Rice County community leaders collaborated to develop a local food system. (Photo provided)
MANHATTAN, Kan. — People in a small town have big dreams. There is usually a strong sense of pride in a community and a desire to be part of a greater good. Magic happens when people with big dreams come together.
That’s exactly what happened in Rice County, where leaders dreamed big and followed through on achieving a regional food system.
As the name suggests, a regional food system is a system of three key gears that move food from farmers’ fields to processing facilities and ultimately to consumers within the same region.
“For our first conversation, we laid out large white sheets around the room so we could visualize the three components of our local food system: production, processing, and distribution,” said Stacey Clark, Rice County Economic Development Director. say. “As people added things to their list, we were impressed with what was grown locally, but realized there were very few processing opportunities and very few distribution channels. Ta.”
If this seems like an unusual conversation to have in your community, you’ve probably never met Rick McNary, founder of Shop Kansas Farms.
“I’ve been in the hunger scene and studied local food systems for decades,” McNally says. “In late 2021, Stacey asked if we would consider hosting a Shop Kansas Farms event at the Lions Celebration Center and Bar K Bar Arena. I have already made plans to host some event. I told them Rice County would be a great option, but only if they would let me talk about this crazy idea I had about building a functional and sustainable local food system. Limited.”
Clark says she was intrigued by his ideas and the framework he provided. Together, she and McNally invited community members to monthly meetings, and ideas and excitement began to grow.
“I was surprised by how many people were interested in local food systems for a variety of reasons,” Clark says. “Everyone from bankers to soil conservationists to economic development and community development people to farmers. Everyone wanted to come and talk, and it just took off from there.”
One of those “development” people was Carly Frederick, executive director of the Rice County Community Foundation. She works closely with Clark, so it was natural for Frederick to be involved.
“We’re doing good things for Rice County, and we thought this was good for Rice County. It made sense,” she says. “At first, I was just listening and learning, and then I thought, ‘Okay, I need a structure. I think the structure of a community foundation is at least a starting point to take something from intangible to something tangible.’ ‘Cause that’s the way my mind works. ”
It would be misleading to say that everyone there was a fan from the beginning. Chad Hook considers himself a traditional farmer. He and his wife, Leanna, grow corn, wheat, rye, soybeans and milo and feed cattle at a local feedlot in Sterling. He is also Chairman of the Rice County Farm Bureau Board of Directors.
“When I first started coming, I had a lot of apprehensions,” Hook says. “When you sell directly to consumers, you worry that the product will cause health problems or business liability. But the more you learn, the more you can avoid those situations and avoid that liability. Now I know there are ways to protect myself.”
In addition to learning more about direct-to-consumer sales, Hook also found inspiration from fellow members of the community.
“Someone was never able to find a solution to a problem before you had finished writing a sentence about the problem,” Hook says.
In addition to Clark, Hook, and Frederick, there are others who are integral to the work going on in Rice County. They include:
• Joseph Kahn, owner of Plum Hill Farm and grant writer.
• Wendy Hughes, Rice County K-State Research and Extension Director
• Alan Samer, Bushton City Councilman
• Local resident Dr. Paula Boea
• Doug Keisling, local farmer and International Food Security Advisor, U.S. Agency for International Development.
• Lee and Susan Sankey, local agricultural leaders and experts.
This diverse group of local activists and shakers brings a variety of skills, but one person is helping to build what is often missing in local food systems.
“For me, one of the most exciting things is that Alan Seamer and the incredibly visionary folks at Bushton are repurposing a former high school cafeteria into a commercial kitchen.” McNally says.
“They will repurpose the entire school for mixed use, creating opportunities for local people.
Not only will growers now have the potential to not only process their vegetables and fruits into value-added products and suddenly reach a national market, but Bushton will also offer a ready-to-sell location from Old School . ”
In less than a year, members of these communities organized the Rice County Harvest Hub by:
• Applied for and was awarded a $106,000 grant from the USDA to help build a harvest hub.
• Receive a grant to upgrade a wastewater treatment plant that will help build a processing facility that can process local beef and pork products.and
• Create a board of directors led by Hook.
The USDA grant also meant the volunteer group could hire someone to manage the Harvest Hub’s operations. In July, the board hired Christy Showalter. Not only is Mr. Showalter a local resident, having lived in Rice County for over 22 years, he also understands conventional farming. She raised her three children who participate in her 4-H and her FFA and believes strongly in education.
“I had been looking at the commercial side of agriculture for years, but when they started talking to me about commercial kitchens and giving me guidance on how to get a license, I realized that for people in a community of this size, “We realized there was a huge opportunity,” Showalter said. “Then you think about the opportunity for 4-H kids to use a vertical farm, use a commercial kitchen, produce something and create their own product or business. That’s huge.”
bigger than us
When you ask this group of doers and dreamers what the future holds for Harvest Hub, it’s no surprise that they’re looking beyond just their own community.
And the fact that this effort began in the geographic center of Kansas is further proof that for Clark, the work being done here is just the beginning.
“When you drop a stone in water, it creates ripples. That’s what we’re doing here.”
For McNally, the work happening in Rice County confirms something he’s dreamed of for more than a decade.
“It’s so nice to know that my dream wasn’t just a pipe dream, or that I wasn’t Don Quixote chasing something I thought was a good idea but no one would support it,” he says. . “It just convinced me that if you put a vision out there and people come out there and see where they are and see where they can put their talents, great things can happen. Ta.
For more information about Rice County Harvest Hub, visit Facebook and search for “Harvest Hub.” If you or your community is interested in building your own local food system, please contact McNary at email@example.com.
You can also access this article here: https://kansaslivingmagazine.com/articles/2023/11/06/discover-how-leaders-in-kansas-are-developing-local-food-systems
— Megan Kramer
Kansas Living Magazine, a publication of the Kansas Department of Agriculture