By Pat Melgares, K-State Research and Extension news service
Manhattan, KS– In Kansas, agriculture is the top economic activity, to the tune of $64 billion annually, and more than 250,000 jobs. The state is a national leader in producing wheat, grain sorghum and beef.
“However,” said Rebecca McMahon, a horticulture food crops agent for K-State Research and Extension’s Sedgwick County office, “despite Kansas’ important role in agricultural production for national and global markets, people in all 105 counties in our state struggle to access quality, nutritious foods.”
“In a state that prides itself on feeding the world, we currently struggle to adequately feed and nourish our own residents.”
McMahon is part of a Kansas State University team that has received a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant for just under $750,000 to support and enhance local food systems in the state.
“In a very general sense, a food system is a way of talking about the entire process that begins with food production on farms and ends with food on everyone’s plates – and even beyond that to the question of food waste reduction,” said Londa Nwadike, a food safety specialist with dual extension appointments in Kansas and Missouri.
She adds: “A local food system emphasizes building as much of that system within a local or regional area as possible because there are both economic and health benefits from having more resilient, local and regional food systems. The priorities could also look different in each community – maybe in one place it would involve starting a community garden, while in another community it might mean re-establishing or expanding the capacity of a local meat processing facility.”
Rial Carver, program manager for K-State’s Rural Grocery Initiative and the Kansas Healthy Food Initiative, said the USDA grant establishes the Center for Local Food Systems at K-State, including two full-time staff members that will support the needs of people across Kansas.
“There are many great local food efforts happening all across the state, but K-State Research and Extension’s ability to support and partner with those local efforts has been hampered by a lack of coordination and resources,” Carver said.
The three-year grant builds on work that K-State extension agents and specialists have worked on for many years, including establishing a Local Food Transdisciplinary team in 2019. In addition to building partnerships and hosting a local food summit, the team plans to provide training to farms and businesses on marketing and sales options, and create a consumer education campaign.
Elizabeth Kiss, a family resource specialist with K-State Research and Extension, cited a 2014 study by the Crossroads Resource Center that indicated more than 90% of the state’s dollars spent on food are spent on food shipped from outside of Kansas. She said if every Kansan spent just $5 per week on local food, it would generate $750 million in annual revenue for small and mid-sized Kansas farms.
Kiss also said the Center for Local Food Systems will make it easier for people in any part of the state to access resources, learn about successful projects elsewhere in the state, and develop partnerships to solve local problems related to food production and food access.
“Everyone in Kansas eats and has been impacted by either supply chain issues or food costs in the past few years,” Kiss said. “While this grant won’t bring about quick solutions to those challenges, by learning and working together we can increase the efficiency and capacity of our small farms, local food businesses, and non-profits that are already hard at work feeding the people of Kansas.”
K-State is working with the Kansas Black Farmer’s Association, the Kansas Rural Center, the Kansas Food Action Network and the Center for Rural Enterprise Engagement to carry out the grant.
More information is available online at www.rrc.ksu.edu/localfoods/index.html.