The Kansas Rural Center is the first in a three-year grant project to develop a cooperative food center for 12 central Kansas counties along I-135, including Harvey, Sedgwick, Reno and Marion counties.
The project is just taking off. According to Ryan Goertzen-Regier, program and administrative manager of the Kansas Rural Center, they received a grant from the USDA and started in the last quarter of 2022. He said he has funds for staff working on the project for three years.
Naturally, they hope to get the hub up and running before that time runs out.
The aim is to bring together farmers and regional mid-range and wholesale buyers. Goertzen-Regier said that instead of a farmer talking to multiple markets or restaurants, he takes his items to the food center, where those restaurants can find what they need.
“The Food Hub removes some of that complexity in that 20 different farmers can deliver to the Food Hub, the Food Hub markets to a restaurant, a restaurant places an order from the Food Hub and you are still getting that local food and cost benefit ” said Goertzen-Regier. “It’s kind of simplifying some of these things for different entities on both sides of the equation.”
It doesn’t expect to have anything up and running in the immediate future. They plan to hire someone to help with some of the marketing and are meeting with farmers, holding webinars and in-person discussions to get a feel for what their needs and wants are.
“We don’t want to assume that we know what’s best for them or what they want, and we also hope it’s something they’ll own, whether through a cooperative or as a multi-member LLC,” Goertzen-Regier said. “As a non-profit organization we don’t want to own a business, but to be able to support and support it [farmers] and provide technical assistance and perform a lot of essential work. Look for the legal stuff.
Goertzen-Regier said there are two other food hubs in Kansas: the Kansas City Food Hub in Kansas City and the High Plains Food Coop in northwest Kansas.
He would like to see more regional distribution networks throughout Kansas, similar to what other states, including Iowa, have done. Lui said Iowa has several entities that span the entire state and are sharing, partnering and cooperating to move food around the state to meet different needs.
Goertzen-Regier pushed for this area to be the next location because he lives in Harvey County and it’s an area of the state where something like this doesn’t exist. The 12 counties included in the grant project are Lincoln, Ottawa, Ellsworth, Saline, Dickinson, Rice, McPherson, Marion, Reno, Harvey, Sedgwick and Butler.
“We needed to define a static area for the grant where we would work on that, but we’re not trying to exclude people who are a county outside of this area in Kingman or Barton or Chase,” Goertzen-Regier said. “If the food producers or buyers lived outside this region, we are happy to talk to them.”
For more information, Kansas Rural Center has an FAQ section and a basic introduction to the project at kanasruralcenter.org/foodhub. Goertzen-Regier said he also has a subscription to the project’s mailing list on the website.