The Kansas Rural Center wants to see more opportunities for farmers and better nutrition for consumers, especially those in underserved communities or those living in food “deserts” where easy access to fresh produce is especially lacking.

Thanks to a three-year grant from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Ag Marketing Services, the Center is organizing a new Central Kansas Food Corridor food hub, encompassing 12 counties along and adjacent to an I-135 route from Wichita to Salina.

“We are just getting started,” said Ryan Goertzen-Regier, program and  administrative manager for KRC. “We were just fully funded at the end of 2022. Right now, we are concentrating on business organization and identifying growers who want to participate as well as identifying potential customers including school districts, hospitals, grocery stores. 

“We’re concentrating on increasing our capacity to provide locally grown fruits, vegetables, meats, mushrooms. Right now, 90% of all the fruits and vegetables sold in central Kansas are imported. We may not be able to grow 100% of what we need, but we can surely do better than 10%.”

Goertzen-Regier said Kansas has two food hubs already operating, one in Kansas City, KS, and the High Plains Food Co-op in northwest Kansas, and both have been successful at increasing the amount of locally grown food in their region.

He said most food hubs have a cooperative or LLC business structure. Being part of a larger organization allows growers to concentrate on food production, while someone else handles marketing and distribution.

“It reduces the stress on farmers if they don’t have to also market and deliver,” Goertzen-Regier said.

One goal is to have the business entities formed and ready to start delivering food to customers during the 2024 growing season. Another goal is to introduce an incubator kitchen to provide value-added processing that would enable distribution of canned goods to customers during the winter months.

He added that KRC hopes the business model will provide opportunities for more minority farmers to be able to join the Food Hub.

Wichita’s Common Ground Has Role

The Common Ground Food Hub, organized by Donna Pearson McClish at Pearson Family Farms in northeast Wichita, also has a role to play in the new Food Hub Initiative, Goertzen-Regier said.

“Part of the grant money was awarded to Common Ground to help them in their efforts to help expand the mobile market in Salina similar to what they have operated in Wichita since 2014,” he said. “They have a pretty cool model.” 

Common Ground began expansion into the Salina area in 2022.

The Common Ground expansion and the Central Kansas Corridor are two separate projects but their mission to increase the production and distribution of fresh produce are intertwined.

“A lot of the money to the Central Kansas Corridor project is going to pay for staffing and to help this new entity find ways to make more food more affordable to more people,” Goertzen-Regier said.

Common Ground, which has its headquarters at Pearson’s Farm on East Hillside in Wichita, is eager to expand its producer base, especially with minority growers.

As one of only a few Black-owned family farms in Kansas, Donna Pearson McClish said Pearson’s Farms wants to see more Black and Indigenous farmers producing food for the Hub.

“We have reached out to Black farmers and we hope to see them in the network,” she said.