Fabric Of Our Community
Mar 25, 2020
'Shared Growth. Shared Success.’ is a thread that MKC weaves throughout all aspects of the 97 communities touched by its footprint. In rural communities, MKC is often the largest employer. MKC employees and member-owners do more than just live in these communities; they reinvest by supporting small businesses, acting as youth leaders, volunteering on local emergency departments, serving in churches, and more. Each individual strand is woven together to make the stitch that joins cooperative and community success.
When Ryan Sears, MKC truck dispatch manager, started as a volunteer firefighter, he did not foresee the values held by his cooperative employer crossing over into his role as an emergency responder.
“MKC’s four keys [safety, courtesy, image and innovation] really say a lot about what we project as firemen,” Sears says. “We’re someone the community looks up to, so we expect our personnel to hold a good reputation. They show courtesy by going into situations they may not like, and obviously, we don’t want anybody to get hurt.”
Sears, along with MKC member-owner Ryan Barta, serves as a captain for the Windom Fire Department volunteer team. The departmentaverages 50 calls a year, varying from house fires and car wrecks, to a sick person in need of help.
Despite the hardships and emotional weight of protecting property from a blaze or tending to fatal crash scenes, both Barta and Sears recognize the importance of offering their time and talents to serve the community.
“I do it to help out the community,” Barta says. “I have personal property to protect, and my neighbors have the same. I am physically able to do it, so it is a good win for everyone.”
Barta started serving as a volunteer firefighter in Little River when he was 18. Twenty years later, he says it’s rewarding to see his son and daughter take responsibility and become part of the department as well.
“All of our kids that are of age are part of the fire department too,” Barta says, speaking of both his and Sears’ children.
“It’s impactful to see our young people take it seriously,” Sears says. “I see my own sons on a house fire and they’re focused and serious. In the end, they feel that sense of accomplishment.”
The Windom Fire Department sponsors a cadet mentorship program for youth ages 14-18. Barta and Sears found it difficult to recall those who graduated from the program and did not return as a team member.
“Being a volunteer firefighter is something that bolts us to the town and the community,” Barta says. “It’s something to draw back to and have that family tie. We’re all kind of a family.”
Barta explains in times of need, MKC and other farmers or companies with large trucks help to supply water.
“Having the community support by bringing in water has a huge impact,” Barta says. “It shows how everyone can come together to help save lives.”
In the time it takes to read this sentence, a new patient is in need of a blood transfusion. Whether it’s used for emergencies or treatments, according to the American Red Cross, someone in the United States is in need of donated blood every two seconds. Despite the steady demand, donations can be hard to come by.
MKC, recognizing the importance of community involvement in Red Cross’ mission, partnered with the organization in 2012 and has since hosted 41 blood drives. Over 360 employees and community members have donated 845 units through an MKC sponsored drive. A unit is roughly equivalent to one pint.
A long-time donor is MKC Moundridge Agronomy Operations Manager Steve Graber. Graber started working for MKC in 1993 and has donated at each drive hosted in Moundridge. He recently reached 12 gallons with his latest contribution.
“It’s what I’ve always done,” Graber says. A 30-year volunteer firefighter veteran, Graber says his involvement with the department triggered his desire to donate.
“You have to have the same mentality,” Graber says. “Without knowing who they are or what their needs might be, I hope my efforts are able to help people. Giving a few minutes of my time to give a pint of blood could save someone’s life.”
Aaron Esping, agronomy plant manager at MKC’s Groveland location, has also donated blood at each drive since he joined the MKC team six years ago.
“The importance of donating blood was impressed on me since an early age,” Esping says. “My grandma was a nurse and my dad is a universal donor, so she made him donate when he could. He’s continued that tradition and encouraged us kids to do the same.”
Aside from the family custom, Esping shares a personal tie for his motives.
“At my previous workplace, there was a fairly young girl with a rare form of cancer that babysat for a lot of my co-workers,” Esping says. “Years later, I saw her in a national Red Cross advertisement. Knowing that she survived and that maybe something I did helped her, encourages me to inspire future generations to donate.”
Binding Books and Business
Any action big or small can make a real difference when reinvesting in the community. Perry Stussy, assistant agronomy operations manager at Haven, and Lawson Hemberger, rail terminal manager at Sumner County, utilize their industry expertise to shape future generations of agriculturalists by serving on collegiate advisory boards.
“As an advisory board member, the instructor at the college will ask for our advice on new things they are trying and what the membership thinks,” says Stussy, who has served on the Hutchinson Community College agricultural advisory board for 30 years. “The board is divided into crop, ag diesel, and animal husbandry sections, so there are several of MKC’s farmers and dealers there for a specific reason.”
Stussy’s influence in crop-related innovations has helped HCC create a commercial driver’s license program and receive a grant to purchase drones for student use.
“I like listening to how they’re using new technology,” Stussy says. “Students will come into our meetings and introduce themselves, then stick around to learn about all the different areas.”
Through these interactions, Stussy has helped recruit students to tour an MKC location or complete an internship during the summer.
Likewise, Hemberger uses his experience to prepare Cowley County Community College students for the ever-changing agricultural industry. The college opened a new branch in Sumner County and looked to industry professionals for direction in developing the program.
“This was a unique situation where they were building the program from the ground up,” Hemberger says. “I enjoyed having the influence of being able to tweak programs that I went through. Now that I’m working in the industry, I can look back at what I wish I learned or knew and incorporate that into their coursework.”
Hemberger’s desire to serve on an agriculture advisory board stemmed from his experiences at Kansas State University, where he learned about agriculture production worldwide. Through being on committees and talking to advisors, he was able to get a better understanding of agriculture outside of South-Central Kansas.
“I once had a professor tell me, ‘what you’re learning now isn’t being used in the industry yet, but we’re preparing you’,” Hemberger says. He uses this same mentality when offering advice for the agribusiness and farm management programs at Cowley.
“We can’t create a program and have it stay relevant for five years,” Hemberger says. “Agriculture is changing so quickly, and I can see that as I’m living and breathing it every day. MKC is very progressive and it’s awesome that we’re looking at things so far ahead. The things we’re seeing and predicting might not be available yet, but we’re getting the next crop of kids prepared for what might be coming down the road.”