In April 2020, Rick McNary remembered enjoying a wonderful beef supper prepared by his wife, and the meat was from a local farmer.
That also came during the shutdown of COVID-19, and the disruption was felt at the grocery stores across the country when shelves lacked selection meat, produce, vegetables and dairy products. That observation keyed innovation and he started the Shop Kansas Farms Facebook group on April 28, 2020, with the intent to connect his friends with the farmers and ranchers of Kansas so they could buy their meat, dairy, vegetables and other foods items directly from the producers. Starting with only a handful of people it quickly grew and today it has more than 148,000 members and 8,500 Kansas farmers listed on its website map.
McNary was one the featured presenters at the Ag Outlook Forum presented by the Agricultural Business Council of Kansas City and Agri-Pulse on Sept. 20. High Plains Journal has had several articles about his project.
While he knew there was an interest in home-grown food it also revealed consumers loved the connection. For McNary it was reinforced when a woman wrote how pleased she was there was a community of growers she could purchase food from and that she did not take food for granted.
His interest was simply to be a conduit for farmers to reach consumers and it took off in ways that he could not envision. It has shown staying power because consumers want the service. The key, he said, continues to be the personal touch. “Consumers don’t like to call farmers producers,” he noted. “They like to call them farmers.”
Educating consumers and farmers alike takes a commitment on both sides but consumers will reward producers who do that. McNary believes Shop Kansas Farms can help farmers with another outlet to be successful. The initial traffic during the height of the pandemic disruption is not as high, but it remains significant and building relationships means repeat business.
He has also lends his expertise to other states and McNary says he urges organizers in the more than 20 states to develop their plans that best works for them.
His approach has been to help traditional farmers and ranchers and he also hopes it encourages smaller farmers and entrepreneurs to reach out and find an outlet for their markets. In rural communities that can mean more opportunities.
McNary and others who have embraced the concept of thinking in nontraditional ways are helping farmers and ranchers to succeed. McNary has a great appreciation for what farmers and ranchers do. He believes in cultivating partnerships. He is appreciative of state and farm organizations that reached out to help him. After all, he is the first to say he is not a farmer but admires those producers because they are the risk takers.
Sometimes in life when it can be easy enough to get caught up in the stress of the times there are opportunities and light at the end of the tunnel. McNary, who has chronicled food security issues for over 20 years, is the latest example of someone who is reaching out to help. It all started with a high quality beef dinner that we can all relish.
Additional information can be found at shopkansasfarms.com.
Dave Bergmeier can be reached at 620-227-1822 or [email protected].