Nourish together

produce stand at a farmers market

Creating a healthy food system requires many partnership throughout the community.

As cars snake their way through the parking lot across from Memorial Stadium, Vickie James’ close-cropped blond hair can be seen popping in and out of car windows, talking with students seeking a meal.  With what seems like boundless energy, James is helping to feed hundreds of K-State students at the weekly Konza Student Table, which celebrated its third anniversary in September.

Her passion for ensuring people have access to healthy food has been a lifelong mission.

Vickie James, a 1976 graduate of K-State’s College of Health and Human Sciences and former director of the Healthy Kids Challenge, spent her lifetime helping youth and families make healthy living a habit.

“It was kind of cutting edge in the 1990s to use nutrition and activity as a means of wellness and disease prevention,” James said. “My work eventually led to me being hired by Cooking Light magazine to develop a new program to work with parents and local schools to provide healthy school lunches and encourage physical activity. It was very empowering to assist children in having their best life.”

James has also helped Kansas communities do local food system assessments and start food and farm councils, which create connections across a community to improve health, food access, natural resource protection, economic development and production agriculture. Through these partnerships, food councils solve broad food system issues and give communities increased access and choice over the food they consume.

Throughout her 40-year career, James tapped the expertise of K-State faculty, hired K-State students to work on her projects, and she continues to support dietetics students with a scholarship.

Upon retirement, James and her husband moved from their family farm in western Kansas to Manhattan, which did not have a food and farm council of its own. Instead of a quiet retirement, she guided a community engagement process that led to the city/county appointed Food and Farm Council of Riley County and City of Manhattan.

Food security in the Little Apple

To the naked eye, Manhattan is a bustling town with a growing population and new businesses.

But not everyone in the area is benefiting from the growth. Riley County has one of the highest food insecurity rates in Kansas at 12.5%. The overall rate in the state is 10%.

Konza Student Table and K-State’s Cats’ Cupboard join community organizations like the Flint Hills Breadbasket and Common Table to help ensure people have enough to eat. And the food and farm council works behind the scenes to ensure no one is left behind, including KSU international students, middle and high school LGBTQ students, Spanish-only-speaking residents, senior citizens, and Afghan/refugee households.

But food security is just one aspect of a healthy food system.

Local food system

The food and farm council focuses on three areas:

  • food insecurity
  • food waste and related solid waste (packaging)
  • education, which encompasses food skills, food safety and nutrition education

The council brings together local government, producers, businesses, social service agencies, organizations and a variety of K-State entities to work together on community needs. Students and faculty from a wide range of departments work in the local food system, including Cats’ Cupboard, K-State Research and Extension, Housing and Dining, Lafene Student Health Center, Food Security Scholars, Rural Grocery Store Initiative, Willow Lake Farm and Staley School of Leadership. For K-State, a food and agriculture intensive land-grant university, working in tandem with the council and community can create a more healthful food system for all.

Why put so much effort into building a network? James sees food as a need, not a privilege.

“When life changes happen that are negatively impacting an individual or household, then a lot of time food is one of the things that gets crunched,” she said.

James, Cats’ Cupboard and all involved with the food and farm council work to strengthen the all-around food system so there are fewer crunch times for people. A key to having a healthy food system is planning, and last summer Manhattan and Riley County adopted a master food plan to help ensure everyone gets the healthy food they need to thrive. More than 60 partners collaborate on food system issues that independently are too resource heavy to tackle. To learn more, volunteer or support the food and farm council’s work, visit

Stronger together

Food and Farm Council of Riley County and City of Manhattan, KS impact

300+ kitchenware starter kits distributed by Kitchen Restore to 13 partner agencies. (past 3 years)

26 Blessing Boxes in the county.

2,000 youth participated in produce education at the Downtown Farmers Market (summer 2021-23).

90,000+ meals served by Konza Student Table since September 2020.

400+ seniors received $50 in KDHE vouchers to use at the farmers market, an increase from 80 recipients.

20,000+ pounds of food recovered in one year by the Flint Hills Food Recovery from 26 donor caterers, local restaurants and grocers and 15+ local farms provide safe recovered foods to 13 recipient groups.

400 vouchers given to high-risk food insecure clients via 4 agencies through the Healthy Rx Program.

5,070 individuals visited Cats’ Cupboard in 2022. 4,100 have visited in the first 8 months of 2023.

I am interested in these topics

Contact a gift officer