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Urban farm fights food deserts by delivering produce to Kansas seniors and low-income customers



Kansas – Feeding others comes naturally to a couple of central Kansas farmers. For more than seven years, a brother and sister team in Wichita has delivered fresh fruits and vegetables to central Kansas seniors and low-income residents.

But raising vegetables and feeding others runs in their blood, said Donna McClish and David Pearson. More than 60 years ago, their father sold food from his garden directly to consumers.

McClish and Pearson continue to farm on the land their father cultivated.

“One day my brother asked me what we should do with the extra produce,” McClish said. “I said, let’s start a farmers market.”

Now, the brother and sister team are doing farming on a larger scale. McClish formed Common Ground Growers and Producers – the only group in Kansas that delivers fresh vegetables directly to seniors and low-income families.

Recently, McClish, who runs Common Ground, received an implementation grant from the new USDA office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production. Common Ground is one of seven agricultural organizations across the nation that received a part of this  $1.88 million grant. The other recipients come from Arkansas, Georgia, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina and Ohio.

Because of Common Ground’s latest grant, McClish, who runs the only mobile market in Kansas, will be able to expand her reach of providing fresh food to more food deserts and food-insecure areas. By expanding her organization’s network to a 500-mile radius, McClish is hoping to pick up more local farmers and bring their nutritious goods beyond the 35 sites the organization already serves in Augusta, El Dorado, Hesston, Newton and Sedgwick County.

“Our motto is ‘All are fed. No one is hungry,’” – Donna McClish.

According to Common Ground, they helped senior citizens increase their spending power by 218% through the Senior Market Voucher program.

McClish buys the fruits and vegetables that are distributed from area farmers, which includes her brother David, who runs Pearson Farms, and places the items in boxes, which she and her son-in-law Randy Couts, who serves as the program advisor, deliver. They also deliver CARE boxes to low-income families and individuals.

“Our motto is ‘All are fed. No one is hungry,’” McClish said.

The boxes that go to the seniors contain locally grown garden vegetables and fruits, cheese and honey. The cheese is made at Grazing Plains Farm, a small dairy in Whitewater, and the honey comes from a beekeeper in Wichita.

“When you see people benefitting and enjoying the food, there’s nothing like it,” McClish said.