Local couple takes pride in producing healthy food by using quality soil.

Jessica Gnad (pronounced Nad) is passionate about the nutritional value of food which is influnced by the soil that produces it.

“It’s all about the dirt— and I’ve got good dirt -- or better yet, let’s call it soil!”

A chemical-free gardner, Gnad, 37, and her agronomist husband Shannon, raise fruits, vegetables and herbs southeast of Pratt. She said homegrown and healthy products are key to keeping them and their three children, Jack (8), Betsy (6) and Ruby (4), healthy. Even their pet Jack Russell Terrier, Little Dog, gets some healthy homegrown eats.

“Our soil hasn’t always been good,” Gnad said.

After purchasing 8 acres of property several miles south of Pratt County Lake nine years ago, they didn’t waste any time getting the soil tested.

They amended some immediate soil nutrient problems with what the Gnads call their “black gold,” manure left over from the donkeys bred by the previous owners.

The next step to creating healthy soil was instituting crop rotation, along with green cover which involved layering pulled weeds and straw or mulch over the topsoil to keep it covered.

Gnad, who grew up in Topeka and graduated in 2003 from Kansas State University in Manhattan with a bachelor’s degree in social science of diversity, said that her parents kept a garden, but that she herself never paid much mind about the food she ate until their son Jack was born.

“When I had Jack it became very clear to me that feeding him nutritious food is a maternal instinct that I could not ignore,” she said. “I realized that I had the skill and resources in my own back yard to grow a lot of that food.”

It also helped, she said, that her husband Shannon is a Master Gardner, as well as an agronomist.

“He actually does all the work and I take all the pretty pictures,” she said.

Gnad grows elderberries and praises their health benefits. She uses them to make an immune-boosting syrup that’s safe for kids and for baking and toppings. Also active with the Pratt Merchant Park Farmers’ Market, Gnad said she prefers a behind- the-scenes role. She wrote a grant that helped launch the endeavor, but the reins of the enterprise are held by others, like her soil-sister Ellen Mahler.

“If every Kansas resident would purchase $5 a week in food from local vendors, we could create $750 million in new revenue for our state farmers,” Gnad said.

Among her other agricultural interests, Gnad serves as a soil advocate for Kiss the Ground, a non-profit organization whose mission is to inspire regeneration of the planet, beginning with soil. She’s also a member of the K-State Extension Council.

Gnad said she is excited that a national “Grants for Gardens” proposal which she submitted to Annie’s Homegrown has been awarded to Southwest Elementary School and will be spearheaded by second-grade teacher Heather Teasley.

Gnad said one of her favorite things is to share food with friends.

“Food is my love language,” Gnad said. “That’s how I relate is to give you something good and healthy to eat.”