The Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society promotes an agriculture
that builds healthy land, people, communities and quality of life, for
present and future generations.
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 (it may take a week or so before we get
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. E-mail: email@example.com.
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:
Imagining a Better Food System
Eat Locally - Grow a Garden!
Rushville Rancher Profits from Buffalo
Helpful Hints for Farmers’ Market Vendors
Summer Fun Includes NSAS Farm Tours
IMAGINING A BETTER FOOD SYSTEM
Sustaining agriculture requires more than just sustainable food
production. Growing food in a way that cares for the earth and enhances
the health and well-being of its creatures lies at the heart of
sustainable agriculture. To create permanent change, however, we need to
look beyond food production and address the sustainability of our food
The “food system” is simply the way we grow, process, distribute and
market food. And the conventional food system is becoming increasingly
global. A typical American meal might include beef from Argentina,
lettuce from California, and strawberries from Mexico. While we enjoy a
diverse abundance of cheap food, many people question the long-term
viability of a global food system.
Several NSAS members were kind enough to share their views on the food
system. Read on and enjoy their perspectives on energy, quality,
convenience, and responsibility for the land and the people who work it.
Tom Larson, Farmer, St. Edward
We have a constant supply of food and tremendous variety. But with
transportation costs involved, we are focused on who will grow food for
the cheapest price. High volume lowers the cost of processing. But
smaller processors are going out of business because they can’t compete
on a volume basis. An example of this is the small meat processing
plants which we are losing.
With cheap energy, we get lots of variety in our stores. There is very
little seasonal variation in product availability, because we can get
food from the southern hemisphere. But growing food for export
encourages colonial-style economies. In developing countries, cash crops
can impoverish farmers when they no longer have the time or energy to
feed themselves, and have to buy their food. This happens here, too. How
many farmers really have and depend on gardens to feed themselves?
Conventional markets offer a tremendous amount of products to choose
from, at a low price. But its tough for a farmer to break into those
markets. Wholesale brokers don’t want to deal with you if you don’t have
a track record. But how do you get a track record if you can’t get into
To change the conventional food system, we need to pay the true cost of
energy. I believe it would go a long way if our energy costs were
similar to those in Europe and Asia. Right now, I’d guess that we pay
about half what folks in those countries pay for energy.
Paying the true cost of energy would make food production and
consumption a more localized or regional system. The cost of energy to
produce, transport and market food would keep products in a more
localized area. Foods would be available in season.
We have a cheap food policy in the US, and we spend the least amount of
income on food here. Most developing countries spend anywhere from 30%
to 90% of income on food. I think it would be better if we paid the true
cost of food, including costs of water cleanup.
Kate Brown, Associate Professor at Creighton University, Omaha
With our current food system, we get to have mangoes and bananas in
January. When I was a little girl, half of our Christmas stocking was an
orange. It was such a treat. Now we can have oranges any time. The
current system makes us conscious of other people in the world if we eat
conscientiously. I feel connected to farmers in Guatemala if I eat a
This food system comes at a cost, however, and not necessarily a
financial cost. It’s the cost of knowing about the production system
that results in the banana I eat in January. This system is cruel to the
people who raise the banana and the environment in which it is grown.
The banana companies take up a tremendous amount of land that could be
used for sustenance. They pay workers instead of letting them raise
their own food. Even Florida orange juice comes at a tremendous
environmental and social cost.
A lot of people - my neighbors and myself for the most part - don’t
have a clue where their food comes from. And we haven’t got a clue how
to grow food. If the system ever broke down, we’d be in trouble. A
distancing from nature happens with our current food system.
I like the idea of making food systems regional. I like the idea of
linking farmers and consumers through regional networks. To satisfy the
urban palette, we’d have to diversify the food we grow in a regional
system. In Nebraska, we’re limited in terms of our ability to raise
bananas and mangoes but we could do more to raise diverse grains and
vegetables. There’s no reason to buy lettuce from California during the
months when we can grow it locally.
We should make better use of our land. Even here in North Omaha, I can
see that we’re misusing space. We should transform ugly vacant lots into
something beautiful, like a prairie or a garden. We need to be very,
very careful about nurturing our soil in rural and urban settings. The
health of our soil is so important to our livelihood. We could do a
better job of it.
David Bosle, Poultry Producer, Hastings
The cost of food is cheap. This is both a good thing and a bad thing.
Where else in the world can you go up to a drive-in window, get your
food ready-to-eat, and drive away? In most other countries, you’d spend
more of your income on food and you’d have to do more preparation to eat
it. Although food is cheap, we’ve sacrificed quality. You get what you
I think there are opportunities for more locally-grown food, like
direct-marketed poultry and subscription gardening, for those who want
to pay for quality. If we’re going to improve the quality of the food
system, the food should be locally grown. The food will be fresher, and
consumers can see where and how it is grown. People need to have more
choices about their food supply. Cheap isn’t necessarily bad. But
without locally-grown products, people don’t have a choice.
Evrett Lunquist, Community Supported Agriculture Gardener, Lincoln
We have more than enough food. But people are disconnected from their
food. There’s no interaction between where it comes from and the table.
This disconnection from food divides people in rural and urban areas.
The issues they face seem different when they’re really quite similar.
People are moving to the city from rural areas. The cities are
overcrowded, while rural towns are drying up. People don’t see the
relationships between rural and urban problems.
The food system is competitive, and I think that’s a bad thing. We all
need food. Instead of growing food to meet others’ needs, we grow food
for our own need to make a living. Hopefully, Community Supported
Agriculture (CSA) can change that. With CSA, growers and shareholders
care for each others’ well-being.
CSA gets people thinking about where their food comes from. Some start
thinking about the policy ramifications of the food system. Others are
just glad to get good food. Peoples’ lifestyles change when they join a
CSA. They have to start using recipes according to what’s in season and
In terms of ecology, shareholders are kind of living on a piece of land
by joining a CSA. The grasshoppers hatched here about a week and a half
ago. Some things are bothered by them, others aren’t affected. Our bok
choy is now full of holes. Our shareholders see the impact of a certain
occurrence on the garden - in this case grasshoppers. As a result, they
now know more about the ecology of the area.
Andy Jameton, Associate Professor at the University of NE Medical
Adequate to excess food is available for the vast majority of the
population. Most of our food is clean in that it isn’t rotting in the
supermarkets, and we don’t have to pick rocks and bugs out of it.
Processing makes food easy to prepare.
We have to go to the supermarket to buy food, because for the most part
we can’t buy locally. This means that we have to deal with powers way
beyond our control when buying food. Because food isn’t grown locally,
it’s usually very bland. A lot of people eat processed food with too
much fat and sugar. Excessive packaging is environmentally expensive.
And marketing is misleading - if you ate the way food is advertised,
you’d die quickly.
Worldwide, there is grossly unjust and unequal access to food. A lot of
land in developing countries that could be used to grow food for
consumption is used to grow food for export. The average breakfast -
coffee, orange juice, bananas - is imperialistic. It’s like they want
you to commit yourself early in the day to imperialistic eating.
Dave Vetter, President of Grain Place Foods, Marquette
I think the conventional food system uses a lot of unnecessary energy
for convenience. The distance we move our food is a problem with both
the conventional and alternative food systems right now. They’re too
global and not local enough in nature. The present food system is fairly
efficient in terms of how it gets food to the consumer. I’m not certain
that it’s kept all that much quality intact. However, it’s doing that
with a great deal of quality as it is defined by the industry.
We use a lot more packaging than we’d need if we had good, whole foods.
But that’s part of the cost of convenience. I don’t see that decreasing
- that’s what customers have told the industry that they want. I think
people in general have given up too much responsibility for their food.
They’re willing to not be concerned about where their food comes from.
Most of us have always had enough to eat.
We put a chunk of the costs of our food system onto the public, rather
than paying it ourselves. We’re not paying all of our own food bill;
instead, we’re paying it in doctors’ bills, property damage, and soil
loss. These are factors of our food system which we don’t think about.
One thing that might improve the food system would be requiring a fair
price on energy. Cheap energy policy has allowed the conventional food
system to happen. Changing that would change the structure and scale of
food systems. More regional and local food systems would develop, and
more families and business would be involved. We really don’t have a lot
of players involved in the current food system.
I’d like to see more local and regional supply and distribution
systems. Current trade policies are moving the food system the other
way. I have no idea what structural requirements will be required to
meet the needs of people in a more local food system, but one is
probably redistribution of the population with more people feeding
themselves to some degree.
EAT LOCALLY - GROW A GARDEN!
Thomas N. Tomas
We have turned our food supply system upside down. We used to grow most
of our own food locally and supplement it with special foods we could
not grow at home. Now most of our food comes from thousands of miles
away. Even farmers who produce food eat very little of what they raise.
How many wheat or corn farmers eat the wheat or corn they grow?
Our food system has been turned into a commodity system in which
producers turn commodities into money and consumers spend money to buy
manufactured food products. The connection between those who grow food
and those who eat it has been completely dissolved.
By planting a garden, we can reverse the trend. I am not suggesting
that we all return to growing most of our own food. What I am
suggesting is that we can make a significant difference in our food
supply system by growing what we can and sharing locally.
For example, lets look at potatoes. If you plant potatoes in April and
again in June, you should be able to harvest potatoes from your own
garden from at least July through December. That’s half the year that
the potatoes you eat will not have to travel from the Red River Valley,
Idaho or Maine to your table. You will have eliminated the use of all
that energy to transport potatoes and know what was used to grow them.
You will also gain an appreciation for what it takes to grow and store
the potatoes you eat the rest of the year. If you buy the rest of your
potatoes from local growers, you will further reduce the environmental
cost of putting potatoes on your table. The same can be said for
lettuce. Why grow lettuce in California and ship it thousands of miles
when lettuce can be harvested locally from May through November?
It may not seem like much of a contribution to improving our food
system, but it is something you CAN DO. Talking about problems is good
but even a little positive action is more effective. How much
difference can growing your own garden make? It is well to remember
that, for most of the history of civilization, most people ate what they
grew or gathered locally. It is the only stable, long term way of
feeding ourselves. It is good to keep these food producing skills sharp
in case the era of plentiful, cheap energy comes to a close.
Growing your own food has other benefits. From June through September,
we enjoy strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, peaches, apples and
other fruit from my garden. We look forward to each in its season and
avoid purchasing these fruits out of season, because the anticipation of
home grown fruit is also enjoyable. We don’t have to worry about health
problems like those recently associated with raspberries from Guatemala
or strawberries from Mexico.
RUSHVILLE RANCHER PROFITS FROM BUFFALO
Jim Budd has an answer for cattle ranchers who can’t make ends meet
with low beef prices: raise buffalo!
Buffalo cost less to finish than beef cows, and the market is wide open
with an unmet demand for both meat and breeding stock. Buffalo meat
currently commands $2.35/lb. on the rail or $6/lb. in the box. Budd has
penciled it all out: beef ranchers expect to get $350 for a calf, of
which $300 covers expenses and $50 is profit (though Jim says that
ranchers know they really aren’t making that much profit). Budd averages
a gross of $1400 per buffalo calf: $2000 per heifer for breeding and
$600-800 per bull for meat.
It takes 2/3 as much cash to raise a buffalo as to raise a beef cow
($200). In order to make the profit that a single buffalo brings, 24
head of cattle must be sold. Budd believes that a cattle rancher faced
with the prospect of going out of business would do well to consider
trading in the cattle for some buffalo and take advantage of the current
markets. He has no idea how long favorable market conditions will last,
but feels that it’s a good opportunity for now into the near future.
Buffalo meat is highly regarded as a healthy red meat because it is low
in fat and cholesterol compared with beef and pork. Buffalo meat is so
lean it doesn’t marble. Denver, Colorado, is where most buffalo meat is
consumed in the United States. The East Coast hasn’t been tapped yet
because there simply isn’t enough meat to develop that market. According
to Budd, the biggest problem faced by a major buffalo meat seller is
“Who do we short today?”
“The market is so good right now, you don’t need to worry about
marketing,” said Budd. “The market is the least of your worries. Care of
the animal should be your main concern. Make sure he has feed. It seems
like they don’t need feed, but they do. A cow that’s raising a $1400
calf—you can afford to feed that cow.”
Budd has three ranches stocked with several hundred head of buffalo in
northwest Nebraska. He lives south of Rushville and keeps some of his
buffalo on the Sandhills ranch there. The rest wander around two ranches
that cover thousands of acres of high forests and meadows along the
western reach of the Pine Ridge. Four-wheeling through the forest, it’s
a thrill to come upon one of the three buffalo herds that roam the area.
Budd grew up on a ranch near Rushville and had been in the cattle
business all his life until 10 years ago, when cattle weren’t covering
costs and he decided to try raising buffalo. Now, he won’t look twice at
cattle and said, “If someone came and offered me a herd of the finest
Angus, I’d kick them off the place.”
Though Budd allows his buffalo to roam a large area, owning land the
size of a national forest isn’t necessary to raise buffalo. Budd
“wouldn’t run buffalo on less than 160 acres.” Because they are a herd
animal, he “would never run less than 10 because otherwise they wouldn’t
be happy.” Stocking rate varies with the quality of the land. Budd
suggests that a prospective buffalo rancher look up the recommended beef
cow-calf stocking rate for the area and multiply by 10 to get the
acreage necessary for stocking buffalo. He keeps a 30:1 cow:bull ratio.
His land will support a cow-calf pair on 15 acres and a yearling over
summer on 5 acres.
Buffalo are easier on pasture than cattle, says Budd, because they roam
and they graze all year around, reducing the stress placed on any
particular area of the pasture. Because they move around so much, grass
roots aren’t stressed and the desirable grass species are re-seeded in
the pasture every year. Budd feeds hay all winter beginning Jan.1 unless
bad weather forces him to begin feeding earlier, and continues until
spring when the buffalo start “chasing grass” and won’t eat hay anymore.
The buffalo drink from creeks that run through the ranch. There are
some small watering tanks left by the previous landowners which Budd
scowled at as being far too small for watering cattle, much less
buffalo. With the smaller tanks, calves are crowded out and unable to
get a drink, reducing their gain. Budd recommends that no smaller than
20' tanks be used for buffalo, preferably 30' tanks.
Budd says that there is a misconception that buffalo cows only produce
a single calf every other year. In the wild, with varying levels of
stress and food availability, this may be so, because buffalo are more
sensitive to nutrition in their reproductive success than cattle are.
“But when we control it, they calve every year,” said Budd. Buffalo cows
don’t mature as quickly as beef cows. They won’t breed until they’re 2
years old and don’t calve until they are 3. The buffalo conception rate
is also lower than that of beef cows. Even so, Budd gets an 80-85% calf
crop from calving-age cows annually on a diet of hay in winter and grass
in spring. With a full grain ration, Budd believes that he’d get a 100%
Buffalo are natives to the Great Plains, adapted to the extremes in
climate including the bitterly cold winters. They generally don’t
require the kind of care that cattle do during the calving season. “Cold
just doesn’t affect buffalo calves like beef calves. They don’t even
notice if the weather is 10-20 degrees below zero.” Budd or his son fly
over the ranch every day in a small plane during calving season, though,
to check for the odd heifer that needs assistance calving, or a cow that
has rejected her calf, or a broken fence.
Buffalo “breed on the sun just like any wild animal,” said Budd.
Breeding begins around July 15 and calving starts around April 15. By
June 15, 90% of calving is finished. Bulls don’t have to be separated
from the herd, though as they grow older they tend to stay further away
from the cows, calves, and yearlings.
Budd says it’s a misconception that keeping buffalo requires 14-foot
tall fencing. He keeps his in with four strands of barbed wire and a hot
wire on the top. He also added another half grate to his cattle
crossings to discourage the buffalo from jumping across them. Though
buffalo have the potential to be dangerous, Budd has never had a problem
Buffalo are traumatized by being sold and shipped and sometimes try to
return to their home after they are moved, one reason they may have a
reputation as being hard to contain. Budd says that it takes a buffalo a
year to adjust to her new home and that the stress of moving can
interfere with calving. However, “once they get used to an area,” said
Budd, “you can barely drive them out of it. Once they get used to it,
that’s where they’re going to be. They don’t want to get loose and roam
Corral design and structure are important. Budd has built new outer
corrals made of woven wire with a wooden rail on the top. Crowding
corrals should be “7' tall and substantial, so a 1200-lb. buffalo
hitting it as hard as he can won’t break it.” Budd doesn’t know how one
would hold a ton bull. He says that buffalo are incredibly strong, twice
as strong as cattle for their size.
Branding is becoming necessary as more and more ranchers get into the
buffalo business. Budd described how they brand buffalo calves: “We run
them into the chute just as damn fast as we can. Squeeze them into the
chute, brand them, then let them go. The hardest thing on a buffalo is
confining them in chutes. They can kill themselves when confined.”
Brucellosis, despite all the publicity about this disease, is not a
problem with buffalo. It affects only two buffalo herds in the entire
United States and has never been found in any buffalo in Nebraska. Budd
calls brucellosis “a political disease.”
When buying buffalo, Budd looks for “depth, a proportionate hump, and
good solid bones.” Buffalo have a tendency to be cow-hocked and
underslung in the back, deficiencies in his eyes. He looks for “black,
straight bulls,” the darker in color the better. Though now he breeds
all the heifers he produces because they are so valuable, he predicts
that one day buffalo traits will change once there are enough animals to
start selecting out the heifers for breeding as well as the bulls.
Budd has four pieces of advice for a rancher interested in raising
1. Be sure that you have your fences how you want them before you get
2. Be sure there’s adequate water—enough for calves to drink, too. Make
sure there’s adequate space around watering tanks.
3. Make sure you have at least 10 head or more.
4. Learn the proper way to handle the animals so you don’t cause them a
lot of stress. Budd manages his herd so that no cow is ever chased—they
go where they want to go.
To learn more about the buffalo industry, check out the National Bison
Association’s web page at http://www.nbabison.org
HELPFUL HINTS FOR FARMERS’ MARKET VENDORS
Interview with Billene Nemec, Manager of the Lincoln Haymarket Farmers
What qualities make for a successful farmers’ market vendor?
As a successful farmers’ market vendor, you should enjoy interacting
with people and have good marketing skills. Know your product, its uses,
and 2 or 3 easy ways to prepare it. Be accessible to your customers - if
you can’t answer a question on the spot, offer to look it up and get
them the information later. Find out what their needs and preferences
are, like small cucumbers for pickling, and meet those needs whenever
you can. Be able to tell your customers about your farm and farming
practices, and possibly have a brochure describing your farm available
for them. Get to know your customers by their first names. Be friendly -
always having a smile for your customers is very important!
What draws customers to a farmers’ market display?
Customers are attracted to colors, textures, and aromas. Natural
containers, like wood or wicker baskets, are more appealing than plastic
containers. Stack your produce high to give the appearance of an
abundant crop. Leave the tops on carrots, beets, and other root crops so
that they look freshly picked. Bring a spray bottle to the market, and
mist your produce every now and then to keep it looking fresh. You can
give your booth a pleasant aroma by crushing spices.
Go the extra mile to make your customers comforable. A sign which
clearly displays products and their prices will help draw shy customers
to your booth. A canopy will help keep your produce fresh while
providing shade for your customers. Avoid yellow canopies, however;
light filtering through a yellow canopy will make your product look
spoiled. Finally, the vendor should appear neat and friendly. Smiles and
a cheerful greeting will attract customers to your booth, and will keep
them coming back.
Which is more important to farmers’ market customers: price or quality?
Quality is definitely more important to farmers’ market customers. They
come to the market to buy fresh, flavorful, highly nutritious food.
Price is a secondary consideration for these customers.
What is the most important advice you have for farmers’ market vendors?
Support other market vendors and work with them to make a successful
market. Customers can sense unhealthy competition between vendors, and
they don’t like it. Also, remember that you’re not selling, you’re
marketing. If you have a quality product, good marketing skills and an
outgoing personality, you are on the road to success at the farmers’
- Cris Carusi
SUMMER FUN INCLUDES NSAS FARM TOURS
Northeast Farmers' Meat Tasting Party, Pat Steffen's Farm, Fordyce
Sunday, July 20, 4:00 - 8:00 pm
Highlights: Sample grass-fed beef and see Pat's management-intensive
Directions: Go 5 miles north of the Highway 81/Highway 84 junction (3
miles south of the Highway 81/Highway 12 junction), 3/4 miles east, and
turn south onto the lane which leads to the Steffen farm.
For more information, call 402-254-2289. This tour is sponsored by the
Nebraska IMPACT Project.
Mike and Karen Ostry’s farm, Bruno
Saturday, July 26, 3:00 pm
Highlights: The Ostrys incorporate legumes into their pastures and
fields. Mike has built a low-cost loafing shed for his cattle, and a
unique farrowing house for his hogs. He makes compost tea from hog
manure and has a sheet composting operation.
Directions: From Highway 92, go north on Highway 15 through David City.
Take the S12B spur east to Bruno. The farm is 1/2 mile east of Bruno.
For more information, call 402-543-2110. This tour is sponsored by NSAS
and OCIA NE #1.
Specialty Crops Tour, Lincoln
Saturday, August 9, 1:30 pm
Highlights: This tour will begin with a Nebraska-grown lunch at the
Lancaster County Extension Office. Growers will have an opportunity to
share production and marketing strategies and discuss a possible
year-round farmers' market in Lincoln. We will then visit growers' farms
- directions will be provided at the Extension Office.
Directions: From West O Street, take Sun Valley Blvd. north to Westgate
Blvd. Go west and follow the road around to the Extension Office at 444
Note: Please RSVP the NSAS office by August 1 if you plan to join us for
This tour is sponsored by NSAS, the UNL Center for Sustainable
Agricultural Systems, Lancaster County Extension, and the Haymarket
Bryce and Rosemary Ritz’s farm, Comstock
Monday, August 11, 1:00 pm
Highlights: Bryce rotates alfalfa, corn, soybeans and barley on
irrigated ground. He has an innovative farrow-to-finish operation for
100 sows. He has 25 registered Black Angus cattle, and is crossbreeding
Directions: From Highway 183, take road S21C to Comstock. Go 2.5 miles
south of town and turn east. The Ritz farm is 2 miles east. Look for the
red barn mail box.
For more information, call 308-628-4436. This tour is sponsored by NSAS
and OCIA NE #1.
Rodney and Shari Nagorski’s farm, Comstock
Monday, August 11, 3:30 pm
Highlights: The Nagorskis have a diverse livestock/crop operation.
Rodney rotates barley, oats, alfalfa, corn, clear hilum soybeans, and
flax. They also have buffalo, hogs on pasture, free range chickens and a
U-pik strawberry operation.
Directions: From Highway 183, take road S21C to Comstock. From the water
tower in town, go 2 miles east and 2.5 miles north. The farm is on the
left side of the road.
For more information, call 308-628-4335. This tour is sponsored by NSAS
and OCIA NE #1.
Equinox CSA picnic and tour, Roca
Saturday, August 16, Noon
Highlights: Pack up the kids and a picnic lunch, and join us at Ruth
Chantry and Evrett Lunquist's Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
garden. The tour will include information on CSA, a garden tour for
kids, and more! Although this tour is geared towards non-farmers,
everyone is welcome!
Directions: The garden is at 13600 South 96th St., 1.5 miles south of
Saltillo Road. Follow the gravel lane on the east side of 96th St. to
For more information, call 402-254-2289. This tour is sponsored by NSAS,
the UNL Center for Sustainable Agricultural Systems, and the Haymarket
Tour of Cuthills Vineyards, Pierce
Sunday, August 31, 2:00 pm
Highlights: This tour includes an up-close look at the vines and fruit.
A history of the winery will be presented, along with an explanation of
the wine-making process. The tour will end in the tasting room. Note:
There is a $5 per person charge to attend this tour.
Directions: From Highway 81, take the west Highway 98 exit to Pierce.
Turn south on 7th Street and continue to Willow Creek Mart, then go 3
miles west. Watch for the signs.
For more information, call 402-254-2289. This tour is sponsored by NSAS.