When COVID-19 hit, consumers became scared and farmers faced a troubled supply chain. Rick McNary, an avid supporter of farm families, decided to start a Facebook page — Shop Kansas Farms — for consumers buying directly from farmers and ranchers.
Within four hours, 40 people joined. Twenty-four hours later, the site had 5,000 members. Currently, the membership is topping 145,000 Kansans for a group started by Kansans and targeting Kansans. This site has spawned similar groups in other states, including Missouri, Texas and Colorado.
"I liken it to being a little kid and pulling the plug," said McNary, who lives in Butler County.
McNary joined the Hutchinson/Reno County Chamber of Commerce Farm Focus Family Breakfast on Nov. 18 to explain his new consumer/farmer model. Chamber members attended the annual breakfast, which was virtual this year, to hear McNary speak, as well as hear updates from the Chamber.
Although McNary grew up on a farm, he does not farm, but his gratitude toward farmers and ranchers remains. McNary, the founder of Numana, a group that feeds the hungry, explained how the pandemic caused a new kind of food insecurity in the U.S. — one in which the public had money but food was scarce.
"People were frightened," he said. "I loved it that Kansas farmers calmed public fears."
McNary wants to be at the forefront of a local and regional food system. In addition to his Facebook page, he is launching www.shopkansasfarms.com next week. This site will include equipment and live animals.
"We’re solving a food desert that has existed out there for a long time," said Debra Teufel, president of Hutchinson/Reno County Chamber of Commerce.
By building a direct-to-consumer pipeline, McNary is increasing farmers’ and ranchers’ profits and helping each group educate the other. In addition to the new website, McNary hopes to start an expo complete with workshops and booths.
"I watched it (Shop Kansas Farms) take off and realized this is exactly what was needed," McNary said. "People want to shop local."