The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and two U.S. senators enter the room. That sounds like a description of a Washington, D.C. hearing room, but in this case, it refers to what happened recently in the stone barn of a leading farm family in rural Kansas.
Last week we learned about longtime agricultural leaders Jeanne and Harold Mertz of River Creek Farms near Manhattan. Today, River Creek Farms is owned by two of their sons, Joe and Bob, and their wives Kim and Mary, respectively. The Mertz farm recently hosted the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture for a meeting with Kansas farm leaders.
“1 Kansas farmer feeds more than 155 people + You!” Signs proclaiming this message are frequently seen along the highways and byways of Kansas. These signs demonstrate the passionate advocacy for agriculture which is found in an innovative farm family in rural Kansas.
Jeanne and Harold Mertz were the farm couple who initiated this farm sign project and other projects to benefit agriculture. Harold grew up on a farm southeast of Manhattan. He was a charter member of the Zeandale 4-H Club. During his last year in 4-H, he showed the grand champion steer at the American Royal.
Harold attended K-State where he met Jeanne, who was born in Kansas City, Kansas and had grown up in Oskaloosa. They married and moved back to his family farm, which was named River Creek Farms because it was situated in the Kaw River valley between the Kansas River and Deep Creek.
The Mertzs were grain farmers and producers of cattle and sheep. Harold would feed thousands of lambs in a typical winter. The Mertzs also raised five children: Joe, Tom, Bob, Jane, and Jon.
“We can deliver.” In the business community, it is vital that a company delivers on its promises. Delivery is important in other ways as well. What if a company could find a better way to deliver a medicine or treatment to a particular target in cells inside the body? Today we’ll learn about an innovative Kansas company which is using amazing technology to accomplish such a goal in medicine, animal and plant health.
Randall Tosh is CEO of Phoreus Biotechnology, Inc. in Olathe, Kansas. He grew up on a farm in northeast Kansas and got a degree in agriculture from K-State. He worked in international marketing for the State of Kansas and Commonwealth of Australia before becoming executive vice president of an animal health technology company in Olathe.
In that capacity, he met Dr. John Tomich, professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics and director of the Biotechnology/Proteomics Core Facility at K-State. “He was brilliant,” Randall said.
When I’m tired and need some coffee, I know it’s time to go to the farmhouse. But if I lived at Meriden, I might go to a different type of farmhouse – spelled Pharm House, with a PH as in pharmacy. This Pharm House is a specialty coffee shop that the Farrant family created next to the pharmacy in Meriden. It’s another example of the Farrant family’s community spirit, which is helping the local school district and the broader community.
The football players run onto the field for summer practice at Jefferson West High School. But something is different: This field is covered by artificial turf which was last used by the New Orleans Saints of the National Football League. How did NFL turf come to be on a high school football field? It’s due to a hometown Kansas company which specializes in turf installation across the country.
Jake Farrant is founder and president of this remarkable company named Kansas Turf. Jake grew up at Meriden. As a kid, he mowed lawns and helped with his uncle’s golf course and sod farm business in Topeka. He also loved football, starting at quarterback at Jefferson West High School and then at Ottawa University.
After graduation, he returned to Meriden and continued to help his uncle. He also became an assistant football coach at his alma mater, Jeff West. When the family was approached about building a multi-sport complex, which didn’t fit the work of his uncle’s company, Jake saw the opportunity to go into business for himself. In 2008, Kansas Turf was born.
What is being built by this business? In the case of one Kansas company, it might be decorative metal railings for a Big 12 football stadium or for Oklahoma City’s Bricktown entertainment district. These are among the key projects of this entrepreneurial company in rural Kansas.
Ted Bender is founder and owner of Bender Steel in Whitewater, Kansas. He grew up between Newton and Hesston, and took agricultural education classes at Moundridge from agricultural instructor Larry Goering. Here he learned to weld. That skill would become the basis of his career.
During the following years, Ted worked for a local manufacturing company and for various local farmers, including Mr. Goering. Then Ted married his wife Amy and moved to the Whitewater area, northeast of Wichita.
In 2003, Ted started his own business, primarily doing farm equipment repair. He also had a hay business and traded in antique tractors.
Wastebaskets have become less full at locations where more people are recycling. But what is to be done with old computers? Discarded computers and other electronic devices are referred to as e-waste. Today we’ll learn about an innovative rural Kansas company that is a leader in e-waste recycling.
Tony Salcido is co-founder, co-owner and CEO of REV-E3, an electronic waste recycling company. Tony is a veteran of 17 years in the information technology field.
Tony graduated from Syracuse High School where he met his future wife. After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, he joined the Army. He decided to specialize in telecommunications after his grandma said to do something that he could use after he left the service.
After five years of active duty, Tony was stationed on the east coast. “I had opportunities there, but we wanted to raise our kids back in Kansas,” Tony said. He chose to take an IT position with a manufacturing company in Beloit and also took college classes.
Let’s go to Inner Mongolia in China. A dairy operation is seeking to upgrade its nutrition program so as to improve milk production, production efficiency, and cow health. The expert who is here to help is a dairy feed nutrition consultant from halfway around the globe in rural Kansas.
Tim Brown is this nutritional consultant. He grew up in suburban Virginia with loose connections to production agriculture. He studied animal science at Virginia Tech and then considered graduate school.
“I was looking for a graduate program somewhere far away, at a university with a solid reputation,” Tim Brown said. Ultimately, he chose Kansas State.
Tim moved to Manhattan and studied ruminant nutrition under K-State animal sciences professor Ben Brent. Tim wanted to live out in the country, so he borrowed Dr. Brent’s car and went driving through the countryside looking for a place to rent. “When I would see an apparent vacant house, I stopped in nearby to inquire about it and people would tell me who might have a house to rent,” Tim said. “On more than one occasion, I was told, `We’re getting ready to sit down for a meal. Why don’t you join us?’ To myself I was thinking, `Boy, these Kansans are nice people,’” he said.
“All the world’s problems are solved around a kitchen table.” That statement is based on the belief that sharing food in a family setting can help people bridge their differences. Today we’ll learn about an innovative county organization which has put this concept into practice with a nationally award-winning program called Farm to Fork.
Tiya Tonn is county coordinator for Butler County Farm Bureau which conducted this program. Tiya grew up in a farming and ranching family in Reno County and Colorado. Her family later ranched in Butler County.
After college, Tiya became a farm broadcaster in Wichita and Arizona. She eventually returned to the Flint Hills, married, and became a full-time ranch mom of four kids. As the kids got older, she took on a part-time position as a county Farm Bureau coordinator and eventually became the full-time county coordinator in Butler County.
“We can’t always control what happens in our lives – things will go well, things will go poorly – but what we can control is our response to those events.” – Ken Blanchard.
Last week we learned about a rural Kansas community that was devastated by tornado strikes which, amazingly, came on the same day, three years in a row. Now we’ll learn how the community is seeking to recognize this disaster today, in a way that honors its ancestors and the spirit of the community.
Last week we learned the story of Codell, Kansas which was hit by a tornado on May 20 in 1916, 1917, and 1918. Joel Russell shared the story of this incredible fluke of weather.
Joel grew up at Codell. After college at Wichita State, he became a supervisor with Union Pacific Railroad. His job allowed him to move back to Codell, while his work took him around the western U.S. He met and married Amanda who is from Hays. Amanda works at Plainville High School. She and Joel have four children.
Ron Wilson, director of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development at Kansas State University writes Kansas Profile. The weekly posts highlight individuals or companies in rural Kansas who are making a difference to their community and state.
The Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development is a public / private partnership between Kansas State University and the Huck Boyd Foundation. The mission of the institute is to help rural people help themselves. Learn more at www.huckboydinstitute.org.