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Huck Boyd National Institute announces leaders of the year

Agribusinesses, entrepreneurs, community supporters to be honored Sept. 22

Sept. 2, 2021

MANHATTAN, Kan. – Officials with Kansas State University’s Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development say that ‘making a difference’ is a common theme of those to be honored as Huck Boyd Leaders of the Year for 2021.

“We are pleased to recognize these innovative Kansans who make a difference by supporting our communities and our rural economy,” said Gary Doane of Downs, chair of the Board of Directors of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development. “They are excellent examples of value-added agriculture, entrepreneurship and community service.”

The winners will be honored during a hybrid Zoom/in-person awards presentation on Wednesday, Sept. 22 in Manhattan.

This year’s award categories and winners include:

  • Community Service --Heather Hartman, Julia Rabe, and Colleen Eberle, Mitchell County Strong, Beloit.

  • Entrepreneurship -- Scott and Jennie Andersen, Kansas Earth and Sky Candles, Ellinwood.

  • Value-Added Crop Production -- Tonya Martisko and Julie Ball, Gaeddert Farms, Buhler.

  • Value-Added Snack Foods -- Kelly and Thaddeus Perry, Perry’s Pork Rinds, Bronson.

  • Value-Added Specialty Products -- Melinda Williamson, Morning Light Kombucha, Hoyt.

  • Value-Added Food Marketing -- Rick McNary, Shop Kansas Farms, Potwin.

  • Community Betterment -- Kansas PRIDE.


Mitchell County Strong

When the pandemic hit in 2020, community organizations in Beloit rallied to support local businesses.

Mitchell County community development director Heather Hartman joined Julia Rabe of the Beloit Area Chamber of Commerce and Colleen Eberle of the Solomon Valley Community Foundation in an initiative that became known as Mitchell County Strong.

The initiative included marketing gift certificates from local businesses, donating gift cards to needy families, creating a local disaster relief fund, offering free meals to locally nominated “hero” workers and more.

Mitchell County Strong was able to get more than $150,000 into the hands of local citizens and businesses. For more information, see www.mitchellcountystrong.com.

Kansas Earth and Sky Candles

When Jennie Andersen showed her husband Scott a neat-looking candle she had seen online, he said: “I think I could make that.”

After a lot of research and experimenting, they were able to make soy-based candles which were so popular that the Andersens started their own business called Kansas Earth and Sky Candle Company in the historic Cyclone building on Main Street in Ellinwood.

The fragrances they use reflect rural Kansas themes with names such as Greener Pastures, Sweet Clover and Alfalfa, Fresh Baked, Dirt Therapy and more.

Their candles, soy wax melts, room spray and lip balm go to customers across North America and beyond. For more information, see www.kansasearthandskycandle.com.

Gaeddert Farms, Buhler

When daughters Tonya and Julie were kids, they would sell sweet corn from the Gaeddert family garden at the grandparents’ house in town.

Now married and with families of their own, Tonya Martisko and Julie Ball have taken the sweet corn business to a whole new level. They now operate 11 seasonal retail stands across central Kansas, plus selling at farmers’ markets.

In addition to operating a sunflower agritourism venue, they have donated more than 454,000 pounds of fresh produce to the Kansas Food Bank at the Cargill Cares complex in Wichita. For more information, see www.gaeddertfarms.com.

Perry’s Pork Rinds

Thaddeus Perry worked as a butcher and occasionally fried pork rinds in the backyard as a hobby.

When he and his wife Kelly decided to sell some of their pork rinds at a fair in Missouri, it went so well that this became a business. The business has expanded with help from K-State Research and Extension specialists, the Kansas Department of Agriculture’s From the Land of Kansas program, and others.

Today, Perry’s Pork Rinds offers 13 flavors of pork rinds and has sent products to all 50 states and as far away as Saudi Arabia. The company was named the Kansas Department of Commerce Minority-Owned Business of the Year in sales and distribution. For more information, see www.perrysporkrinds.com.

Morning Light Kombucha

In 2010, Melinda Williamson was working as a senior research specialist at Oklahoma State University when she was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease. She sought to improve her health through an improved diet of whole foods, including consuming a fermented drink called kombucha.

In 2015, she started brewing kombucha of her own, and it was so popular that she created her own business called Morning Light Kombucha. She has expanded her business with help from the Small Business Development Center, the Kansas Department of Agriculture’s From the Land of Kansas program, and Kombucha Brewers International.

A descendant of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, Melinda is now living back in Kansas. Her product is a trademarked American Indian Foods product through the Intertribal Agricultural Council. For more information, see www.morninglightkombucha.com.

Shop Kansas Farms

During the pandemic, Rick McNary was surprised to learn that the meat cases in local grocery stores were empty while he was enjoying beef from a local rancher. He thought a Facebook group might help connect consumers with local growers, so he created a site called Shop Kansas Farms.

The number of members grew quickly overnight, and in four weeks had more than 130,000 members. Interest is so great that a Shop Kansas Farms website is now being created. For more information, search on Facebook or see www.shopkansasfarms.com.

Kansas PRIDE

The Kansas PRIDE program celebrated the 50th anniversary of its founding in 2020. Kansas PRIDE is a partnership of K-State Research and Extension, the Kansas Department of Commerce, Kansas Masons, and Kansas PRIDE, Inc.

Through the program, local volunteers identify their community’s priorities and work with the resources of these partners to create their ideal community future. Through the years, Kansas PRIDE has served more than 400 Kansas communities. For more information, see www.kansasprideprogram.ksu.edu.


The 2021 Huck Boyd Leaders of the Year winners were selected by entrepreneurship students in K-State’s College of Business and by agricultural communications students in K-State’s College of Agriculture. Each year the Huck Boyd Institute selects its leaders of the year from among those featured on its weekly Kansas Profile radio program and column during the previous year.

Kansas Profile is distributed by the K-State Radio Network and K-State Research and Extension's news media services to radio stations and newspapers statewide.

The Huck Boyd Institute is a public/private partnership between K-State Research and Extension and the Huck Boyd Foundation. The foundation’s office is at the Huck Boyd Community Center in Phillipsburg. The Institute office is at Kansas State University in Manhattan.

At a glance

Winners of the 2021 Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development Leaders of the Year awards represent businesses that make a difference in the lives of Kansans.


Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development

Notable quote

“We are pleased to recognize these innovative Kansans who make a difference by supporting our communities and our rural economy. They are excellent examples of value-added agriculture, entrepreneurship and community service.”

— Gary Doane, board chair, Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development


Ron Wilson


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K‑State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well‑being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county extension offices, experiment fields, area extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K‑State campus in Manhattan. For more information, visit www.ksre.ksu.edu. K-State Research and Extension is an equal opportunity provider and employer.