The Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society promotes an agriculture that
builds healthy land, people, communities and quality of life, for present and
NSAS is a non-profit membership organization. Annual membership costs $25,
which includes a year's subscription to the NSAS newsletter. For more
information about NSAS or the information in this newsletter, please contact:
NSAS, PO Box 736, Hartington, NE 68739; 402-254-2289. Fax: 402-254-6930.
The NSAS newsletter is published quarterly. We welcome articles, letters,
poetry and other contributions, which should be sent to the above address.
Articles appearing in this newsletter may be reproduced; please credit the
authors and the NSAS newsletter. This newsletter is supported in part by
grants from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the US Environmental Protection
Garden Brings Agriculture to the City
by Cris Carusi
City Sprouts, the newest group to join the Nebraska IMPACT Project, is
growing more than vegetables in their garden. The group aims to bring people
together to improve the environment, build community pride, and increase
economic hopefulness in inner-Omaha neighborhoods by raising beautiful
The group will use the garden to address issues of fear, crime, and lack of
community awareness and involvement. They hope to foster an awareness of
where food comes from by bringing agricultural production into the city.
"Urban residents buy their food from grocery stores, sprayed, washed and
wrapped in plastic," group members commented in their IMPACT application. "By
experiencing the seasons of sowing, tending, harvesting and rest, gardeners
will remember that they are a part of the cycles of nature and life."
The City Sprouts have established their first half-acre garden in the
Orchard Hill/Bemis Park neighborhood of North Omaha. They plan to raise
produce on two dozen double-dug, raised beds. They will sell their produce at
the Omaha Farmers' Market, and earnings will pay for garden expenses and
educational programs. Six additional beds will be used by junior-high school
students in a joint educational program with the Omaha Public Schools.
When purchased, the lot where the garden is now located was littered with
trash and the soil was in terrible shape. The group is building the damaged
soil with compost, leaves and winter cover crops.
Group members are mostly inner-city residents, ranging in age from children
to elders. Their gardening experience ranges from novice to expert.
The City Sprouts' program includes a variety of educational activities. They
have organized a series of weekend classes to help junior-high school
teachers develop and teach an applied science curriculum. They also plan to
invite several guest lecturers to speak at the garden throughout the summer.
Over the next two years, the group hopes to develop a gardening internship
program for persons in transition from welfare to public employment. This
internship would provide experience in all aspects of growing and selling
organic produce. They hope to support three paid interns by 1998.
The group held an opening dedication at the garden this June, to celebrate
their beginning and remember recent murder victims who died in the garden's
vicinity. The celebration brought together community members, garden
volunteers, local pastors, a gospel choir, and representatives from
government and civic organizations.
The City Sprouts seek donations of seedlings, compost, manure and other
organic materials free of pesticides and trash, and garden tools. The group
recently achieved nonprofit status, and all donations are tax-exempt. If you
wish to get involved with this committed, energetic group, you can reach them
at 3606 Lafayette Avenue, Omaha, 68131-1364; (402) 558-5938.
Women's Group Enhances Members' Quality of Life
by Cris Carusi
Healthy farms depend on healthy families. EQUAL, an IMPACT group of rural
women from Bow Valley, is working to build strong, sustainable farms and
communities through better quality of life for farm families.
EQUAL, which stands for Enhanced Quality of Life, includes ten farm women.
They range in age from women with young families to women with adult
children. Relaxed meetings are held in the women's homes, where they can feel
comfortable bringing their children.
The group's goals are to learn more about sustainable farming and marketing
practices, improve their leadership, communication and time management
skills, and support each other while building confidence. The members with
older families informally mentor the younger women.
EQUAL gives rural women an opportunity to take time out of the day for
themselves. Economic pressures on the farm often lead women to work three
"shifts" as off-farm workers, farm laborers, and child-care providers and
housekeepers. Women who don't work off of the farm often feel like they
aren't contributing enough to the farm economy, despite the long hours they
spend at farming, housekeeping and parenting. EQUAL encourages women who stay
on the farm to feel good about this choice, and introduces them to farm- or
community-based business ideas to help them earn extra money without taking a
job in town.
In addition to sustainable farming and marketing practices, EQUAL's work
addresses some of the stresses that lead to family and community instability.
These include long working hours, exhaustion, poor communication between
partners, and reduced time for family and community activities.
The group has held classes on CPR and first aid, conflict resolution,
understanding personality types, organic gardening, natural health care,
raising dogs, raising chickens and hogs on pasture, and alternative
home-based businesses. Some of these classes have involved their husbands and
neighbors. Several group members have participated in events offered by
Cooperative Extension including a series of classes on women's financial
rights, Family Community Leadership seminars, and a dairy grazing workshop.
One issue of concern to EQUAL group members is the shortage of child care
services in Bow Valley and Hartington. Most local women who work off-farm
take their children to Yankton, South Dakota for care. This trend is breaking
down community ties in Bow Valley and draining money out of the local
The group received a small grant from Interchurch Ministries of Nebraska for
a child care feasibility study, which revealed that most local families feel
a definite need for daycare services in Bow Valley. The process of doing this
survey brought the child care issue forward in the community, and may inspire
some local action.
This summer and fall, EQUAL plans to host a Women's Wellness Day, tour
members' farms while enjoying a progressive dinner, and attend local farm
tours to learn more about management-intensive grazing, organic farming, and
direct marketing meat. Most important, though, is the informal time that
members will spend together, sharing stories and ideas which will ultimately
improve the quality of their lives.
Taking Stock of the '96 Farm Bill
by Brad DeVries, Midwest Sustainable Agriculture Working Group
Although far from perfect, the 1996 Farm Bill is not the worst piece of
legislation to come out of Washington DC, thanks to the efforts of the
sustainable agriculture community and a smidgen of good luck.
The Farm Bill itself keeps the basic structure of House Agriculture
Committee Chairman Pat Roberts' "Freedom to Farm" approach, with fixed,
declining payments to farmers over the next seven years. USDA will calculate
a particular farm's check on the basis of payment levels over the past five
years. Receipt of money under Freedom to Farm will no longer depend on
production of any particular commodity.
One positive aspect of this legislation is the broad planting flexibility it
will offer farmers. Perhaps the biggest sustainable farming victory in this
bill is the elimination of restrictions on haying and grazing program acres.
Up to the eleventh hour, the bill had sharp limits on livestock that would
have wrecked the management plans of many highly-integrated farms, and closed
off this option for any farmer looking to diversify over the next seven
years. This victory opens the door to much broader use of integrated,
profitable crop and livestock rotations.
The Conservation Reserve Program will continue at 36.4 million acres, and
now includes much better standards for targeting the program to the acres
that need it most. The Farm Bill reauthorizes the Wetlands Reserve Program,
and consolidates several smaller programs into a new Environmental Quality
Despite these positive features, the 1996 Farm Bill has some major flaws. It
excludes farmers who have opted for diverse crop rotations rather than
program crops. It fails to close loopholes that allow large landowners to
collect more than their share of federal payments, and it does not target
payments to the small and medium sized operations that need them most. Still,
the 1996 Farm Bill is a much better document than it would have been without
the participation of people who believe in family farms.
CRP Fields Support Diverse Song Birds
by Duane Hovorka, Nebraska Wildlife Federation
A new study of CRP fields in southeast Nebraska highlights the value of
these fields for grassland birds. In her Master's thesis, Jennifer Delisle
documented 17 species of birds in 10 CRP fields. The most populous birds in
the CRP fields during breeding season, dickcissels and grasshopper species,
have declined substantially in recent decades.
Fields with cool-season, non-native grasses and legumes (like brome), and
warm-season native grasses (like big bluestem and switchgrass), attract
numerous birds during the breeding season. During the winter, warm-season
tallgrass fields provide habitat for more birds than other fields studied.
The cool-season fields are preferred by bobolinks during the breeding
season. Sedge wrens and common yellowthroats favor tall warm-season grasses
during breeding season, and tree sparrows favor these grasses during the
winter. Pheasants and meadowlarks nest in both warm- and cool-season grasses
during breeding season, but in winter pheasants prefer tall warm-season
grasses while meadowlarks select shorter cool-season grasses.
Other birds like red-wing blackbirds, mourning doves, and northern bobwhites
nest in both warm- and cool-season grasses during the breeding season.
Dickcissels and grasshopper sparrows use both types of fields, although
Dickcissels favor tall warm-season grasses and the taller weedy forb areas of
cool-season fields. Grasshopper sparrows, on the other hand, prefer the
short grasses of cool-season fields, or warm-season fields that are mowed.
The study suggests that both warm- and cool-season fields provide important
habitat niches. Haying during the nesting season will destroy nests, and
haying in late fall may reduce winter cover for pheasants and other birds.
Mowing in early spring doesn't seem to affect breeding season populations.
As annual forbs provide nesting and winter cover, weed control should be
limited to spot control of noxious weeds outside the nesting season.
Delisle can now be reached at the Game & Parks Commission, P.O. Box 30370,
Lincoln, NE 68503-0370.
Cooperation Makes for a Fun, Successful Market
by Thomas N. Tomas
Editor's Note: This is Part II of a two-part article. Part I was featured in
the spring NSAS newsletter.
I used to raise watermelons. I sold mostly Crimson Sweet, a medium-sized,
red-fleshed, sweet melon. I also raised Sugar Baby and orange-fleshed Texas
Tendersweet. I would cut one of each variety and display them on the end of
the pickup. People would come up and say, "A yellow watermelon? I've never
seen one like that. What do they taste like?" I would cut them a slice and
tell them "It's like red watermelon only it tastes orange." An old joke, but
they would laugh and take a taste, and we would get to talking. Before you
knew it, there would be a crowd of people there listening, talking, tasting
watermelon and having a good time.
Would this have happened if my pickup was by itself on a roadside? Well,
maybe, but it wouldn't have been as much fun, and I wouldn't have sold as
many melons because people would only stop if they had melons on their minds.
At the market, customers could go on to the next pickup where they could
maybe buy the tomatoes they came to the market for in the first place. And
while they were there, they would see lettuce and cabbage and eggs and...
well, you get the idea.
A word about price competition vs. cooperation. I'm not talking price
fixing, just not doing something stupid. If the only thing you have to offer
is a lower price, you won't stay in business for long because there is always
someone who can sell it for less than what it costs you to produce it. This
is what industrial production of food is all about. What you need to do is
to figure out not what is a fair price for you, but what is a fair price for
the entire market to succeed.
I always tried to keep track of what produce was selling for in the
supermarkets, and then set my prices above that as a starting point. When
the market got going, I would compare my quality and price to others in the
market and then set my price a little higher than the prevailing price for
It took me a few years to arrive at this pricing strategy, but it worked for
me and the other vendors in the market. For me, it allowed a better return
for my produce, even if I lost a few customers to lower prices at another
stand. It allowed them to get enough sales to make it worthwhile to come
back and provide me with the competition I needed. I say I needed it
because, without other choices for customers to compare my produce with, they
had no ready reference to decide whether or not dancing with me was more fun
than dancing with someone else. I needed that competition to do a better job
of growing and selling.
Others in the market who tried to compete by cutting prices might "win" by
selling out that day, but in the long run they did not stay in the market.
Some will speculate that they didn't come back because they figured out they
could not make a profit at a lower price, but I suspect that they didn't come
back because there isn't much fun in that kind of selling. They only came to
the dance to make money, and let's face it, there are easier ways to make
Sellers and buyers can cooperate to make a market a fun place by inviting
local people to perform live at the market. It can be music, singing, a
style show by the 4-H club or a cooking demonstration; as long as it is live
and local it will work. The more diversity among sellers the better, as long
as it is local and homemade, whether it be crafts, baked goods or preserves.
What makes a market an ongoing part of a community is the involvement of as
many people as possible with different interests and talents who enjoy the
process. You can make money selling in this kind of a market, but you can't
do it alone. You need to make the effort to see that everyone is having a
good time along with you if you are going to be a success.
Report Describes On-Farm Nutrient Research
Cover crops, windbreaks, terraces, rotations, composting. These are some of
the practices that over 20 farm families experimented with ten years ago to
provide, conserve, or cycle crop nutrients. These families participated in
the Small Farm Resources Project (SFRP) to try and increase their yields,
reduce their costs, improve their soils, and retain management control of
Earl Fish tried corn windbreaks in his soybean fields to reduce soil water
loss caused by hot summer winds. He found a 4-5% increase in bean yields in
a dry year but no advantage in a wet year. Gary Young created narrow strips
of corn and soybeans throughout the whole field that provided both windbreak
and fertilization benefits.
Several families tried cover crops to reduce water loss, control off-season
erosion, and provide soil nitrogen. These trials included rye, turnips,
triticale, several legumes, and other crops. The cooperators saw slight
increases in crop yields and definite successes and failures with different
cover crops. Many of them decided to experiment with cover crops beyond the
life of the SFRP.
Some of the SFRP cooperators have made improvements to their ideas since the
project ended. Bill Kleinschmit cut his fertilizer costs and increased crop
yields by using composted dairy manure. He modified a hay windrower in 1983
to turn and windrow the compost. In 1993 he redesigned the compost-turner
and, with a special USDA grant, built a more powerful and reliable machine
for only $5000.
The project concluded that, "...these families have become more confident in
their own decision-making. In turn, they have gained a new enthusiasm for
farming and are more convinced than ever of the soundness and sustainability
of their way of farming - small, diversified, and conservation-oriented....
These farms survived and prospered in contradiction to conventional
Their approaches might help your farm to prosper as well. Individual
practice results or the total SFRP report are available from the Center for
Rural Affairs. Call or write for a publication list: PO Box 736, Hartington,
NE 68739; 402 254-6893.
- Wyatt Fraas
Mechanical Weed Control Video Released
If you're interested in mechanical weed control but don't have an
opportunity to learn how successful farmers use their tools, here's a new
video for you.
Vegetable Farmers and their Weed Control Machines is the next best thing to
being there. From sweeps and rotary hoes to flame weeders and homemade tools,
this high-quality, 75-minute video demonstrates many of the available
cultivation implements. It also explains some of the weed control strategies
being used effectively on New England vegetable farms.
While the video focuses on New England growers, the information presented is
applicable to smaller-scale vegetable farms in many parts of the country. It
shows how the implements work and how farmers adapt their use for
site-specific conditions and production goals.
The video features plenty of clear, up-close footage of various pieces of
machinery in use on a variety of vegetable crops. Tools demonstrated include:
Buddingh basket and finger weeders, Lely tine weeders, rotary hoes, rolling
cultivators, Bezzerides implements, various sweeps, as well as backpack and
tractor-mounted flame weeders. Some homemade tools for cultivating the edges
of plastic mulch are also described.
Nine growers explain how the different pieces of equipment work and describe
how the various tools fit into their overall weed control strategy. The
producers also tell some of the pros and cons of specific equipment.
The video is available for $10, including postage. Make checks payable to
UVM extension and include a note with your name and mailing address. Send to:
UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture, 590 Main Street, Burlington, VT
- Beth Holtzman
Love Affair with the Platte
In the pristine high country
of the Snowy Range,
the warmth of early summer
melts the winter.
The mountains say,
so that meadows my bloom,
pines may candle
and man may tarry
to marvel at our awesome majesty."
And the infant Platte complies.
The earthen dams say,
"Let us have your water
that we may heat and cool cities,
that we may hold boats and fish.
And the Platte complies.
Now on the flatland, the farmer says,
"Let me have your water
that I may flood the land
to nourish man and beast."
And the Platte complies.
The waterfowl of the Big Bend say,
"Let us have enough water
that we may have safe roosting."
And the Platte complies.
The murky, powerful Missouri says,
"Let me have your water
that I may swell
to make room for barges
as they churn to their destinations."
And the Platte complies
- Sydney Kruse