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It Takes a Village

MHK Play Studio and Pacheco Beef are building community and connection in the Flint Hills

Article by Heather Hoffman

Photography by Dani LaGree, K Kelso Photo, & Wrenn Pacheco

Originally published in Manhattan City Lifestyle

Wrenn Pacheco and Kasey Wilkinson are making life easier for parents.

The two entrepreneurs have each started new businesses since the onset of the pandemic: In 2021, Wrenn and her husband Arturo opened their family ranch, Pacheco Beef, which provides local, handcrafted, pasture-raised beef. In 2022, Kasey opened MHK Play Studio, an inclusive space for kids to explore science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) through play-based learning.

Kasey and Wrenn connected through Public Relations extraordinaire and K-State Strategic Communications Assistant Professor, Danielle LaGree, and the small business owners immediately saw the potential synergy in their offerings to families.

In November, Sip + Snack was born, a gathering space at MHK Play Studio where families can enjoy locally-sourced snacks, including Grazing Cups, featuring Pacheco Beef summer sausage, Alma cheese, and veggies.

Additional offerings include Pacheco Beef hot dogs, ground beef, kebabs, and family-friendly steak cuts, so parents can pick up dinner while their kids play.

The response for the partnership has been immediate. “It has been our most successful purchase,” says Kasey. “Parents try [Pacheco Beef] at Sip+Snack and then say, ‘I’m going to go buy some for home!’”

For both women, community and connection are core values, which sparked an instant kinship. 

“As women entrepreneurs, it’s important for us to support other women.” says Wrenn. “We have both been on a rollercoaster ride as small business owners. Kasey has been such a cheerleader for me.”

“We share the same values. In a transitory community with the university and the military, making connections and building relationships is especially important,” says Kasey. 

For her part, Wrenn has been working to build community through events at the Pacheco Beef House in Alma. “When people break bread together, that opens the door for communication,” says Wrenn. The Pacheco family hosts multiple events at their storefront each year, including classes on cooking the perfect prime rib and homemade tortilla making. A native of New Mexico, Arturo comes from multiple generations of tortilla makers, and he's now passing on this craft to the next generation in the Flint Hills.

Arturo and Wrenn, both lifelong ranchers, are already passing along their love of ranching to their sons, ages six and nine years old. In addition to helping on the ranch, their boys both love visiting MHK Play Studio.

In designing MHK Play Studio, Kasey wanted the space to be an inclusive community for kids to learn and play. “Not all parks are inclusive to students of all abilities, so it was important to me to have items to meet children of all abilities.”  

In the past three years, kids have endured disruptions to their daily routines due to the pandemic, social isolation, and Zoom fatigue. The space provides a much-needed community for children to learn through inquiry-based and play-based learning. “Learning through hands-on experiences is so much more valuable than rote memorization. So many students on IEPS [Individualized Educational Plans, required for students in Special Education] are thriving,” adds Kasey.

Serving as a resource for parent education has also become a priority for MHK Play Studio. Kasey, who has a Master’s of Science in Early Childhood Education from K-State, has assembled a team of staff with degrees in Education, Human Development, and Family Studies. From managing a little one who’s not sleeping well to dealing with a picky eater, Kasey seeks to provide helpful information to families, and to connect them to outside resources.

Kasey’s advice on what’s helped her as a small business owner is as relevant to parents as it is to entrepreneurs: “Lean on mentors and your community. You don’t have to know everything because you can reach out to your support system.”

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