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!!