The Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society promotes an agriculture that
builds healthy land, people, communities and quality of life, for present and
This is an abridged version of the NSAS newsletter. If you wish to read the
complete version, please visit our web site at www.netins.net/showcase/nsas
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 USDA Sustainable Agriculture
Research and Education Program.
In This Issue:
You Are What You Eat, Drink and Breathe
Study Associates Nitrate in Drinking Water with Greater Cancer Risk
Saving Seeds Shapes the Future
Grow Better, Not Bigger, at NSAS Annual Meeting
Tom Frantzen to Speak at Western Conference
Short-Term Effects of Pesticides Explained
Future Harvest: Keeping Farms Alive in Maryland
Hillary Clinton Club Demystifies Marketing for Women
Heart of the Beholder
YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT, DRINK AND BREATHE
Study Associates Nitrate in Drinking Water with Greater Cancer Risk
Contamination of drinking water with nitrate, a chemical in fertilizers, may
be associated with an increased risk of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL),
particularly in agricultural areas, a National Cancer Institute study
In a study published in the September, 1996 issue of the journal
Epidemiology, scientists from NCI, the University of Nebraska Medical Center
in Omaha, and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore assessed the average
amount of nitrate consumed daily in tap water by Nebraska residents diagnosed
with NHL, a cancer of the lymphatic system, and by a control group of persons
without the disease who lived in the same area. Both groups used public
The more nitrate they consumed in their water, the greater was their
probability of developing NHL. Persons with NHL were twice as likely to be
in the group that consumed the highest levels of nitrate as those without the
"This is one of the first epidemiologic studies to suggest a link between
drinking-water nitrate and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma risk," said Mary H. Ward,
Ph.D., of NCI, the study's lead author. "The findings deserve further
evaluation because nitrate is a common contaminant of ground water in many
areas of the country."
However, it is uncertain whether the findings truly reflect the effect of
nitrate, she added. An alternate possibility is that nitrate exposure is
simply a surrogate or "marker" variable that is correlated with another NHL
risk factor that was not directly measured in the study.
Since 1973, incidence of NHL in the United States has increased about 75
percent - one of the largest increases among major cancer sites. An
estimated 52,700 Americans will be diagnosed with the disease in 1996, and
23,300 will die from it.
Herbicides and insecticides have been linked to risk for NHL in studies of
farmers, pesticide applicators, and other occupational groups exposed to high
levels of these chemicals. The new findings on drinking-water nitrate among
Nebraska residents who were not farmers suggest that nitrate, or some other
exposure that is correlated with nitrate exposure, may be another NHL risk
Nitrate levels in ground and surface waters of agricultural regions have
increased over the past 40 years as a result of increases in the use of
nitrogen fertilizers. Nitrate contamination occurs in geographic patterns
related to the amount of nitrogen contributed by fertilizers, manure, and
airborne sources such as automobile and industrial emissions, and to soil
drainage characteristics. Areas with well-drained soils and high nitrogen
inputs have the highest nitrate levels in the water supply.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's regulatory limit for nitrate is
10 mg per liter of drinking water.
One advantage of the new study is that the researchers calculated nitrate
consumption levels for each person rather than simply comparing cancer rates
in large populations with differing nitrate levels in their water supplies.
To do this, they determined from public records how much nitrate was in each
person's community water source starting in 1947, and asked subjects how much
they typically drank each day of tap water, coffee, and other beverages made
with tap water.
The researchers estimated drinking-water nitrate consumption for 90 women
and 66 men diagnosed with NHL between 1983 and 1986 who used community water
sources, and for a control group of 276 women and 251 men in the same eastern
Nebraska counties who also used community water. Those with NHL were twice
as likely to be in the group with the highest drinking-water nitrate
consumption levels (an average of 6.3 mg per day or more over their adult
life) as those without the cancer.
Persons exposed to drinking-water nitrate levels above the EPA limit of 10
mg/liter for one year or longer - a group that made up 21 percent of all
persons in the study - had a 50 percent higher risk than those having no
exposure above this level.
Nitrate intake from dietary sources was also estimated for each person in
the study. Higher dietary nitrate consumption - mostly from vegetables
including spinach, lettuce, and beets - was associated with lower risk for
NHL. This apparently contradictory finding may be explained by the
anticarcinogenic effects of vegetable components such as vitamin C and
carotenes (vitamin A-related compounds).
This article was provided by the Cancer Information Service, which provides
a nationwide telephone service for cancer patients and their families, the
public, and health care professionals. The toll-free number is
MH Ward et al. Drinking Water, Nitrate and the Risk of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.
Epidemiology, September 1996.
SAVING SEEDS SHAPES THE FUTURE
by Thomas N. Tomas
The shortest day of the year is fast approaching. The garden is put to bed
for winter, but my thoughts are turning to spring. I have already perused
five new seed catalogues and started to fill in the order blanks. The Seed
Savers list of varieties that I will offer in 1997 has been returned to
Decorah, Iowa and I eagerly wait to see what other members will list. Now my
evenings are spent cleaning the seeds that I saved this summer.
The crop of parsnip seed was good. I harvested the umbels as they matured
between rains and should have enough seed for two years. Parsnip seed
doesn't maintain its vigor much longer than that, so I grow a crop of seed at
least every other year. Over the past five years, I have selected the best
disease free, medium sized roots that overwinter in the garden and planted
them in a bed to produce seed. I don't know what variety they are, as I
started out by growing four varieties and saving the best roots the next
spring for a seed crop. What I am after is a parsnip that does well in my
This year I also raised a small crop of onion seed. On May 5th, I sorted
out the best keeping onion bulbs from the 1995 crop. I selected 26 Red
Diablo and 20 Yellow Sweet Sandwich, and planted them in a small bed. Both
varieties are hybrids, and any crosses should have a wide genetic base. They
bloomed well and set seed, but the wet weather and grasshoppers reduced the
yield to a third of what it should have been. That is enough seed to plant
out next spring for a crop of several hundred onions.
I expect a lot of variation. We will eat the rejects first and put the best
in storage for winter. Through the winter, any onions that sprout will be
used. In May of 1998, I will plant the best keepers for another crop of
seeds. Who knows? In another ten years I may develop a sweet, red storage
onion uniquely adapted to the growing conditions of Orleans, Nebraska. In
the meantime, I will have all the onions we need and something to dream about
during long December evenings as I clean seed.
I also save okra, eggplant, tomatillo, tomato, pepper, pea, bean, cucumber,
breadseed poppy, melon, herb, and flower seeds. With each of these, I hope
to develop varieties that do well in my garden and have the characteristics
that I want. So far, all of them produce as well as most varieties I can buy
from a catalog. Some of them are superior for my needs, which is what counts.
If you would like to try saving seeds yourself, I suggest you contact your
local library or book store for copies of the following two books:
Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth, 1991. Published by Seed Saver
Publications, Decorah, Iowa
Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties by Carol Deppe, 1993. Published by
Little, Brown and Co.
Saving your own seeds is more than an interesting hobby that can produce
varieties uniquely adapted to your garden. It gives you an opportunity to
preserve the past and help shape the future of our food and flowers. As you
will find from reading the books above, saving seeds doesn't take many
special skills. It does require a love of plants, good observation and
It's great to spend long winter evenings preparing seeds that can produce
plants which never would have seen the sun of spring, had they not first
bloomed in your imagination.
GROW BETTER, NOT BIGGER, AT NSAS ANNUAL MEETING
Would you like to make your farm more profitable without sacrificing your
quality of life? Are you concerned about the future of rural communities?
If so, then mark your calendar for the 1997 Annual Meetings of the Nebraska
Sustainable Agriculture Society and the Nebraska Fruit and Vegetable Growers.
Themed Grow Better, Not Bigger, this year's meeting will feature two days of
exciting speakers and interesting workshops.
Keynote presenters include North Dakota farmer Fred Kirschenmann and Iowa
State Rural Sociologist Cornelia Butler-Flora. In his presentation, "Growing
Better Instead of Bigger - Opportunities and Obstacles," Fred Kirschenmann
will discuss how farmers can take advantage of the shift in our economy from
specialized mass production toward new models of quality and diversity.
Cornelia Butler-Flora's presentation will address "Investing in
Sustainability: Creating Capital on Farms and in Rural Communities." She will
discuss how different kinds of farming, including sustainable farming,
contribute to economic and environmental well-being, and quality of life.
This year's Annual Meeting will have a special emphasis on biological pest
control. Dr. Robert Wright from the University of Nebraska will present an
overview of biological control in field and horticultural crops. Dan and
Susan Mahr from the University of Wisconsin - Madison will present workshops
on biological control in fruit and vegetable crops.
Workshop topics will include saving seeds, sizing equipment to farming
operations, organic gardening, manure management, raising poultry on pasture,
organic greenhouse production and more!
This year's meeting is co-sponsored by the UNL Center for Sustainable
Agricultural Systems and the Organic Crop Improvement Association, Nebraska
The meeting is planned for February 21st and 22nd at the New World Inn in
Columbus. Registration for the two-day event costs $60 before February 14.
For more information, contact Cris Carusi or Jill Wubben at 402-254-2289.
TOM FRANTZEN TO SPEAK AT WESTERN CONFERENCE
Tom Frantzen, an Iowa farmer and president of the Practical Farmers of Iowa,
will present the keynote address at the fifth annual NSAS Western Conference,
to be held Saturday, February 1, 1997 in Sidney.
In his talk, "Free Your Mind and Your Behind Will Follow," Frantzen will
discuss "the way that we approach making decisions with our lives and with
how we're making a living."
Dubbed "the best show in town" by one of last year's participants, the NSAS
Western Conference is the premiere source of information and ideas on
sustainable agriculture in western Nebraska. Experienced farmers and ranchers
will present many of the workshops, with University of Nebraska research
specialists and extension educators contributing also.
Workshop topics include: wind power in western Nebraska; matching calving
time with forage availability; organic gardening; prospects for the beef
market; controlling weeds with crop rotation; pastured poultry and beekeeping
as alternative enterprises; using direct marketing strategies; the role of
legumes in cropping systems.
The conference will be held in Sidney for the first time this year, at the
Western Nebraska Community College. The day-long program features lunch and
music by Wyoming performer Birgit Burke. Participants save $10 by registering
For more information, call Jane Sooby at 308-254-3918.
SHORT-TERM EFFECTS OF PESTICIDES EXPLAINED
by Victoria Mundy, Extension Educator
Whether you love them or hate them, pesticides are fascinating when you come
right down to it: Every one is different. This article gives a couple of
examples of the short-term effects of herbicides and insecticides on target
organisms and humans.
Paraquat (GramoxoneŽ) kills a plant by interfering with the plant's ability
to photosynthesize. Paraquat also uses a byproduct of photosynthesis to
disrupt plant cell membranes, so that the plant more or less turns into a
People, of course, don't photosynthesize. But paraquat is similar in
chemical structure to compounds found naturally in the lungs. The lungs can
be tricked into accumulating paraquat and soon will not function. The
interesting thing is that you actually have to drink a little paraquat - or
completely ignore safety measures during spraying - for this to happen.
Paraquat has a chemical relative, diquat (ZennecaŽ), which is slightly less
toxic to humans and other mammals than paraquat. The mammalian body will
metabolize, or break down, diquat to some extent. Diquat is toxic to mammals;
the point is that these two herbicides behave differently in the mammalian
body even though they are closely related.
Herbicides are usually less toxic to humans than insecticides simply because
mammals have less in common with plants than with insects. Many insecticides
kill bugs by damaging their central nervous systems (CNS). The CNS of mammals
is similar to that of insects, so substances which are nerve poisons for
insects are likely to damage mammals too.
In the nervous system, tiny gaps exist between nerve cells, and between
nerve cells and the muscle cells they control. Electrical impulses carry
messages across these gaps with the help of substances called
One common neurotransmitter is acetylcholine (AcCH). After a molecule of
AcCH has helped an electrical impulse to leap across the gap between two
cells, an enzyme called acetylcholinesterase prevents the AcCH from helping
another impulse to pass.
Organophosphate insecticides such as LorsbanŽ damage acetylcholinesterase.
The enzyme becomes unable to deactivate the neurotransmitter AcCH. As a
result, AcCH keeps shoving one electrical impulse after another across gaps
Muscles contract because electrical impulses stimulate them. If electrical
impulses pass continuously from a nerve to a muscle, the muscle can never
relax. Organophosphates, then, make sure that muscles do not relax.
Convulsions and asphyxiation eventually occur.
Two naturally-occurring CNS disrupters are nicotine and pyrethrum. Nicotine
damages the nervous system in almost the same way that organophosphates do.
Nicotine is incredibly toxic to mammals and will cause illness or death if
either swallowed or touched. Nicotine is water-soluble - which means that
you can kill roaches by soaking cigarettes in water and pouring the resulting
"tea" down the sink.
Pyrethrum, or pyrethrin, is found in certain chrysanthemum species. Natural
pyrethrum is not highly poisonous to mammals because mammals can detoxify it
in their bodies. Some synthetic pyrethrins, though, are even worse for
mammals than nicotine is.
Pyrethrum produces an almost immediate "knockdown" in insects, which is why
it is present in household insecticides. (It's so satisfying to see that bug
hit the floor!) But insects can detoxify pyrethrum too, so they recover
quickly from knockdown. Other substances are added to most pyrethrum
insecticides so that insects cannot detoxify the pyrethrum.
These are just a few stories from the bewildering world of pesticides. Keep
in mind that the long-term effects of pesticides are another chapter
Davidson, R.H., and W.F. Lyon. 1987. Insect pests of farm, garden and
orchard. John Wiley and Sons, New York.
Hein, G.L., et al. 1995. Insect management guide for Nebraska sugarbeets,
dry beans, sunflowers, vetch, potatoes, and onions. Extension Circular
95-1561. University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension, Lincoln, NE 68583.
McEwen, F.L., and G.R. Stephenson. 1979. The use and significance of
pesticides in the environment. John Wiley and Sons, New York.
FUTURE HARVEST: KEEPING FARMS ALIVE IN MARYLAND
by Victoria Mundy, Extension Educator
The name says it well. People in this W.K. Kellogg-supported project intend
to make agriculture flourish in Maryland so that future generations will
always have a harvest of high-quality food and a clean environment.
Farmers face special challenges on the East Coast. Land development pressure
is incredible - farmland can sell for more than $15,000 per acre. Most
Maryland urbanites have no idea that Maryland agriculture is necessary to
them. And whether it's fair or not, agriculture bears the lion's share of
blame for the Chesapeake Bay's polluted condition.
Future Harvest people think that the best way to preserve farms in Maryland
is to let farmers take the lead in helping each other. The Project has three
Farm Boards. Most Board members are farmers, but extension and agency
personnel contribute too.
One Board supports small farms, one concentrates on large farms, and the
third takes care of mid-size farms. Boards award funds for farmers to try
new, more sustainable practices. The Boards also sponsor field trips and find
other ways to help farmers showcase innovative farming ideas.
Future Harvest grants emphasize production practices, marketing, and
wildlife. For example, one small farmer keeps rare goats which are specially
bred to perform well on pasture. Some farmers experiment with herbicide
banding - which seems like a small step, but is important for farmers who
have always broadcast chemicals.
Farmers make wildlife an integral part of their farms. Instead of setting
aside tracts of land for wildlife, they use farming practices that encourage
wildlife all over their farms.
The annual Future Harvest Festival engages consumers and promotes marketing.
Farmers bring produce and equipment, and city dwellers come to learn about
farming in an old-fashioned county fair setting. A good time is had by all!
Some Future Harvest farmers get together in small, local groups. They share
information and ideas informally. This should sound familiar to members of
our own IMPACT Project!
A fourth Future Harvest Board has the difficult job of finding ways to keep
agricultural land in agriculture. Buying development rights is prohibitively
expensive. The best way to preserve agricultural land is to make farming
profitable and ensure that new farmers replace retired farmers - but this is
clearly a task for more than the one Board.
Future Harvest has plenty of challenges ahead in the Chesapeake Bay
watershed. But as farmers succeed a few at a time, Maryland will indeed have
agriculture as an important part of the future.
HILLARY CLINTON CLUB DEMYSTIFIES MARKETING FOR WOMEN
by Jane Sooby
"Everybody laughs at our name, the Hillary Clinton Club, and that kind of
came about as a joke because when we started this club, Hillary Clinton had
made $100,000 on beef in one year. And we felt that if she could do it in one
year without even walking in manure, those of us who step in it every day
should be able to make a little bit of it."
Linda Fedderson of Hay Springs, Nebraska, offers this explanation for how
the Hillary Clinton Club, a women's marketing group, got its name. In this
area of northwestern Nebraska, wheat, corn, hay, dry edible beans, and cattle
are the dominant enterprises. Most women work alongside their husbands in the
fields and in making marketing decisions.
The Hillary Clinton Club was one of the charter groups in the IMPACT
project. They received the very first check written to an IMPACT group in
December 1994. They managed to stretch this funding for two years by using
local speakers and soliciting donated materials from the Chicago Board of
Trade. Their returning group application was approved at the December
Steering Committee meeting.
In two years, the Hillary Clinton Club has benefited the women involved in
the group as well as on the surrounding community. The group's activities
have focused on basic marketing education. The participating women wanted to
speak the same marketing language as their husbands and make informed
contributions to farm business decisions.
"We started with terms to understand definitions and the different types of
contracts available," said Twila Weyers, founder of the group. They practiced
filling out worksheets and contracts to get hands-on experience. A man who
works at a local elevator donated his time to present the information and
lead them through the exercises.
"We take it at a real basic level so everyone can get it," Twila said. "We
have a policy that there are no dumb questions."
Twila works with a "core group" of five other women who help plan meetings
and make the behind-the-scenes arrangements for group activities. They make
sure to have refreshments at every meeting - including fresh-baked cookies,
coffee, and tea - to encourage broader attendance. As many as 30 people have
attended their classes.
The group's most recent activity was a visit to a farm that raises exotic
animals. Here, they learned the basics of raising bobcats, chinchillas, elk,
and ratite birds like emus, ostriches, and rheas.
Twila is enthusiastic about the benefits of working with a group. "It helps
to network, to know that you're not alone," she said. "A lot of people are
taking the information that they're getting from our classes, taking it home
and running it past their husbands, talking it over with some of their
children that are in college, running some of these ideas past their bankers
or their farm credit places. Some of these people are going to the elevators
and seed corn dealers, people who are at meat-packing plants ... it's a real
"I'm amazed at the people who will come up to me and say 'Oh, so-and-so was
at one of your meetings and they were telling me this...' So I think
everybody benefits by having the group dynamic."
The Hillary Clinton Club plans to focus on estate planning in the coming
year, and to continue addressing the many interests of its members.
HEART OF THE BEHOLDER
by Victoria Mundy
Ten thousand shades of gold. The grace of grasses mingled with wildflowers
in the wind. Mile after square mile of corn in tall straight soldierly rows.
Bison, primeval, moving among hills, elemental. Magnificent blackish green
stormclouds forming the sinister suggestion of a funnel. A comet making its
impossible, star-smudged way across the clarity of an arctically-cold late
And the almost visible lines of connection between some farmer and the land.
I'm a wandering visitor to Nebraska, having grown up in the smoky eastern
mountains, and often I feel completely out of my ken. Sometimes though, when
for no reason of my own I am surprised into stillness, the subtle wonder of
this place speaks to me.
What I hear is beauty, so real and joyous that I would not be at all amazed
if the hills broke into laughter or the trees began to clap their hands. A
tiny awestruck voice within whispers that only this joy of creation winds my
That beauty belongs to the land and the people together, and would be
incomplete without either one or the other. The first chapter of Genesis
quietly insists that people are created from and with and for the earth, that
its care is part of our special reason for existing; and that our unfettered
love and appreciation can glorify a landscape.
So I think that the beauty is worth keeping at any price, as our own
reason for living. If we as humans consciously cherish the beauty and
richness of the land even as we reach for other kinds of recognition, I think
that perhaps we become ever more human...and of humanity God said, It is very
The land and its people are a mirror in which I am forced to view my self
almost constantly because they surround me constantly. They cause me to
consider my every act and almost my every thought: is the act loving, is the
thought gentle? Does my life care for the complete creation of the land and
people - am I becoming more human.
A church, bright and welcoming against the sky. Small children playing tag
in the yards and riding bikes on the streets. Men and women with ever-busy,
ever-giving hands. The stories of old people, voices low and dreamy in the
telling. Calm eyes filled with an unshakeable conviction of belonging.
Ten thousand instances of kindness.