Rural Grocery Initiative Team
Erica Blair, Program Manager
Erica Blair is an Extension Specialist with K-State Research and Extension and a Program Manager for both the Rural Grocery Initiative and Kansas Healthy Food Initiative. In this role, she supports healthy food retail across the state and nation by providing technical assistance on a range of topics, including grocery ownership models, financial resources, and e-commerce, among others. Erica earned her B.F.A. in Intermedia and Certificate in Sustainability from the University of Iowa, and her M.S. in Environmental Policy from the University of Michigan. Her previous experience includes conducting research on cover crop adoption in the Midwest, working on a diverse vegetable farm, and organizing campaigns with local communities to support sustainable agriculture.
Rial Carver, Program Leader
Rial Carver is a Rural Grocery Extension Specialist with K-State Research and Extension. Rial earned here Master of Regional and Community Planning from Kansas State University in 2019. Prior to moving to Kansas, Rial worked as the Sustainability Coordinator at Virginia Tech Dining Services where she increased local food sourcing, implemented composting initiatives, and initiated a reusable to-go container program. She received a B.S. in Environmental Policy and Planning with a minor in Civic Agriculture and Food Systems from Virginia Tech. Rial and her husband enjoy exploring the great outdoors with their pup, Cora, and gardening at the Manhattan Community Gardens.
Jessica Ramirez, Graduate Research Assistant
Jessica Ramirez is a Graduate Research Assistant for the Rural Grocery Initiative. She received a B.A. in Sociology from California State University, Chico in 2020 and is currently pursuing an M.A. in Sociology from Kansas State University while simultaneously serving as a Food Security Scholar through the Staley School of Leadership. Jessica's focus within higher education concerns itself with the dynamics of food and housing security in both urban and rural environments. As an undergraduate student at CSU Chico, Jessica worked within the on-campus food pantry where she assisted students with applying for, maintaining, and renewing their SNAP benefits. During this same time, Jessica spearheaded the Swipe Against Hunger program, the first-of-its kind meal swipe donation program on the Chico campus. Before moving to Kansas to pursue graduate school in 2021, Jessica served as a Community Nutrition Program Assistant and Multi-Media Lead for the Center for Healthy Communities of Chico California where she gained experience providing SNAP outreach targeted toward college students. Looking ahead, Jessica plans to pursue a doctoral degree in Public Health where she hopes to further her knowledge of food and housing insecurity and ultimately, make impactful policy change to better serve impoverished communities and communities of color.
Rylee Coy, Undergraduate Student Assistant
Rylee Coy is a student at Kansas State University seeking a degree in Agricultural Education. Upon graduation, Rylee hopes to become an extension agent rural Kansas. Hailing from Chase County, Kansas, she has experienced first-hand what it is like when a community loses its grocery store. Through her 4-H experiences, Rylee found her passion for agriculture and community vitality. She hopes to make a difference in this position in communities like her hometown.
Retired Faculty and Staff
David E. Procter
David Procter officially retired from Kansas State Univeristy at the end of 2021. Since arriving at K-State in 1987, he worked in partnership with communities across the state on issues of community strategic planning, facilitation of community dialogue, and strategies for sustaining rural grocery stores. In 2007, he and a number of campus and community partners launched the nationally-recognized Rural Grocery Initiative. This initiative has received multiple awards, including the “Outstanding Community Development Program” by the International Community Development Society (2010) and the “W.K. Kellogg Foundation Community Engagement Scholarship Award” by the Engagement Scholarship Consortium (2018). Procter has authored numerous book chapters on rural grocery operations and presented his work at national and international conferences. Read more detail on his distinguished career here.
Chandra Ruthstrom officially retired from Kansas State University on June 14, 2020 after 40 years of service. Chandra began employment with K-State in 1980 when she worked for Animal Sciences Extension. In 1983, she took a position with the 4-H state office. From 1985 to 2006, Chandra served as the Administrative Assistant in the Department of Speech Communication, Theatre, and Dance. In this position, Chandra served as the Fiscal Officer and Human Resources Representative in the department working with all the academic sub-units as well as the Debate and Forensic programs. In 2006, Chandra was hired as the Administrative Assistant/Project Coordinator for the newly formed Center for Engagement and Community Development where she worked with innumerable campus/community partnerships, assisted with two Carnegie Foundation Community Engagement classification applications, supported three campus-wide engagement surveys, helped organize and host seven national Rural Grocery Summits and a multitude of projects and programs. She received K-State’s Award of Excellence and Employee of the Year Award in 2018.