Taking Steps Towards A RURAL IDEAL

By Alice Kay Hill (Luray, KS)

In Luray, KS – a true food desert with no groceries closer than 30+ miles – two farm wives are making a difference.
Krista Ulrich (standing to my left in above photo) and I met because of chicken processing equipment. Actually…it was the lack of it.
In the summer of 2018, I placed a local newspaper ad looking for others who might want to raise meat chickens but who hate plucking. My goal was to share the cost of quality equipment over several farms with the idea that we could schedule processing dates and team up to help each other.
I only got one response and that was Krista, coincidentally my nearest neighbor. She invited me to visit, meet her family, and talk chickens. Turned out we had a similar passion, growing people food!

I shared with her my background in raising food in NW KS and the concept of the TOPLESS HIGH TUNNEL (THT). We covered a lot of ground that evening, with the result being she built an NRCS approved THT to protect her garden area from the various challenges of weather, wildlife, and roaming livestock.
We kept talking local food, the lack thereof, and what this community needed.
Fast forward to the fall of 2020 when an opportunity for us to put our vision into reality opened up, thanks to a grant opportunity related to securing local food supplies. We pooled our thoughts, applied, and were successful! And part of our request was for chicken processing equipment!

STEP BACK IN TIME FOOD MARKET LLC is the first baby step to a local food supply. It is a year-round indoor farmers market. This first year we are building a producer base with a customer base to match. Fresh produce and allowable baked goods are offered twice a week, 1 ½ hours at a time. Baby step!
Step Two will be to gain a food establishment license which will allow us to retail meats and dairy products that meet the KDA requirements. This will change the dynamics somewhat but increases the ability to feed our community and provide staples.
Step Three is a larger concept. I think of this as “a rural ideal” – where most of the food consumed by a region defined by townships is locally grown, locally processed, and completely locally owned. It is a scaled-down vs a scaled-up idea. It is replicable, reasonable, and realistic.

Ideally, it would be managed under a community non-profit system. A livable wage for a manager, including benefits, should be built into the business plan. Internships and training would be included.
What would this look like? In this vision there would be a complete infrastructure to permit meat processing, grain processing for both human and animal use, complete small scale dairy processing, ready to use food preparation, winter crop storage, jams/jellies & other canned goods, etc. All of this should be scaled to the local population base.

Incorporate into the design historic preservation, cultural uniqueness, environmental sensitivity, soil building…everything that improves and gives back to our own sense of place.
Truly rural communities such as Luray are ideal for the RURAL IDEAL concept. Let the corporate food system take care of the cities but let us feed ourselves first!

Alice Kay Hill and her husband Jeff live in northern Russell County, near the town of Luray, Kansas. She is an avid small farmer and author of Grow Topless: A Modified High Tunnel Design for Headache Free Extended-Season Gardening.

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