Donna Pearson McClish and her brother David Pearson made history this year as the first brother-and-sister team and the first African Americans to win the Kansas State University Master Farmer/Master Farm Homemaker Award.
The 96-year-old award program honors farm families that have demonstrated growth of their farm business and operation through sound planning, management of resources and sound decision-making. Honorees must also have provided leadership in their communities.
The duo operates the Pearson Family Farm just off Hillside and K-96 in Wichita. David is the farm manager while Donna is the CEO of farm operations and the mobile market business Common Ground Mobile Market and Mobile Food Hub, which they started in 2014.
With Common Ground, the duo works with a network of growers to provide a variety of fresh produce in some of the most vulnerable neighborhoods in the 12-county corridor from Wichita to Salina, including Sedgwick, Harvey and Butler counties.
Donna, who has a bachelor’s degree in human resource management and a master’s in curriculum and instruction, had a career as an elementary school teacher before starting Common Ground.
She is the first African American to serve on the Kansas State Board of Agriculture and the first African American to serve on the Kansas Farmers Union Board of Directors.
In 2021, she was named Kansan of the Year by the Topeka Capital-Journal and in 2022 she was honored with the President’s Award at the annual Wichita Ministerial League Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Celebration.
A Special Surprise
But, perhaps the most rewarding thing to come from their Master Farmer experience came on Memorial Day weekend, when they had a chance to learn more about the history of their farm from a fellow Master Farmer/Homemaker who lived there as a child.
Doris Erickson, a member of the Master Farmer and Homemaker Class of 1990 said she was addressing “welcome” greeting cards to the new members being inducted in March and did a double-take when she saw the Pearson farm address.
“I thought, oh it can’t be,” she said. “But, I double-checked and it was. So I put an extra note in the card, telling them that I think this is the farm where I grew up.”
Erickson now lives in Fort Scott, and Donna invited her to stop by the farm anytime she was in the Wichita area.
On Friday before Memorial Day, Erickson, her daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter paid a visit to the farm and got a tour of the property and the remodeled farmhouse and shared stories of the farm from the 1940s and 1950s.
Erickson said the farmhouse was already there when her grandparents bought the property in the 1920s and they lived there. Her parents had a small house and farmed about 10 acres of land on the property. Her aunts and uncles also farmed smaller parcels of land and helped their parents with the larger farming operation.
“But I remember spending a lot of time with my grandparents in the farmhouse,” she said.