Soil health advocate recounts ‘remarkable’ Hollywood visit

A quick trip to Hollywood to be honored for her achievements supercharged Jessica Gnad’s mission planted in Kansas soil to celebrate one of agriculture’s vital ingredients.

“It reinvigorated me, made me realize this small-town girl from Pratt, Kansas, and now Manhattan, can make a difference,” said Gnad, who was recently named the Northeast Kansas Nexstar Media Woman of the Year.

A soil health content consultant and marketing director for Lawrence, Kansas-based PrairieFood, she joined many others in the world’s show business capital to share how they are making a difference in many walks of life.

Nexstar Media Group celebrates International Women’s Month by honoring remarkable women across the nation. Mona Highline, of Grand Junction, Colorado, was named Nexstar Woman of the Year from a list of more than 38,000 nominees.

Highline was recognized for her work with the homeless in Colorado, as founder and executive director of the Joseph Center, a nonprofit community outreach center in Grand Junction.

The Remarkable Women awards are “a nationwide initiative to honor the influence that women have had on public policy, social progress, and the quality of life, celebrates local women that inspire, lead, and forge the way for other women,” according to Nexstar. All 200 of the company’s broadcasting stations in 116 markets, accept nominations for Nexstar Woman of the Year.

Criteria includes “community contributions, self-achievement, and family impact.” Profiles of the four local nominees in each market are aired on local newscasts every Tuesday during March, and they are featured on the websites of each local television station. Each market’s Remarkable Woman receives a $1,000 contribution on their behalf to a nonprofit of their choice. Gnad’s recipient organization was Kansas Soil Health Alliance.

Her short Hollywood visit included tourist time and she was delighted to see modern agriculture at work.

“I found a local food restaurant on the Santa Monica Pier that serves farm-to-fork with local greens, local seafood and a fresh-pressed juice bar,” Gnad said. “I explored California agriculture, which was kind of neat. From what I could tell, I was the only woman working in production agriculture, which was an honor.”

When she received word of her nomination, Gnad wondered if she was worthy.

“I didn’t feel I had been in my career long enough to justify this honor, but the group assured me I would get to use my platform to advance the Soil Health Movement. I felt out of my comfort zone and all of the other women felt the same way. I was in this room with 111 ladies and walked away with 111 best friends,” she said. “We talked about our organizations and overcoming difficulties, which was most impactful to me.”

Gnad posed for photos with celebrities, among them Oscar-winning actress and talk show host Jennifer Hudson.

As a Kansas honoree, she spent much of her time outlining the impact proponents have in agriculture and improving soil health to help reduce greenhouse gases.

“It’s such a cool solution and one that most people can understand easily. Soil has the ability, through living plants and photosynthesis, to capture carbon from the atmosphere and store it below ground. This is a revitalization of how the earth was designed to function,” she said.

Gnad was equally dazzled by the other women honored, who deal with poverty, hunger, domestic violence, sex trafficking, literacy and other crucial issues.

“There were some truly amazing women in this group,” she said. “It was great to see so much good happening in the world. I was deeply moved by the whole experience.”

Two other Kansas women were recognized—Kelly Ancar, of Amazing Grace Homecare in Hays, and Charlesetta Jackson, community resource specialist, family school liaison for Chelsea Elementary School in Kansas City.

Gnad returned more determined than ever to drive home the importance of regenerative agriculture systems back in middle America.

Sign up for HPJ Insights

Our weekly newsletter delivers the latest news straight to your inbox including breaking news, our exclusive columns and much more.

Raised as a “city girl” in central Topeka, her primer in agriculture was supplied by parents Scott and Linda Henson.

“They bought a 100-year-old farmstead north of Topeka. My dad had huge vegetable gardens with tomatoes, peppers and other plants, and my mom incorporated herbs and edible greens in her landscaping,” Gnad said.

Advanced farm training later came from her husband, Shannon Gnad, director for agronomy for Indigo Ag. He previously owned and operated an independent crop consulting business for 20 years, while the couple raised three children.

“Being a part of that business alongside Shannon is where I gained a love for food and farming. I learned the ebbs and flows of the business,” she said. “Farming is a lifestyle and people fall in love with it.”

Both are in lockstep with the Soil Health Movement on a national and global scale.

“I am localized with PrairieFood,” Jessica said. “Shannon gets to do it on a wider and broader scale.”

Tim Unruh can be reached at [email protected].