Do you know what a local or regional food system is? If you search, you will find a plethora of graphs and explanations, but I like to keep things simple, so I’ve boiled it down into three parts:
- Production (all that it takes to grow plants and animals for food)
- Processing (all that it takes to make those plants and animals edible for human consumption)
- Distribution (all that it takes to get that food to people to eat)
When I started Shop Kansas Farms on April 28, 2020, it took off like a rocket. About a week in and already thousands of people buying and selling food grown in Kansas for human consumption, I realized that a very unorganized but incredibly powerful local and regional food system was developing.
Although SKF exploded, the concept of a local and regional food system is something that I’ve been researching for more than 10 years. I bugged a lot of people at Kansas State University’s Ag Department and they were incredibly helpful, and while I tried an initiative at a local level, a career change caused me to back away from that and continue researching, watching, waiting and wondering how I could help.
What propelled me to begin my research was a comment a lecturer made at a conference that the average calorie we consume travels 1,500 miles to reach our plate. While our wonderful global food system is an amazing gift to humanity, it’s also vulnerable to terrorism and, as we discovered in 2020, vulnerable to a global pandemic.
About that same time, I asked a farmer about a sign I saw along I-70 that read, “A Kansas Farmer Feeds 155 People + You!” I thought that was fantastic, but I couldn’t think of any farmer I knew that I could buy food they raised directly from them. I learned that most of what is grown with beef, pork, corn, wheat, soybeans, dairy and other products had to be sent somewhere, processed, then it comes back to us in grocery stores in various forms.
Furthermore, since Kansas was not known for large fruit and vegetable farms, there really was not much opportunity to buy directly from a farmer. I learned that those crops are called “specialty crops”.
Although the idea of individuals buying directly from farmers was relatively new to our culture 10 years ago, that’s how our society functioned 200 years ago. When our country was founded, 98 percent of the people were farmers and 2 percent lived in urban areas. Now, those numbers are reversed since only 2 percent of our population are farmers.
However, all of that changed last year when Shop Kansas Farms connected consumers to farmers. The whole idea of “buying local” took on a whole new meaning when the grocery store shelves were empty of meat, dairy and produce, yet SKF helped people directly purchase from farmers who had it ready to sell.
When this group took off, the first request from everyone on the Facebook group was for a searchable map/directory. The only way that was possible was to create a website.
My wife and I formed an LLC and began investing our own money into a website with a map/directory where producers can list their business for free.
Now, the map/directory has more than 575 farmers/ranchers/producers listed! We will have announcements soon on more developments to that website, as always focusing on helping producers connect and sell to customers.
Our vision for Shop Kansas Farms website is a fully developed digital hub for local and regional food systems. This will take a while, but I have learned from farmers that it just takes time for things to grow into something beautiful!
What do I mean by a local and regional food system? Although there are a variety of definitions for these terms, for the sake of the Shop Kansas Farms hub, it will be defined by this:
- Local food system – within a 50-mile radius (an hour’s drive)
We thought you’d like to know where we’re headed as we stay true to our purpose, “To connect you to the wonderful farm and ranch families of Kansas to purchase the food they raise.”
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