Wednesday, November 18, 2009

One Size Does Not Fit All When It Comes to Food Safety Legislation

Twenty-one grassroots farm, ranch, organic producers and consumers, and holistic health organizations urged U.S. Senators to make changes in pending federal food safety legislation to ensure that the option to select fresh, wholesome, locally produced and processed foods is not denied to consumers. The House passed H.R.2749 in July and the Senate will soon be taking up S. 510 sponsored by Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin.

“Both bills attempt to get at the problem of foodborne pathogens in the industrial food supply chain, where issues of traceability and accountability are a challenge,” Jeanne Charter, Northern Plains Resource Council member and rancher who direct markets grassfed beef in Montana. “The food safety bills in Congress bring direct market farmers and small local processors under an onerous regulatory regime, when these small producers represent a viable alternative to industrialized foods, and also are regulated by longstanding local and state public health and agricultural laws. When it comes to food safety, one size does not fit all.”

“Under existing laws, organic farmers go through an extensive and expensive certification process,” Alexis Baden-Meyer of the Organic Consumers Association pointed out. “Congress would now overlay that with another cumbersome layer of regulations applicable to farmers who are selling locally grown organic food direct to consumers.”

"More inspections and red tape will not make our food supply any safer,” according to William A. Powers of the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society. “Look at all the beef recalls, each beef is 'inspected,' but that does not make it safe. We need to address the root causes for food contamination. The food safety bills under consideration are trying to address traceability and accountability. There is no better way to trace food and be held accountable then selling your products directly to the customer. The farmer sees the customer eye-to-eye, shakes her hand, and eats the same food. We need food safety laws that are size and case specific."

“The growing trend toward healthy, fresh, locally sourced vegetables, meats, fruit, dairy and value-added products improves food safety by providing the opportunity for consumers to know their farmers and processors, to choose products on the basis of that relationship, and to readily trace any problems should they occur,” the letter points out. “Food safety in the industrial food system with its long, multi-sourced food supply chains, can and should be addressed without harming the local food systems that provide an alternative for consumers.”

The letter calls on Congress to remove local processors processing local foods for local markets and direct market farmers from the federal legislation, to remove doubling regulations on meat, poultry , and organic farms, and to hold the Food and Drug Administration accountable for its regulatory oversight.


The Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society-NSAS is a non-profit, grass-roots membership organization who's mission is to promote agriculture and food systems that build healthy land, people, communities & quality of life for present and future generations. Initiated over 30 years ago by farmer members, NSAS has grown into a dynamic organization with members from all across Nebraska. We welcome all who are interested and concerned about where and how there food is produced, including farmers and non-farmers!

Margie MacDonald, WORC, 406.252.9672
Tami Wahl, AAHF, 202.467.1986
Judith McGeary, FARFA, 512.484.8821
William Powers, NSAS, 402-525-7794
Alexis Baden-Meyer, OCA, 202-986-6186

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Corporations and Farming

"Corporate Industrialization will do for agriculture as it has done for other sectors of the economy. It will pollute the natural environment- the water, the soil and the air. The natural productivity of the land eventually will be depleted. Farmer and farm workers, like factory workers, will suffer ill health, low pay, and eventual abandonment- as agribusinesses find other people in other place who will work even harder, in more dangerous environments, for even less pay. The safety and healthfulness of the food supply will continue to deteriorate as a consequence of the inevitable race to the bottom, to see which corporation can produce the most stuff cheapest. However, once they have driven their competitors out of business, they will be free to raise prices to whatever level they choose.

The industrial era is over. The era of information and knowledge is upon us. Knowledge and information are quickly replacing capital as the source of new productivity and wealth. Potential productivity is now embodied in the unique ability of people to think and create, not in raw materials and factories. The main reason corporations continue to consolidate and grow is to gain greater economic and political power- to exploit workers, taxpayers, and consumers so they can continue to show profits and grow."

John Ikerd, 1999. A Small Farm Revolution

“Small Farmers are Real Farms” by John Ikerd is a fascinating book and one I believe anyone interested or concerned with where there food comes from and of the future of the family farm should read. From the beginning it will captivate you with ideas and philosophies that are fundamentally different and required to curb the corporate control over farming in the United States.

The book is a compilation of speeches and lectures that Mr. Ikerd has given over the past 15 years or so, and for some reason this particular chapter has stuck with me. One of the most important ideas is this “fundamentally different philosophy on life and farming” that he has. A gradual shift from just settling to actually doing something about these issues. He also mentions the FFA creed, and the opening line of “I believe in the future of Agriculture with a faith born not of words but of deeds.” That is a mantra that has been a part of me since my freshman year of high school when I was the creed speaker at my high school and I take great pride in that. We must, as farmers and consumers and Americans change the way we think and act.

Another interesting fact is the relation of the small farms movement to the foundation of our country and the American Revolution. Specifically he says we need a Thomas Paine approach to fix these issues. "We need a Thomas Paine approach to the new movement to revolutionize American society. I am talking about a fundamental different philosophy on life. The difference between the industrial and the post-industrial society will be as great as the difference between a monarchy and a democracy. The current enemy is not a misguided monarchy, but a misguided economy. The tyranny is not a kingdom, but instead is the marketplace." I believe this is a great idea. A misguided economy, predicated upon profit margins with no regard to where it’s been and where it’s going. Sustainability is the journey and that can’t be measured.

The closing line of this says it best.

“The only farms with a future will be farms that are sustainable- that are economically viable, ecologically sound, and socially responsible. The inevitability of the industrialization of agriculture is a lie. Sustainable small farms are better alternatives than getting bigger, giving in, or getting out. The American public must be told the truth. It’s time for a small farm revolution in America. The time for quietness has passed”

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Journey Towards Sustainability

Probably the most often asked question I get about sustainable agriculture is “what is it?” The questioners, usually prepared to defend their approach to agriculture, are often surprised to hear my answer. First I believe that most farmers have the desire to be sustainable; that is they wish to be able to continue what they are doing indefinitely. To do so indefinitely means that sustainability needs to be exemplified not only environmentally, but also in terms of productivity, economically, and socially in terms of health and well-being of the farmers and their communities. Further, sustainability in agriculture is better described as a journey than a destination. No one can be sure what practices will be sustainable in the long run. However, there are concepts that need to be addressed.

Sustainable agriculture begins with a set of values that include such things as productive soil, clean water, a reasonable income, healthy lifestyle, nutritious food, a diverse environment, and an appreciation of biological systems, community, and future generations. The journey to sustainability is determined to increase the positive impacts to these values and decrease the negatives.

Now lets get down to the nitty gritty! What about chemicals? All sustainable production is not chemical free nor is all chemical free production sustainable. Chemical use in excess is clearly not sustainable as it can have negative impacts to water, wildlife, human healthy, and profitability. Judicious use of production chemicals may or may not be sustainable in that we don’t know the long-term effects. I thijnk it would be fair to say that the journey toward sustainability would include a reduction of chemical use over time through intensive management and the substitution of biological systems for chemicals. Given the knowledge to accomplish this I find that most farmers can embrace this concept.

What about marketing? From a sustainability standpoint, marketing must increase the bottom line to a point that the farmer receives a reasonable income. Generally this means that the farmer would move towards systems that increase his/her market share from the current 10% or less to a share that matches production capability with standard of living requirements. This can include producing for a new or niche market and cooperative marketing to face-to-face sales to consumers.

Finally let’s consider the human factor. Sustainable agriculture has a high regard for the health and happiness of the farmer, the health of the consumer, the viability of passing a farming operation to the next generation, and the impact to the community. These values set the parameters as to how food is produced and the quality of that food. Probably the first step in the journey towards sustainability in this area is the recognition that we are producing food as opposed to commodities. Even further we might consider that we are producing human nutrition.

In conclusion I would reiterate that the nature of sustainable agriculture is a journey and as such no onehas yet arrived at the destination or the complete and comprehensive definition. If you share any or all of the values suggested in this article and are working toward them, you are sustainable agriculture. NSAS is a community of producers, consumers, vendors, and researchers working together to promote the values of sustainable agriculture!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Healthcare via Sustainable, Healthy, Local Foods!

Healthcare via Sustainable, Healthy, Local Foods!

At a recent congressional hearing on healthcare held in Lincoln, a predominant theme was the necessity of lifestyle changes. One of the panelists that testified for Congressman Jeff Fortenberry and Congressman Joe Baca was Pam Edwards registered dietitian and director of UNL dining services. A major point she made was that healthy local food systems could and would reverse the trend in childhood obesity, decrease the soaring number of diabetic children in the United States, as well as create healthier individuals overall. Pam Edwards coordinates the surging “Good, Fresh, Local” program at UNL, and I have seen first hand the growth in the program. The last one we attended in April had twice as many students (and other attendees, as they are open to the public) as the previous in March! It is incredibly popular, and not just because the food is that much healthier for you; “It just taste better” as said one attendee in April.

A recent study showed in the 1970’s the average American household spent 17-20% of their income on food and 9-11% on healthcare. In 2005 these numbers had reversed, and the obesity epidemic had taken hold of our country. We may pay a little more for healthy, local foods, but they reduction in health care costs and improved quality of life, in the long run far outweighs it. In Nebraska alone, 27% of the population is overweight. Another disturbing trend is in the cost of healthcare for children. In 2000, it cost $185,000 to treat adults as a result of poor nutrition from K-12 grade school. These numbers have doubled since than.

Those of us fortunate to have the choice to buy local, healthy foods should do so. But at a recent panel discussion of the movie “Food, INC” an important question was posed about food deserts, where grocery stores and fresh produce are scarce. The example was of an area in East Omaha, but the same is happening throughout towns across rural Nebraska. My suggestions are to support your local groceries and ask more of them. Ask for local products. Start a farmer's market. As they stated in the movie, you can vote “3 times a day with your food dollars.” As demand increases, so to will the products sourced from sustainable food channels.

A major reason for this health care crisis, I believe, is the lack of access (and sometimes willingness) to buy healthy, sustainable, and local foods. I believe proper healthcare comes from making a choice. A choice to eat healthy, sustainable, local foods will result in a healthier lifestyle, not just for you and your family, but also your community. It is absolutely vital in today’s world to frequent your markets, support your local businesses, ask for local products, to grow some of your own food when you can, and to know where and how your food was raised. Talk with your neighbors, your farmers, and work as a community to make healthy lifestyle decisions for everyone!

Monday, August 3, 2009

HR 2749 (Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009) Passes House

HR 2749 (Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009) Passes House

Cathy Raymond, of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund reports that The U.S. House of Representative passed HR 2749 by a vote of 283 to 141. The next step for the bill is the Senate. It is likely the Senate will not consider HR2749 until they return from their summer recess. The FTCLDF website will continue to provide updates on the progress of the bill.

One Congressman, Representative Farr called the legislation “historic, landmark and way overdue.”

On the other hand, I would say, HR2749 is way over the top at a cost of 1.5 billion to the American taxpayer! My Congressman’s office told me that “all this bill does is give the FDA more power and more money to protect us.” I told him, “that is the last thing I want is for the FDA to have more power and more control over small farms.”

The FDA has already demonstrated its inability to protect us from food borne illness outbreaks. In fact, Congress is giving them a reward for their failures, in an effort to look like they are doing the right thing for America.

This bill would give almost unlimited power to the FDA, and gives them the right to fine and even jail farmers, making farming a potential crime (if you break whatever rules they decide to impose).

If, instead of trying to regulate safety, America got serious about shifting back to a decentralized food system, we could save the 1.5 billion on this fake food safety measure.

Remember Lady Bird Johnson’s “Beautify America” campaign? Why not have our First Lady, Michele Obama, who has already planted her own organic kitchen garden at the White House, start a campaign for “Re-farming America.” The networks may even run the campaign as an Ad Council pro-bono ad!

The only true path to safety is to move away from unsustainable systems that rely heavily on government subsidy, federal price supports, federal control and excessive regulation. These waves of large scale food borne illness are just the leading indicators of a system collapsing under its own weight.

For instance, a California farmer contacted me recently about the water shortages in her state that are threatening to destroy crops. If California wasn’t trying to feed the whole country, the all to common droughts and water shortages they experience would not be such a big deal. Reviving rural communities nationwide by the rebirth of local agriculture would spread the water usage around, and California farms wouldn’t be so vulnerable.

Instead, our well-meaning politicians are falling all over themselves to look heroic, as they tighten the noose around farming families nationwide. I contend that government regulation is what has driven many of America’s family farms under, and just as local farming is making a comeback (in no small part, due to the efforts of Sally Fallon Morell and her Weston A. Price Foundation) massive and sweeping new laws are moving through Congress.

If you are concerned about this huge power grab by the FDA, please contact not only your Congressional Representative, but also your Senator. They need to be educated about the impact on food safety of these food safety regs. They are going the wrong way, they do not realize the potential of local foods to revive this land and protect us from harm. You can make a difference by telling them your story.

A Commentary by Kimberly Hartke

Kimberly Hartke is the publicist for the Weston A. Price Foundation. She and her husband buy 85% of their groceries directly from local farms. They sponsor several farm drops at their National Realty office in Reston, VA as a community service.

This post is part of the Fight Back Fridays blog carnival on Food Renegade blog. Check here for more get radical ideas!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Just another week

Everyday occurrences and everyday experiences provide the perfect opportunity to participate in an ever increasing everything sort of day. Case in point a recently concluded week full of activities and opportunities to see the swelling local foods movement in Nebraska. From "Supporting your Local Nebraska Brewery" to participating in a Lincoln Bioneers meeting and drip tape demonstration, it was an all encompassing journey.

Monday began like any other day, kind of slow and an extra pot of coffee. Soon however I was on my way to a farm tour. On this tour we visited a certified organic farm in south central Nebraska. A major focus on this farm was poultry and there was also organic blue corn. I believe the corn primarily went for popcorn, but I am not sure. It was a great opportunity to see first hand a working sustainable family farm in Nebraska. Later in the day was a Nebraska Food Coop- NFC board meeting held in the Linwood area. Now typically board meetings can be boring, or not the most exciting. However there is alot of cool things going on with NFC including a new truck and trailer as well as preparations for very cool advertising, as well as adventures at the Nebraska State Fair. Oh, and there was an awesome Nebraska foods potluck prior to and during the meeting!

Tuesday's adventure into the Nebraska local foods movement was at a recently created event called "Sustainabrew." This is held every Tuesday at the Buzzard Billy's in Lincoln, and the major tenet is the support of your Nebraska breweries. Nebraska has a cache of awesome breweries making awesome beers. Be sure to ask for them at your local dining establishment or hotspot!

Wednesday brought an absolute treasure in the form of the Havelock Farmer's Market, located in historic Havelock in Lincoln. The market is just the right size where you can converse with the farmers and vendors and gain an even greater grasp on the farms and business's that produce the awesome foods. On this day we picked up some potatoes from North Bend and some greens from the Denton area. We also tried Hollenbeck meats fajita beef which turned out quite nice in a stir fry with the greens!

Thursday was perhaps the most intense. The Community CROPS market is on Thursday at Pentzer Park on 27th & Holdrege in Lincoln. We volunteer there for the set-up until around 5:30 or so. It is always fun interacting with the farmers and the CROPS staff does a great job putting on the market. There is always some entertainment at the adjacent open-air shelter and even cooking demo's sometimes! After we were done there we attended the Lincoln Bioneers meeting which included another Nebraska local foods potluck and a really cool hands on demo of a drip-tape installation. We actually, as a group, installed the drip-tape and that was very cool!
After this we attended an awesome concert featuring the coolest bluegrass band I have ever heard, Triggertown. This was held at the Zoo Bar in downtown Lincoln. The music was phenomenal!! If you ever have the chance to hear them, do not pass it up.

Saturday we attended a very neat Solstice Barn party hosted by an area family who are arduent supporters of local foods in Nebraska and specifically the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society and Slow Food Nebraska. We were entertained again by Triggertown as well as another really cool band and even some karoke. The weather was perfect and the food was awesome!

All in all it was a very exciting week and to see and be a part of the local foods movement in Nebraska is a ton of fun. One thing that is also very exciting to see is the recognition of our awesome family farmers in Nebraska. It seems that this is lost sometimes in the understanding of where our food comes from and how it is produces. Instead the focus is on the middle man and trying to get the cheapest possible product with the greatest possible return. Local foods is about understanding and appreciating farmer to consumer connection and vice versa. We are eager to join the ranks of Nebraska family farmers and appear to be closer and closer everyday.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Supporting local foods in Nebraska, my favorite thing to do!

Spring is one of my favorite times of year. The start of the farmer’s markets combined with the planting of seeds allows for our imagination and creativity to grow. In our own garden, we are trying several heirloom varieties of onions, tomatoes, and corn, just to name a few. We are looking forward to the day that our backyard urban garden will become our own family farm, but for this year, our little garden gives us a small 'taste'.

During a recent event promoting Lincoln Farmer’s Markets, I put together a “Nebraska Foods basket” and everyone loved it. The basket included several local cheeses, my favorite local bread in Lincoln, a local honey, and a few local jams and jellies. Everything went over great! This event was held at the KFOR and KIBZ radio stations in Lincoln, and later in the summer I will held back with some more seasonal produce with a goal of promoting local farmers and the foods they produce!

I believe Nebraska is fortunate to not only have great family farms producing awesome local foods, but also organizations to support them. NSAS recently partnered with Slow Food Nebraska for a NET Radio Challenge. Our tag line was “Slow Food Nebraska, and the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society proudly support Nebraska Family Farmers and local foods!!” You can read more about Slow Food Nebraska in this issue of the NSAS Newsletter, or by visiting their new website:

Another partner has been Buy Fresh Buy Local Nebraska, BFBLN. At the recent Lincoln Earth Day NSAS and BFBLN partnered to create a virtual Nebraska Foods exhibit promoting and recognizing our state's great family farmers and the wonderful products they produce. This partnership will also be at the Nebraska State Fair, so be sure to stop by and visit! For more information about Buy Fresh Buy Local Nebraska please visit,

Another way to support local foods in Nebraska is to frequent the farmer’s markets throughout the state. We have a list at the end of the newsletter with times and information about the various markets throughout the state and are currently trying to network with even more. There is also up-to-date information on the internet with the latest happenings at markets and you can find this information the NSAS facebook page.

Monday, June 15, 2009

"My Family Farm Idea"

Growing up on a small farm near Plain City, Ohio, I always envisioned myself attending the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, earning a degree and returning back to our family farm. However I openly questioned that as I saw more and more farms going under and the decline in the health of our family’s own farm. During my freshman year of college several things occurred that led me to believe that Nebraska was where I wanted to carry on my family farm idea. The most important was meeting my wife Crystal. Our shared values of stewardship and collaboration of the land and the family farm has lead to an immensely rewarding relationship and that will continue to be the strength and foundation for our farm.

The second was the landscape and the geology of the state of Nebraska. Both the land and the people lend themselves to a culture of progress, of stewardship and of unwavering val-ues. I was not altogether unfamiliar with Nebraska. My father was born and raised in Silver Creek, and I still have quite a bit of family here. I see these same values in my family as I see in Nebraska and I believe that it is a great resource to grow as stewards of the land and of our farms.

I firmly believe in the mission of NSAS, which states: NSAS promotes agriculture and food systems that build healthy land, people, communities and quality of life, for present and future generations. Growing up I was very active in FFA. One event I did was the Creed Speaking Contest, in which freshman recite the FFA Creed. The opening line of the creed is “I believe in the future of agriculture with a faith born not of words, but of deeds.” This has always stuck with me and I believe it is essential for the future of NSAS. Farm Tours, Farmer to Consumer connections, conferences, annual meetings, farmer’s markets, and youth camps are all ways to further this mission.

We must continue to foster and facilitate the growth of sustainable agriculture and increase the viability of the family farm in order to ensure this way of life and I believe NSAS can be a leader in this movement, both in Nebraska and the Midwest but also nationwide!
Thank you and I look forward to meeting everyone! I am completely accessible, so feel free to call or send me an email. And if you are in the Lincoln area stop by!

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Monday, March 23, 2009

The Benefit of a Silver Creek

The following are the accounts from one family member in attendance at the Kevin and Mary Robb Family Benefit held March 21st in Silver Creek, Nebraska.

I wanted to send out a quick email about the events from Saturday evening. To start off with it was an amazing sight and event to attend. I do not believe I would be exaggerating if I said over 2,000 people attended. Do the Math and that is all of Genoa, Monroe, Duncan and Silver Creek (roughly) (not sure about those towns ask Dad). Crystal and I walked down at around 5:00pm with the food to be served at 6pm. There was already about 30 people there. The place quickly filled up and soon the food was served. We quickly got in line and got some food. And a good thing to the line was about 200 people deep for the first 2 hours. People just kept coming in. I am sure we broke several fire codes, but hey they kept saying that we were not going to run out of beer! The power of this rural community was very evident. Overhearing some remarks a few things stood out. The surrounding communities saw a family in need and a family in crisis and rallied to support them. This is the benefit of a Silver Creek, NE. Community support and unselfish ethic. They had an auction, both a live and a silent one. The hot ticket items were all Nebraska items. We were after all in the heart of Cornhusker country where guys named Bo and Tom and Bob are revered and needless to say those items went for well over $800.00. Another interesting tidbit, just to show you how much items were going for. Afterwards at my Grandpa's house we estimated the total brought in to be around $35,000 to $40,000 which might seem like alot if one did not know how much cancer treatment cost, so it was a meager amount to offset the cost. But dollars had little to do with the event. A family in need and a community benefit to lift them up did!

The benefit of a Silver Creek, NE. Another great advantage of rural communities in Nebraska. The power, the values, and the selflessness displayed all lend to an ideal of character no book can define. These communities are tied to the land and hence tied to the people. As a farmer is tied to his or her land so to is a rural community like Silver Creek tied to their people and to their farmers. This attitude is most recognizable when a family such as the Robb Family is in need. In need of support, in need of salvation, and in need if being picked up, time and time again! It is with this thought that I am proud to have participated and attended the event!

This picture was taken several years ago.
From left to right standing: Grandpa Powers, Brandon Robb, Uncle Kevin Robb, Katie Robb (in front of Kevin), William Powers (holding the cake), Aunt Lorna, Uncle Bob, Aunt Mary Robb, Aunt Francis
Sitting: Sam Robb and Crystal Powers

Up date: Kevin and Mary Robb are the Aunt and Uncle of William Powers. Kevin was recently diagnosed with cancer while Mary has been battling breast cancer for a while.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Feeding Omaha: Getting Organized Around Good Food

Feeding Omaha: Getting Organized Around Good Food

February 24th, 2009 By William Powers


Omaha is a quintessential Midwestern metropolis. It is a bustling city nestled among a sprawling rural landscape. However, if you look you will find something changing and growing. It is the local food movement!

Early in 2005, Michael Braunstein had an itch. He wanted to provide West Omaha access to healthy, safe and humanely-raised local food. He made contact with several area farmers, and soon West Omaha had its own market at the Village Pointe Shopping Center. But would it be successful? Would people literally “buy” into this local food scene for the benefits of health and stewardship?

The Village Pointe Farmer’s Market was established to elevate community awareness of the importance of sustainable, local, family-owned farms, the wholesome food that comes from them, and its importance to our social, environmental and personal health. You won’t find any arts and crafts, and the vendors, while not required to be organic, are encouraged to practice natural, chemical-free, non-GMO and sustainable agriculture.

On opening day in 2006, farmers displayed their fresh produce and all-natural meats. With an estimated 35,000 vehicles entering the Village Pointe Shopping area on Saturdays, the customers soon would be there. Slowly and purposefully, shoppers trickled in to see what was happening. For one young mother, that purpose was to “buy healthful foods and to meet the farmers.” Another remarked, “Now I don’t have to drive so far to get awesome food! Locally grown foods are fresher, more nutritious—and you learn about the food from the person who grows it. When you shop at a real Farmers Market, you are getting the best food you can for your table.”

Braunstein believes that the food chain starts with sustainable, family-owned farms and that leads to healthy people and a healthy planet. He is a backyard gardener and is proud that, for many meals on his table, he can name the farmer that provided each item on the plate.

One of the vendors, Beulahland Farm, is a small family farm located near the town of Lyons, Nebraska. A major component of the farm is the Certified Naturally Grown process. An alternative to the USDA Certified Organic Program, it is only open to family farmers who market and sell their products to local areas. Certified Naturally Grown is recognized nationally and internationally by environmental groups, health organizations, and agricultural groups.

Victor Novak is the owner of Beulahland Farms. The farm produces a variety of fruits and vegetables and Novak is proud of the eco-friendly, diversified, sustainable agriculture on the farm. The livestock are on his farm are raised using no medicated feeds, antibiotics or growth hormones. Novak is also contented that his land is farmed with family labor.

Beulahland Farm sells their products to the Nebraska Food Coop, Wild Oats Market and Village Pointe Farmers Market. Through the years, they have seen the demand for locally and sustainably produced foods grow in Omaha. “Access and demand have contributed to the movement, and it is gratifying to see the movement grow and expand,” said Novak.

Brian O’Malley is a chef-instructor at the Institute for the Culinary Arts at Metropolitan Community College. As President of the Heartland Chapter of the American Culinary Federation, Coach of the Junior Culinary Competition Team, Board Member of the Nebraska Food Cooperative and the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society (NSAS), father of two, and muse extraordinaire for the Institute for the Culinary Arts’s student bistro, called Sage, O’Malley spreads his passion for local and sustainable cuisine liberally throughout the Omaha community.

I first met Chef O’Malley at the annual Healthy Farms conference, held February 2008 at Metropolitan Community College in Omaha. He was frantically setting up the meals for the conference while also conducting several breakout sessions on food and specifically on making cheese. I found it utterly amazing that, in the middle of all this, a food delivery from a farmer showed up and Chef O’Malley stopped everything to chat with him for over 10 minutes. I asked him about it later, and he simply said, “He is my farmer and he cares passionately about his product.” When asked why he prefers local sustainable foods over processed, O’Malley simply says, “It is just better: better quality a better product and better for your health.”

The Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society was founded more than 30 years ago by a group of organic farmers who recognized the need to foster and facilitate growth in both sustainable and organic agriculture. NSAS is active in collaborative projects that support rural communities and the environment. These projects offer mentoring opportunities for beginning and experienced farmers, and opportunities for on-farm research, demonstration and education. NSAS offers opportunities for non-farmers to participate in a food system and network with sustainable Nebraska farmers as well as attend workshops and link with all our projects. It is through NSAS that these three stories intersect.

Michael Braunstein approached NSAS to gather information, research potential farmers and network with current markets and businesses interested in growing the local foods movement in Omaha. One of the first farmers to commit to the Village Pointe Farmers Market was Victor Novak, who also is a member of the Board of Directors for NSAS. Chef O’Malley has seen the quality of the food he prepares increase as a direct result of buying locally sustained products from farmers such as Novak. All three are active participants in a swelling food movement in the heartland of the United States. They have seen the demand and the opportunities increase as more and more residents of Omaha are recognizing the difference and the choice they have in selecting the very best food Nebraska has to offer. They have realized that food comes from sustainable family farms.

It is the result of these collaborative efforts that are enabling the local foods movement in Omaha to gain a foothold. The intersection of the consumer, the chef and, most importantly, the producer is vital. NSAS has played a pivotal role in bridging this gap through programs such as Buy Fresh Buy Local Nebraska, Slow Food Nebraska, the Nebraska Food Coop, and the Nebraska Local Foods Network.

Photo: farmer Victor Novak

William Powers is the executive director of the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society. NSAS promotes agriculture and food systems that build healthy land, people, communities and quality of life for present and future generations. He and his wife hope to create their own diverse family farm based on the native prairie ecosystem, which will incorporate native and heritage species including Guernsey Dairy Cows.

(Originally posted for Civil Eats at )

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


"A watered-down version of Nebraska's strict corporate farming ban that was struck down by the courts in 2006 is being considered by lawmakers. A public hearing on the bill (LB593) from Sen. Cap Dierks of Ewing was held before a legislative committee Tuesday.

To comply with the court decision, the measure wouldn't keep out-of-state individuals or family corporations off Nebraska farmland. Only nonfamily corporations would be blocked. But up to five unrelated people would be able to have a limited liability farming venture in the state. All of those involved in such a venture would have to be involved in the day-to-day operations, including manual labor.

A similar measure fell flat in the Legislature last year."

This was the article posted on KolnKgin's website this evening. Take what you want from it. I was at the hearing today and I can tell you this much, the proponents of the bill outnumbered the opponents of the bill 3 to 1. I can also tell you from sitting between two opponents, that the corporations do not think to much of this bill or its chances for success.

The hearing began with a passionate plea from Chuck Hassebrook about the values and the merits of the family farming culture in Nebraska and the affects these Mega-corporations have had in the sustaining of these farms. Benjamin Gotschall also spoke on behalf of the bill discussing landownership as well as the limited opportunities for new farmers, young farmers and beginning farmers againest these corporations. One of the senators tried to corner Ben with talks of "Getting Out," or basically the idea that Ben would eventually become a landowner, build his operation and sell it for a maximum profit.

Ridiculous! This completely misses the entire point of the family farm movement. It is about succession, about building a quality way of life for current and future generations. Not for some immediate profit that is tangible and limited. A family farm is the basis of life in Nebraska and will continue to be as long as advocates such as Hassebrook and Gotschall stand up for what it right, but they must not do it alone! Anyone who cares about Nebraska and "The Good Life", or who cares about the food they eat and the health of their children and their childrens children, and for the environment and for the land must join in the cause. Contact your Nebraska State Senator, contact your local governments, get involved join movements on Facebook or NSAS. This is immediate and it is dire!

Nebraska State Legislature

Friday, February 27, 2009

Farming Between Your Ears!

Simple in form and complicated in application it really is amazing the power of the mind and of thought. Farming seems to have lost this idea. In the world where bigger means better, farming has tried to keep pace.

At the recent Organic Symposium held at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln several thoughts rang true. None was truer than the idea put forth by Dave Welsch. Welsch is an organic and livestock farmer in Nebraska. I have known him for only a short time, but his idea of "Farming Between Your Ears" was quite profound. Who would have thought that putting, well more thought, into your farming would make more sense, produce better yeilds, and provide more profit. It really is quite a simple idea. Thinking about the affect you have on your environment, and how that affect trickles down.

On two separate occasions I have heard Dave give the same reasons for his switch from a "conventional" operation to an organic farm. That reason again is simple and requires this idea of "Farming Between Your Ears." He simply wanted his children to be able to come visit him in the fields, to be able to wash his children's clothes with his own and to not have to worry about chemical residues. All of the other benefits of an organic and sustainable farm come with being a knowledgeable and smart farmer as well as caring about the land and being a good steward.

Another thought that was quite profound was put forth by the moderator, Dr. Chuck Francis. It was the idea of teaching these sustainable and organic methods to farmers across cultures and physical boundaries. A major tenet of agriculture today is the idea that we, American Farmers, must feed the world. I have no doubt that America has a wealth of resources in our farmers and in our farming communities. However Francis posed the idea of should we feed the world. My opinion is that he believes we should provide resources, opportunities and education for the world to develop and implement sustainable and organic opportunities that will increase their capacity to feed themselves while building and ensuring local infrastructure to keep it growing. It also seems to me that this would build upon the idea of sustainability within these communities and ensure long-term success.

The symposium was great! Most of those in attendance were college students who seemed to be unfamiliar with organic farming. Dave was quite popular and did a great job of discussing his operation and how and why he switched to organic. There are numerous benefits to attending these seminars and sessions. To me personally it is supporting a smarter and more sustainable way of farming to ensure the vitality of our family farms for future generations! I believe the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society is quite fortunate to have members such as Dr. Francis and Dave Welsch, they are an invaluable resource!!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Rural Advantage/Healthy Farms Conference Recap Part II

Following a successful day one of the conference was going to be crucial and hard to do, but we did! Day 2 began with our annual meeting, which included the president's report as well as the executive director's report and elections. The turnout was good, however I received a good piece of advice to have the meeting after the festivities the night before. This would both increase attendance and the levity!

Day 2 also marked to commencement of our silent auction. We must have made a dozen or so trips in hauling the donations to our general session room. We had a good number of donations, even more so than our record breaking number last year. Both the silent and live auction are some of our most popular and vital fund raisers and it was absolutely essential to have a good turnout. We are fortunate to have such wonderful and active individuals and organizations who donate to support a cause such as NSAS!

Another carry over from Day 1 was the puzzle adventure with our technology. Needless to say I was by this time well-versed in switching out, unplugging, and transferring technology that one remarked "You almost looked like you knew what you were doing!" In any event the technology adventure worked out. We did have one projector that seemed intent on fizzling out, but it held on until the end.

By the end of the day we had exceeded our attendance expectations considering the weather. While our numbers were down they were quite good and would have seen an increase from the previous year had the weather cooperated. All in all it was a great conference! From NSAS members contributions to a wonderfully orchestrated logistically success from the hotel, I believe the conference promoted and fostered growth in the movement!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Rural Advantage/Healthy Farms Conference Recap

Blizzards, cancellations, horse races, and projectors throwing sparks, were all part of a hugely successful conference in Grand Island. Oh and there was also great food, great breakout sessions, great keynote, and a fabulous auction.
From the beginning we knew it would be a chore to coordinate everything considering the mammoth storm that was due to arrive early on Friday, Friday the 13th. Some coincidence!

However the snow did not start to attack the Grand Island area until 7:15 or so. The conference was a go, and despite several phone calls inquiring otherwise, we were ready to roll.

The conference officially began with Melinda Hemmelgarn's inspiring keynote about helping people to "think beyond their plates." Now while I did not get to hear most of the keynote, or most of the sessions for that matter, I was able to catch up with this Food and Society Fellow at later parts of the conference. For me one of my favorite parts of her talk was the question she posed, “Where would we be without farmers growing good food?” I believe our farmers are absolutely crucial in this connection of food to plate to consumer and even to health.

Following the keynote address were our first round of breakout sessions. I believe we averaged around 40 in each of the three sessions, which I felt was quite good considering the full-blown blizzard occurring outside. By this time, 10:15ish, I could measure 4 inches of snow on my car. So in only 3 hours that much snow had fallen. It was in deed going to make for an interesting day for those coming to the conference later. However my next obstacle was looming large, and was most certainly not my area of expertise.

Now for the conference we, the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society- NSAS, were going to have to utilize our own equipment for the sessions. Meaning our own laptops and projectors. We had plenty of laptops, and the exact right amount of projectors. However some of the projectors would only work with some of the laptops, so at times it felt like putting together a puzzle to get things to work. Luckily all of the speakers were patient and good at "winging it" in dire straights! So the first round went alright. In the meantime we had some board members coordinating our auctions, which were conveniently located on the other side of the hotel, (purely a logistic hassle, not an actual concern!) Well this posed another problem as when I went over to that side, and poked my head in at the youth program I realized no one had arrived to take care of them. We quickly got them set up with some cool board games that I had brought from home in case of such a situation, and coordinated an awesome volunteer to see that there was adequate programming for the rest of the day. We had a great youth program thanks to this individual and I am hoping to collaborate with him in the future on youth programs and camps. If you would like to know his name contact me.

The afternoon sessions went great as well. While I had to occasionally put different pieces of that "puzzle" together and take them apart, the technology held up. We did have one cancellation because of the weather, but luckily we had a board member who specialized in this act topic, beekeeping, that he was more than an adequate fill-in! However things were about to get interesting.

For our auctions we always get this great family of auctioneers who volunteer their time to come down and run our live auction. They are professionals in every sense of the word and you cannot measure their value to our auction! However due to the blizzard, which had now deposited nearly 6 inches of snow, with drifting and hazardous driving conditions, they were unable to make it. So again we improvised. One of our board members, who had coordinated all of the auction items and events, as well as another individual volunteered to be our "auctioneers." And they did a fantastic job. Prior to the auction we had beer and wine reception of only Nebraska products, and I believe it was very successful. I believe there was a great sense of appreciation and respect for the individuals who produced the beer and wine, as well as all of the food, and we were their in this regard to celebrate the "flavor and taste" and Nebraska.

At the conclusion of our auction and reception we had an awesome dinner of Nebraska products, featuring a menu of almost all Nebraska ingredients. My favorite item was the ribs and the pie. Quite an eclectic combination but it was delicious. Nebraska had a very unique taste and it was definitely on display at the dinner. The Midtown Holiday Inn, where the conference was located, did a fantastic job of preparing the food and of overall contributing to a hugely successful opening day of the conference. Part II will come later but for now enjoy the pictures from opening day!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A 50-year Crystal Ball and some pictures

"We live off of what comes out of the soil, not what's in the bank," said Wes Jackson, president of the Land Institute. "If we squander the ecological capital of the soil, the capital on paper won't much matter."

No doubt the thought of looking 50 years into the future is daunting, and hardly a concern of many. But a few have and are, and why? Because for too long we have focused on short sightedness and the quick fix to develop and maintain our way(s) of life. Wes Jackson at the Land Institute proposes the way to deal with the agriculture issues of our day is a 50-year farm bill,

While many would argue that the decline in land stewardship and practical farming began with the industrial revolution, I believe a more in depth look is needed. Beginning in the late 1700's after America was founded, our leaders and our government realized that these United States possessed something of great value, our farmland. To that extent they have been exploiting our farmers ever since, for the sole purposes of expanding economically. To reverse the trend we would in deed need to heed Mr. Jackson's plan. A major issue is soil and water conservation and how to increase organic matter in the topsoil.

One of my favorite parts of the article is this quote. "The proposals we’re discussing would increase employment opportunities in agriculture — sustainable farming will require more eyes per acre, and replacing fossil-fuel energy with human energy and ecological knowledge makes good economic sense." It does, and I believe it begins with the land. But do people know how to farm, or has the disconnect disconnected even more people.

Here is another snippet from the article that give a brief allbeit detailed over view of the 50-year Farm Bill.
The farm bills we’ve had largely address exports, commodity problems, subsidies and food programs. They all involve here-and-now concerns. A 50-year farm bill represents a vision that stresses the need to protect soil from erosion, cut the wastefulness of water, cut fossil-fuel dependence, eliminate toxins in soil and water, manage carefully the nitrogen of the soil, reduce dead zones, restore an agrarian way of life, and preserve farmland from development.

The idea for a 50-year Farm Bill could and would accomplish these goals. They would need to. I believe the ideas my wife and I have for our farm would incorporate many of these. We hope to have a grass based dairy with some chickens, pigs, and beef cows. We would like to try farming with horses rather than machines. (I actually talked with one farmer from Washington who tried and tried to do that, but it takes quite the doing!) The idea with grass based for us to returning to land stewardship and management. In a grass based operation these are key. I am still learning but there are many great publications out there on them including Grass-Fed Beef.

Another central theme to Jackson's idea is that if we can't become sustainable in agriculture, it is highly unlikely that we can in any other faucet of society. That is a sobering, yet true statement. Our country was founded on agricultural principles of hard work, dedication and sacrifice. To revitalize and reinvigorate the agricultural sector we must heed Jackson's plan. We must begin to work on cooperation with nature rather than trying to dominate it. And we must begin now!

And now for some recent pictures of the snow here!

Monday, February 2, 2009

2009 Healthy Farms and Rural Advantage Conference

Rural Advantage/Healthy Farms Conference by Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society.

When: February 13th and 14th
Where: Mid-Town Holiday Inn, Grand Island
More information:

"This year’s Healthy Farm and Rural Advantage conference has much to offer farmers looking to diversify their operations, acreage owners wanting to produce extra income and teens looking for money-making projects that they can do on their farm."

Feast or Famine: A Fork in the Road and the Crucial Farmer - Consumer Connection

Keynote speaker, Melinda Hemmelgarn, M.S., R.D.
Melinda Hemmelgarn, Food Sleuth: Using Media Literacy to Find Food Truth Media "diets" feed us illusions of "green" and "good" food choices. Media literacy provides us with a set of critical thinking tools to navigate media messages, identify empty promises and become better informed "food citizens." Workshop attendees will:
* Explore trends in food and agriculture media and marketing.
* Learn how to question, deconstruct, analyze, and create media messages to counter-balance media bias.
* Know how to find and disseminate "food truth."

Look forward to several workshops devoted to Holistic Management™ on Saturday. Topics will include an introduction to Holistic Management™, monitoring the ecosystems, planning for profit, and grazing principles. If you want to make changes in your farming operation, improve your family’s quality of life and income, and meet the new demands of farming sustainably - Holistic Management™ is for you.

Youth programming, scholarships and child care is available
Other program sessions include; Wildlife Damage Control for High Value Products, Mechanical Weed Control and Field Preparation, Beekeeping, Grazing Principles, and many more!! Youth Programming is available as is Childcare and scholarships. A Nebraska Beer, Wine and Cheese Reception precedes the annual All-Nebraska Dinner and Auction.

For more information visit or contact me at

We look forward to seeing everyone in Grand Island!!