Because of Covid, many Kansans have witnessed a troubling scene most have never encountered—empty shelves at the grocery store. This meant people experienced a new kind of fear. The fear of going hungry.

Not surprisingly, Kansas farmers and ranchers stepped up and did what they do best—give hope. The very nature of farming is based on hope – a virtue that courses deep in the veins of every farmer who plants a seed in the ground or welcomes a new animal into the herd.

Through a simple Facebook group, Shop Kansas Farms (SKF), consumers are now directly connected with local farms and ranches. This group has brought people a sense of calm. They’ve learned farmers have their back and they won’t be going hungry.

SKF all began one evening in April. My wife and I were watching a Hallmark movie after finishing a dinner of prime beef purchased directly from a young Kansas farm couple. My wife commented the meat counter was empty at the store that day. I wondered how I could let my friends know of the wonderful farm and ranch families I knew who grew meat, vegetables, dairy and fruit. Social media seemed to be the answer.

I opened my laptop at 6:58 p.m. and created the Facebook group, Shop Kansas Farms, and began inviting my friends. If you make a Facebook group public, then the people you invite can invite their friends. By 10 p.m. that same evening, more than 400 members had joined, many of whom I did not know. Within eight weeks, more than 140,000 members have joined, and numerous states are using the SKF model.

A Facebook group is a unique form of bi-linear communication rather than a mono-linear form of advertising. As you scroll through the group, there are two types of people: sellers and buyers. When a seller places a post offering their products, buyers quickly begin to ask questions about the product: how it’s raised, where the seller is located, how much it costs, what a particular word or phrase means.

Not only are farmers providing people hope in the midst of fear, they are also providing real-time information and education directly to consumers. The fascinating learning between farmers and consumers is done conversationally as each group learns the language of the other.

In addition, consumers are now meeting their farmers and visiting their farms, even with masks and social distancing. People are truly learning where their food comes from as patient farmers explain how produce is grown and how meat is processed.

The resulting financial impact on the farmer is difficult to measure, yet testimonials from various producers indicate their business has grown substantially and that each post generates immediate income. Recent sales tax numbers reveal as much as a 32 percent decrease in major cities, yet a 37 per cent increase in rural cities.

Farmers who previously had just dipped their toes in the water of social media have seen their online followers expand as much as 600 percent in a 24-hour period.

Farmers, by their nature, are entrepreneurs and many are discovering a new way to provide sustainability to their farms through online and direct-to-consumer sales. One farmer admitted she thought all of the new alerts coming from her computer as people bought her products was a fluke until she checked her bank account.

The question often comes whether this phenomenon of buying local will continue after the supply chain regains stability. 

The answer to that question lies in relationships that have now been established. Whereas major companies invest substantial efforts into crafting a story around their products, now, because of Shop Kansas Farms, there are more than 140,000 stories that are deeply personal.

Considering less than 2 percent of Americans are farmers, this opportunity for the other 98 percent of us to become personally acquainted with those who grow our food builds trust between the consumer and farmer, thereby eliminating much of the fear baked into food choices.

More importantly, each story is about how a Kansas farmer replaced a person’s fear of going hungry with hope that food was as close as a couple of miles away.

About the Author: Rick McNary is a native, rural Kansan but readily admits that he has neither the courage nor faith to be a farmer. Rick is widely known for his work in the domestic and international hunger space by providing short-term relief of giving hungry people a fish today as well as long-term development solutions to help hungry people fish for themselves. Rick is also a writer and photographer and has, as one of his main goals in life, to be the farmer’s biggest cheerleader. His admiration for their integrity, creativity, hard-work, entrepreneurship and sense of community causes him to believe that people in agriculture hold the key to solving global hunger.