest growers. “If we want to have rich and diverse local food options, you have to be aware of where those ingredients are coming from. I also believe I have a responsibility to represent the farms well on our menu.”

The eatery wants to bring people close to their food, but not too close. There will be barriers to prevent visitors with excess amounts of liquid courage from accidentally damaging the urban ecosystem. Still, the team wants the concept to remain as open as possible. The hives will be in a protected area adjacent to a hog pit, where barbeque and other types of cookery will commence, and a collection of fruit trees whose bounty can be plucked by all passers-by.

“I like apples, pears, maybe a plum or two,” Hull says. “We have a pretty big transient community here, so we could use the fruit in the restaurant, but that would be more of a ‘help yourself’ thing just to give back.”

The inclusiveness of the outdoor space fits well with their indoor one, designed with nature as a main focal point. Sunshine oozes through the windows at all hours, backlighting table-side jungles before being fragmented by glass carafes and wine glasses. The interior almost feels like a greenhouse, which makes the farm-to-table meal experience even more enjoyable.

Before I knew it, four plates with unmatched aesthetics and drifting aromas had populated my table.

“I realized I didn’t even let you order,” Hull chuckles.

Each dish was crafted with raw honey from bees in the Bee KC on-site network, soon to be replaced by the amber sweetener from the restaurant’s own hives.

Nearly all the dishes were made featuring local ingredients, traceable via the lengthy list of farm partners the menu has on its underside. A few were also decorated with herbs and flowers from Missing Ingredient, a local fresh produce supplier. But in a few months, these elements, too, will come from the garden across the street.

Fox & Pearl is located at 2143 Summit Street, Kansas City, MO 64108. They are open Wednesday through Saturday from 5-10 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. They are closed Monday and Tuesday.

Categories: Food & Drink