Gardens serve as living textbooks for herbalist educator

An appreciation for nature, herbs in particular, led to a lifelong passion and career for Rachel Liester, owner of Red Road Herbs Retreat & Learning Center LLC, near Stanton, Nebraska. She teaches classes, offers tours, and sells fresh and dried herbs, as well as handmade herbal products.

Rachel started Red Road Herbs nearly 20 years ago, and it’s now a family-run business. Three generations – Rachel, her daughter, and granddaughter – take care of plant growing and harvesting, merchandise production, and marketing. Rachel’s husband and son help with events, building projects, and maintenance of the property.

“The way I got interested in herbs was through Native American culture,” Rachel said. “I wanted to pay honor to that background and learn as much as I could about it.”

Throughout the years, not only has her knowledge of herbs expanded, so has her business thanks in part to the Center for Rural Affairs. What started off as a few gardens at her home and teaching a few small classes has grown into a full-time passion.

With the tremendous growth Red Road Herbs has seen during the last few decades, Rachel says she wouldn’t have gotten to where she is now without help. 

“I’ve taken out a few loans through the Center for Rural Affairs’ Rural Enterprise Assistance Project (REAP),” she said. “They have been the knight in shining armor that came to my rescue.”

REAP has provided Rachel with one-on-one counseling and microloans to purchase a computer, get technical assistance on website development, develop marketing materials, and make a few small fixes to outbuildings at Red Road Herbs.

After being very pleased with the help she received, she again reached out to the Center when she and her husband faced their most challenging business venture to date – buying the acreage their business and home sat on.

“We wanted to buy our land, our home and business, but we found out our landlord wouldn’t accept the assessor's quote. He wanted $15,000 more,” Rachel said. “It was $15,000 we didn’t know how to come up with. That’s when I thought I’d reach out to Gene.”

Gene Rahn, senior loan specialist, had previously assisted Rachel with business coaching and providing technical assistance. This time, Rachel hoped to get a $20,000 loan through REAP to help with repairs and ongoing business expenses.

“Gene was so helpful and kind,” she said. “I called him up and told him the situation. He said they could probably help.”

Though she’s formally educated as a social worker, Rachel has held an interest in plants since she could remember, and used her time outside of work to educate herself on their different medicinal and herbal uses. One of the first plants she explored for that purpose was a raspberry bush.

“At first, I just ate the berries,” she said. “But the more I learned, the more I discovered what I could do with the plant. Now, I use the leaves, too, by harvesting them for medicinal uses.”

Rachel uses Red Road Herbs to showcase the uses of naturally growing plants. People can use herbs for health purposes, emergencies, and preventative care, as well as eat them. She also offers herbal education, nature experiences, handmade products, herb garden consultations, and more.

“I saw that there was a need for this business. A growing need, not only in Nebraska, but worldwide,” Rachel said. ”My joy and hope is to continue sharing with more and more people. Seeing people learn about the land and the plants that grow in their own yards is why I do this.”

Rachel has high hopes for the future of Red Road Herbs, such as clearing more areas on the property for gardens, and hosting more nature-based activities.

“I’m open to anything that brings people together by learning from one another; being part of a teaching community,” she said. “My daughter and granddaughter are interested in this, too, so hopefully we’ll be able to share this knowledge with others for generations to come.”

Rachel became a master naturalist five years ago, and is currently enrolled in the University of Alaska’s ethnobotany certification program.

At a Glance

Red Road Herbs
57190 835th Ave.
Stanton, NE 68779
Hours: Open seasonally May to October.

Feature photo: Rachel Liester owns Red Road Herbs Retreat & Learning Center, near Stanton, Nebraska. She is pictured with her granddaughter Caydence who helps with the plants, merchandise production, and marketing. Read more about Gardens serve as living textbooks for herbalist educator

  • Small Business
  • Small BusinessREAP
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More education needed on new crop insurance option

For many years, farmers across the country have purchased crop insurance policies as a way to manage the risk of a yield or income loss. Crop insurance has stepped into the spotlight as the highest costing federal farm program, at about $8 billion per year.

Despite the size of the program, crop insurance has not been available for many types of crops. And, often, for certain crops such as fruits, vegetables, or small grains, coverage is available only on a regional basis.

A new product designed to address these concerns and expand coverage for farmers and ranchers is Whole Farm Revenue Protection (WFRP). Created by the 2014 farm bill, WFRP insures revenue of the entire operation rather than specific crops, and policies are based on revenue history.

This insurance option provides farmers and ranchers with coverage for a wide variety of farm products – ranging from corn and soybeans to fruits, vegetables, and livestock. Because WFRP is a revenue product, participating farmers can file a claim if their overall revenue for the year is lower than expected.

WFRP participation levels nationally have risen steadily since the program began in 2015, but were still low in Nebraska, so we took a look at trends in the state to investigate why farmers are slow to use this product.

In our latest report, “New option for farm risk management: Whole Farm Revenue Protection usage in Nebraska,” we share findings from workshops and surveys conducted with farmers and insurance agents.

The report shows that while some farmers, ranchers, and crop insurance agents are aware of the opportunities offered through WFRP, many more are unfamiliar with the policy and its potential benefits. There is a need for outreach and education to answer basic questions about WFRP to spur enrollment.

To view a copy of the report, visit Read more about More education needed on new crop insurance option

  • Crop Insurance Reform
  • Farm PolicyFarm Bill
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Weekly column

2018 Marketplace Open Enrollment: Just Around the Corner

By Mary Kuhlman, Nebraska News Service

Open enrollment for the federal Health Insurance Marketplace begins in just three weeks – on Nov. 1 – and Nebraskans looking for health coverage are encouraged to prepare now. 

The enrollment period for 2018 plans is just 45 days, down from 90 days last year. 

There are health care navigators throughout the state, including Ashley Frevert with Northeast Nebraska Community Action Partnership, who can help people evaluate their options.

"It's a good practice to review your options every year,” she states. “If you have a marketplace plan, you should also review your application from the previous year and make updates. 

“And if you are looking to enroll, change your plan, there are options available next year, both on and off the exchange."

Currently, Medica is the only insurer offering federal marketplace plans in the state. 

As of last year, more than 84,000 Nebraskans were covered by individual and family plans through the federal insurance marketplace. 

Frevert says those applying for marketplace coverage should have copies ready of their latest tax return, proof of income and current coverage documentation. 

She adds those who don't have health insurance, whether through an employer or the marketplace, will still face a fine at tax time. 

"Current legislation has not changed,” she points out. “So having insurance is your best option. If you want to avoid that tax penalty, it should be about the same as it was last year."

Frevert adds navigators are a good resource for people who have questions about their coverage, given the overall uncertainty about the future of the health care law. 

"Be diligent in finding the correct answers that you need to be comfortable with your knowledge about the state of health care in America,” she advises. “If you are looking for answers that are factual and neutral in regards to the Affordable Care Act, please contact a navigator."

Navigators can also help eligible Nebraskans apply for Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program. 

Open enrollment for federal marketplace plans runs Nov. 1 through Dec. 15. 

Feature photo: Ashley Frevert, field navigator, Northeast Nebraska Community Action Partnership, Inc., Pender, Nebraska | Photo by Jordan Rasmussen, Center for Rural Affairs Read more about 2018 Marketplace Open Enrollment: Just Around the Corner

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Congress must adopt policies that support small farms

The Center for Rural Affairs is among 210 farm, rural, worker, and consumer advocacy organizations calling on Congress to adopt policies that address unfair contracts for farmers, increase market transparency, reform USDA guaranteed loans, and guarantee worker rights as they work on the 2018 farm bill.

The letter is below.

The Honorable Pat Roberts
Chairman, Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry

The Honorable Debbie Stabenow
Ranking Member, Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry

The Honorable Michael Conoway
Chairman, House Committee on Agriculture

The Honorable Collin Peterson
Ranking Member, House Committee on Agriculture

Oct. 4, 2017

Dear Chairmen and Ranking Members:

U.S. farm income is significantly depressed, with disastrous ripple effects through our rural economy. Since the last Farm Bill debate, these trends have only worsened. As Congress starts the debate on the next Farm Bill, you must address negative trends in agricultural market control and anti-competitive business structures if we are to have any hope of restoring the economic health of rural America.

Agribusinesses continue to consolidate at a frenzied pace, robbing our farmers of competitive markets for the sale of their products. Foreign and multinational interests continue to expand their control of key U.S. agricultural markets, using their control to extract revenue from U.S. producers to repatriate back to their countries of origin. The model of vertical integration and contract production pioneered by large poultry companies continues to expand to other sectors, resulting in loss of farmers’ control over their own farms, increased risk for the farmers who produce under this system, and a downward spiral in viability. The consolidated economic power in the hands of few agribusiness and food companies captures most of the economic value in the food system, leaving little for farmers, workers and consumers throughout the food chain. These trends play a significant role in the ill health of our rural economy.

Given the statutory jurisdiction over the relevant laws governing these matters, we believe that the Agriculture and Judiciary Committees of the House and Senate should play a joint role in investigating these concerns and advancing solutions.

Lessons learned from the global financial crisis: bigger is not better

As we saw a few short years ago during the financial crisis that drove us into global recession, allowing our economy to be controlled by a few large corporations puts our nation and its citizens in extreme jeopardy. The same is true in our agricultural markets. Despite this fact, the steady drum beat of industry consolidation and concentration continues unabated, and has been treated as inevitable and unstoppable by Congress and federal regulators. Farmers, workers and consumers have faced worsening economic conditions — with insufficient enforcement of important antitrust, farmer, labor or consumer protections. We strongly disagree with this ambivalent and ultimately destructive approach to our nation’s rural economy and the sovereignty of our food system.

Anti-trust enforcement in agriculture and food sector must be enhanced

Our market economy relies on the long-established role of the federal government to enforce antitrust law, ensuring fair and open competition that promotes a thriving economy, and limiting the control of those markets by a few large entities that destabilizes our economy. To ignore these responsibilities is to imperil our economy and the well being of our farmers, ranchers, farm and food chain workers, consumers and rural communities.

Foreign ownership in U.S agriculture undermines U.S. farm income and drains resources from our rural communities

Foreign investment in the U.S. agriculture sector is one thing, but the extraction of U.S. resources from our rural communities by foreign agribusinesses, and the increasing control of U.S. farmland and other key aspects of the U.S. food system by foreign entities should raise alarm bells. These trends are becoming increasingly evident in our dairy, beef, poultry, organic, farm input and seed sectors, and cannot be ignored.

Manipulation of livestock markets must be stopped

Because of the consolidation of meatpacker firms in recent decades, livestock markets are extremely concentrated. The market power of these remaining firms, both foreign and domestic, enables them to use marketing and pricing strategies that shift economic risks onto the backs of farmers and ranchers.

Meatpackers use packer-owned livestock as a major tool to exert unfair market power over farmers and ranchers, freezing independent farmers out of the market and artificially lowering farmgate prices to farmers and ranchers — while consumer food prices continue to rise. Meatpackers also use formula contracts, with no fixed base price, that are prone to manipulation, giving meatpackers unfair market leverage comparable to direct packer ownership. Another livestock procurement tool, marketing agreements that are often negotiated in secret, result in the same market distorting outcome because the packers enjoy unequal information and power.

Contract farmers are losing control of their farms and livelihoods to large integrated agribusinesses

Our country’s tradition of independent farmers making production and marketing decisions for their own farms is rapidly disappearing. The newer model of vertical integration coerces farmers to surrender that independence to a large integrator company that takes over control of all decisions, and pays the contract farmer for their labor, land, and facilities. History has shown that once farmers relinquish their independence, their pay, contract terms, and overall treatment by the integrator deteriorates.

Not surprisingly, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture has attempted to establish basic protections for contract livestock and poultry farmers, the companies who impose and control these contracts have vigorously fought those efforts. We understand why these firms want to protect their own interests by fighting against any federal oversight or scrutiny of their practices, but such oversight is an appropriate federal responsibility, and Congress must not allow unfair, abusive or deceptive integrator behavior to go unchecked.

Market transparency benefits producers and consumers

Market transparency is a basic tenet of a fully functioning market economy. Policies should be enacted to establish open and transparent pricing practices for agricultural products, ensure clear access by farmers to information about production contracting standards used in various agricultural sectors, and set clear labeling standards to give consumers information about the origin and production methods associated with the food they purchase. Congress should reject attempts by agribusinesses to undermine proper market functioning with their arguments against fair, open and transparent markets and labeling.

USDA loan guarantee programs must be reformed to prevent abuse by large livestock and poultry corporations

The USDA loan guarantee programs are critical for U.S. farmers, but lending guidelines should be implemented to ensure that scarce federal resources are used wisely and allow full and fair access to credit by diverse and small-and-medium-scale producers, including implementation of real policies and procedures to assure equal credit access as required under existing law. In addition, basic protections should be established to ensure that USDA loan guarantee programs do not subsidize unsustainable and abusive contracting practices by large meatpackers and poultry companies.

Worker rights protections and enforcement in agriculture and food sector must be enhanced

Agribusinesses, food manufacturers, distributors, foodservice companies and grocery retailers also extract economic value from the food system by pushing down on wages, benefits and working conditions. All workers throughout the food chain deserve dignity, economic opportunity and safe workplaces to contribute to the economic engine of rural communities. Thank you for your consideration of these concerns.

Signed by: 

21st Century Youth Leadership Movement (AL)
ActionAid USA
Agricultural Missions, Inc. (NY)
Agriculture and Land Based Training Association (CA)
Alabama Contract Poultry Growers Association
laska Farmers Union
Alianza Nacional de Campesinas
Alternative Energy Resources Organization (AERO) (MT)
American Agriculture Movement
American Federation of Government Employees (AFLCIO), Local 3354, USDA-St. Louis
American Grassfed Association
American Indian Mothers, Inc. (NC)
Angelic Organics Learning Center and Farm (IL)
Arkansas Farmers Union
Ashtabula, Geauga, Lake County (OH) Farmers' Union
Atrisco Land Grant Elders Board (NM)
Atrisco Land Rights Council (NM)
Berks (PA) Gas Truth
BioRegional Strategies
Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association (BFAA) (NC)
Black Farmers and Ranchers of New Mexico
Buckeye Quality Beef Association (OH)
Buffalo Mountain Coop (VT)
Buy Fresh Buy Local, Greater Lehigh Valley (PA)
California Farmers Union
California Institute for Rural Studies
Campaign for Contract Agriculture Reform
Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment
Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (NC)
CASA Del Llano, Inc. (TX)
Catholic Rural Life
Cattle Producers of Louisiana
Cattle Producers of Washington
Center for Rural Affairs
Church Women United in New York State
Citizen Action Coalition of Indiana
Citizens for Sanity.Com, Inc. (FL)
Colorado Farm & Food Alliance
Colorado Independent CattleGrowers Association
Colorado Women Involved in Farm Economics (WIFE) Assoc.
Community Food & Agriculture Coalition (MT)
Community Food and Justice Coalition (CA)
Concerned Citizens of Tillery (NC)
Consumer Federation of America
Contract Poultry Growers Association of the Virginias
The Cornucopia Institute
Corporate Accountability International
Cottage House Inc. (AL)
Crawford Stewardship Project (WI)
Cuatro Puertas (NM)
Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship
Dakota Resource Council
Dakota Rural Action of SD
Dawson Resource Council (MT)
DC Greens
Delmar Farmers Market (NY)
Desert Forge Foundation (NM)
East New York Farms!
Endangered Habitats League (CA)
Fair World Project (OR)
Family Farm Defenders (WI)
Farm Aid
Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance
Farm to Table New Mexico
Farmers Market Coalition
Farmworker Association of Florida
Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund
Florida Certified Organic Growers and Consumers, Inc.
Food & Water Watch
Food Chain Workers Alliance
Food First
Food for Maine's Future
Food Policy Council of San Antonio
Friends of the Earth U.S.
Future Harvest (MD)
Georgia Organics
Government Accountability Project
Grand Forks County Citizens Coalition (ND)
Grassroots International
GROW North Texas
Hawaii Farmers Union United
Health Care Without Harm
Healthy School Food Maryland
Hempstead Project Heart (WI)
Hmong National Development, Inc.
Housing Assistance Council
Hunger Mountain Co-op (VT)
Idaho Organization of Resource Councils
Illinois Farmers Union
Illinois Stewardship Alliance
Independent Beef Association of North Dakota (I-BAND)
Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska
Independent Cattlemen of Wyoming
Indian Nations Conservation Alliance
Indiana Farmers Union
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
The Institute for Rural America (IA)
International Texas Longhorn Association
Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement
Iowa Farmers Union
Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (MD)
Kansas Cattlemen’s Association
Kansas Farmers Union
The Land Connection (IL)
Land Stewardship Project (MN)
Latino Economic Development Center (MN)
The Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy, Teachers College Columbia University (NY)
Littleton Food Co-op (NH) Main Street Cheese, LLC (NH)
Maine Farmland Trust
Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA)
Michael Fields Agricultural Institute (WI)
Michigan Farmers Union
Midwest Organic Dairy Producers Association
Minnesota Farmers Union
Minnesota National Farmers Organization
Mississippi Assoc. of Cooperatives
Missouri Coalition for the Environment
Missouri Farmers Union
Missouri Rural Crisis Center
Missouri’s Best Beef Cooperative
Momtees Healthy Eats (NM)
Monadnock Food Co-op (NH)
Montana Farmers Union
Montana Organic Association
Murray County (OK) Independent Cattlemen's Association
National Dairy Producers Organization
National Family Farm Coalition
National Farm to School Network
National Farmers Organization
National Farmers Union
National Hmong American Farmers, Inc.
National Latino Farmers & Ranchers Trade Association
National Organic Coalition
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
National Women Involved in Farm Economics
National Young Farmers Coalition
Nature Abounds
Nebraska Farmers Union
Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society
Nebraska Women Involved in Farm Economics
Neighboring Food Co-op Association (New England)
New England Farmers Union
North Dakota Farmers Union
Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance
Northeast Organic Farming Assoc. - MA
Northeast Organic Farming Assoc. - NH
Northeast Organic Farming Assoc. - NJ
Northeast Organic Farming Assoc. - NY
Northeast Organic Farming Assoc. - RI
Northeast Organic Farming Assoc. - VT
Northeast Organic Farming Association, Interstate Council (NOFA-IC)
Northern New Mexico Stockman's Association
Northern Plains Resource Council (MT)
Northern Wisconsin Beef Producers Assoc.
Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance (MA)
Northwest Forest Worker Alliance
Now You Know New Mexico
Oglala Stock Growers and Land Owners Association (SD)
Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association
Ohio Farmers Union
Ohio Sustainable Business Council
Oklahoma Black Historical Research Project
Oregon Rural Action
Organic Consumers Association
Organic Farmers' Agency for Relationship Marketing (OFARM)
Organic Seed Alliance
Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association (OSGATA)
Organizacion en California de Lideres Campesinas, Inc.
Organization for Competitive Markets
Our Kitchen Table (MI)
Pesticide Action Network North America
Powder River Basin Resource Council (WY)
Progressive Agriculture Organization (PA)
R-CALF United Stockgrowers of America
Ranch Foods Direct (CO)
Range Allotment Owners Association
Real Food for Kids - Montgomery (MD)
Rio Grande Community Farm (NM)
Rocky Mountain Farmers Union
Rural Advancement Foundation International - USA (RAFIUSA)
Rural Advancement Fund of the National Sharecroppers Fund
Rural Coalition/Coalición Rural
Rural Development Leadership Network (NY)
Rural Vermont
San Diego Food Shed
San Diego Small Farm Alliance
Sierra Club
Slow Food USA
Socially Responsible Agricultural Project
South Agassiz Resource Council (ND)
South Dakota Farmers Union
South Dakota Stockgrowers Association
Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group
Sustain LA (CA)
Sustainable Agriculture of Louisville (SAL)
Sustainable Food Center (TX)
Texas Farmers Union
Texas Mexico Border Coalition Community Based Organization
Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Assoc.
Town of Atrisco Land Grant Merced (NM)
United Food and Commercial Workers International Union
Upper Valley Food Co-op (VT)
Utah Farmers Union
Virginia Association for Biological Farming
West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition
Western Colorado Congress
Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC)
Wisconsin Farmers Union Read more about Congress must adopt policies that support small farms

  • Farm Policy
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Sunny outlook

Number of older Americans expected to double by 2050

Rural America, and the nation as a whole, has entered a phase of significant demographic change. 

As of the last decennial census, there were more than 40.4 million Americans over the age of 65, composing 13.1 percent of the total population. 

With the wave of the baby boom generation entering this demographic, the number of older Americans is estimated to more than double by 2050. This significant demographic transition is exacerbated in rural communities and locations, where the population is already older than the nation as a whole. Rural areas have a median age of 51, compared to the national median age of 37.

Nebraska counties and the state are also experiencing this shift in the age demographic. As presented in a report to the Legislative Planning Committee, the state’s population of those age 65 years and older is expected to reach nearly 419,000 by 2030. This estimate presents nearly 70 percent growth in this age demographic over two decades.

Even ahead of the full effects of this significant demographic shift, rural Nebraska counties have a higher percentage of residents over the age of 65. As of 2014, 18 percent of residents in rural counties were 65 years of age or older, compared to 11.5 percent in Nebraska’s urban counties. A full 47 percent of Nebraskans of retirement age live in rural counties. 

While the aging of rural communities is in part a result of an increased trend toward urbanization, rural citizens play a significant role in the fabric and future of the state and ultimately the nation. It is in these rural areas where much of the nation’s food, fiber, and natural resources are brought from the earth to the market supplying the vast network of goods and services that fuel the country.

Allowing this significant population asset to age without consideration of the implications could be detrimental. The ramifications of this demographic shift upon the social, civic, and economic structures of rural communities and the need for policies which recognize and accommodate this growing population are worth examining.

Over the upcoming months, the Center for Rural Affairs will be formalizing a task force on aging in rural areas. The objective of the task force is to explore the opportunities, challenges, and needs that are unique to rural elderly residents and the communities they call home. Residents from any state are welcome to join in.

If you are interested in participating in the task force or have recommendations for areas of focus or policies to consider, please contact Jordan Rasmussen at 402.687.2100 x1032 or

Feature photo: As of the last deccennial census, there were more than 40.4 million Americans older than 65. The number of older Americans is estimated to more than double by 2050. This demographic shift will affect civic, economic, and social structures of rural communities, such as Hastings, Nebraska (above), where residents enjoyed a concert this summer. | Photo by Rhea Landholm Read more about Number of older Americans expected to double by 2050

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There’s a buzz about Outhouse Honey Farm

Along a gravel road on the Omaha Reservation is a white house surrounded by gardens and fruit trees.

On one side of the property is an aging outhouse – the namesake of the small operation, Outhouse Honey Farm.

Bees in the outhouse

Four years ago, owner Lowell Osborne noted something peculiar.

“On the side of the outhouse, there were a whole lot of bees going in and out of that big hole,” he said. “I looked, and it was just full of bees in there.”

Lowell decided to make something of the find, and contacted a retired beekeeper. He bought a bee box and supplies at an affordable price.

This year, the hive was divided into three – one swarm of bees took to a second box and the third decided to choose their home – the side of the house.

Head gardener duties

Honey production is just one part of the Outhouse Honey Farm. Vegetables, herbs, and fruit grow almost everywhere you look. Lowell, his wife, Milissa, and their five daughters, Zena, Anabel, Zora, Olivia, and Alannah, all pitch in.

Lowell took over as head gardener three years ago.

“Originally, Lowell gardened because this was a way for him to make a little extra money,” Milissa said. “That’s why we expanded like we did.”

“I have a lot of kids to feed,” Lowell said.

The Osbornes are faithful vendors at the Omaha Reservation farmers market and the Christmas Bazaar, both run by the Center for Rural Affairs.

Expanding the garden

Suzi French, Center for Rural Affairs community foods specialist, said the Osbornes have nearly quadrupled the size of their garden from 2016 to 2017.

Among the new items are watermelon, sunflowers, lettuce, kohlrabi, turnips, green beans, spinach, eggplant, celery, Brussels sprouts, and additional pepper and cabbage plants.

Their one and only cabbage last year – Cabbage Carl – won a purple ribbon in open class competition at the county fair. Zena received the plant as part of a school project.

Most of the produce is taken to the kitchen for canning, making jellies, pickling, and to put into pies. The Osbornes are known for their cinnamon pickles which uses an “old family recipe.”

Planting a garden this size takes some planning. Milissa explained there are hot peppers and sweet peppers on either side, with tomatoes in between, preventing the sweet plants from turning hot.

She has also studied companion planting, so in the front flowerbed, garlic is planted among the rose bushes and walking onions are growing next to morning glories.

Other produce found throughout the garden includes potatoes, onions, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, Swiss chard, collard greens, squash, eggplant, celery, and more.

Everyone pitches in

Just beyond the garden, one can find the source of the Outhouse Honey Farm soundtrack – a rooster, a goose (named Nancy), and chickens. (They use the eggs for baked goods to sell.) A pig chimes in once in awhile, when he’s not playing with his basketball or eating bread, his favorite food.

On the day I visited, the Osbornes cut butter crunch lettuce and pulled radishes for the afternoon farmers market. While talking to me, each one started automatically tending to the garden.

“We can’t walk through the garden without pulling weeds,” Milissa said.

Before I could drive away, they piled into the family SUV with buckets to go raspberry hunting, and told me about chokecherries and grapes they had found on a previous foraging excursion.

They have plans to expand their operation even more. Milissa said fruit trees need to be replaced, and Lowell said they will get meat goats, “hopefully soon.”

Feature photo: Four years ago, Lowell Osborne found bees in an old outhouse on his property. He successfully moved the bees into a bee box to produce honey. For the last three yeras, Lowell and his family have sold their honey, produce, and baked goods at a farmers market run by the Center for Rural Affairs. | Photo by Rhea Landholm Read more about There’s a buzz about Outhouse Honey Farm

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Your story

Sodsaver program could be extended

This week, the American Prairie Conservation Act was introduced by Sens. John Thune (R-SD), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Mike Rounds (R-SD), and Reps. Kristi Noem (R-SD) and Tim Walz (D-MN).

This bill strengthens the protections for native prairies and prime grasslands that were established in previous farm bills. It expands the existing “sodsaver” provision from six states (Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota) to the entire U.S.

On average, the government covers about 60 percent of farmers’ crop insurance premium costs. The sodsaver provisions provide a disincentive for farmers to plow up native sod by reducing the amount of crop insurance subsidies available when they plow these lands.

Expanding these provisions nationwide would not only protect fragile lands, it would ensure that crop insurance subsidies are available consistently for farmers in all 50 states.

If passed, these proposals could save $52 million over the next 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

In addition, if a farmer plows native sod and plants a noninsured crop such as alfalfa, they can avoid sodsaver restrictions. This bill proposes to close that loophole.

Stewardship of our land and water is an invaluable legacy. By expanding the sodsaver rules nationwide, this bill will help protect our natural resources, keep land in production, and support farms and rural communities.

To read about our farm bill priorities, visit Read more about Sodsaver program could be extended

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From the desk of the executive director: Farm bill renewal is in sight

Congress is in the process of writing another farm bill. Political distractions are running high in Washington. But distracted or not – the current farm bill expires in September 2018. 

If Congress fails to act, key farm bill initiatives that support beginning farmers, local and regional market development, and rural small businesses will come to a screeching halt. An opportunity to reform federal crop insurance and improve conservation programs also hangs in the balance. 

Our policy platform for the new farm bill stands around three pillars. 

Protect and improve farm conservation programs – Stewardship of our land and water for future generations is a core tenet of our work at the Center. Programs that support working lands conservation – soil, water, and habitat conservation on land that is also cultivated or grazed – help to steward our natural resources, while also keeping land in production to support local farms and local economies. We’ll work to retain major gains made in conservation programs in the last two farm bills, while also streamlining programs so they work better together. 

Reform commodity programs – Under current policy, the very largest farms can collect crop insurance subsidies without limit. If one operation farmed the entire state of Iowa, the federal government would subsidize their crop insurance on every single acre. That blocks beginning farmers out of the system and ensures that as the largest farms grow, they collect even more subsidies. We support a $50,000 cap on crop insurance premiums. One government report showed this cap would reduce subsidies to the largest 2.5 percent of farms, helping level the playing field for everyone else. Along with reforms to expand access and enhance conservation, we can make crop insurance work in alignment with our values and priorities. 

Protect investment in beginning farmers and entrepreneurial development – Entrepreneurial development is a proven strategy to create opportunity in rural America. A large set of programs that support entrepreneurial development, beginning farmers, local and regional market development, rural small businesses, and small towns are all set to expire at the end of the current farm bill. Extending, improving, and building on these programs is a central pillar of our policy platform and a key strategy for driving change in small towns across the nation. 

Over the course of the coming months, we will call on you to reach out to members of Congress to support specific policy proposals that align with these three pillars. Your voice in prompting members of Congress to act will be critical. Read more about From the desk of the executive director: Farm bill renewal is in sight

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Smart policy creates sunny outlook

The Iowa legislature created the Iowa Solar Energy System Tax Credit in 2012. Designed to encourage local investment, the credit offsets up to 15 percent of the cost of a new installation. Legislators included limits of $5,000 per home or $20,000 per business to ensure accessibility.

This incentive led to 2,524 new solar projects between 2012 and 2016. The new installments are spread across the state, with at least one in 97 of Iowa’s 99 counties. In total, the $16.4 million provided by the solar tax incentive has generated $123,248,595 of private investment.

One project is located on the Joe and Dianne Rotta farm near Merrill, Iowa. The Rottas farm 1,000 acres of corn and soybeans and have a 24,000 hog operation. In cooperation with a local solar developer, they recently built a combined 121 kilowatt (kW) installment to meet their energy needs. They used net metering, and any excess is banked for use during the harvest season, when grain drying and augering systems increase energy demand.

The farm has been in Dianne’s family since 1884. During that time, it has seen a lot of changes. At the end of July, I had an opportunity to visit. I was joined by several members of the Iowa legislature, along with a representative for Sen. Grassley. Solar installers, project developers, and members of the local electric cooperative were on hand to provide perspective. 

During the tour, Joe and Dianne listed the reasons why solar worked for them. They first pointed to independence and the ability to act as their own electric provider. They acknowledged the flexibility and autonomy. But in the end, it came down to cost.

“Once it’s paid off, it’s yours,” Dianne explained. “We would not have went forward unless it made sense financially. We see this primarily as a way to control inputs and lower costs.”

Because of the Iowa Solar Energy System Tax Credit, the pay-off period is shorter than ever. Combining a state or local incentive with the federal investment tax credit can offset costs by up to 45 percent. This reduces the payback period by two years.

The price of installed solar has fallen by more than 200 percent since 2009. Farm, home, and business owners have taken notice. Due to growing demand, the industry now employs almost 375,000 individuals across the country. Nearly 1,000 of those live in Iowa, many of them rural.  

This is what opportunity looks like in rural communities across the Midwest and Great Plains. Joe and Dianne found a way to lower costs and improve their bottom line. They identified a local business that could help them do it. It’s a win-win for Merrill and northwest Iowa.

The Iowa Solar Energy System Tax Credit is a small investment that creates a big return. The result is a new industry in the state’s rural towns. Smart policy like this is what helps keep our communities strong.

Feature photo: Lawmakers, solar installers, project developers, and electric cooperative members recently took a tour of solar installments in northwest Iowa – a tour co-organized by the Center for Rural Affairs. | Photo by Patrick Snell of the Nature Conservancy Read more about Smart policy creates sunny outlook

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Let’s accurately frame Nebraska’s property tax challenge

Property tax relief and adequate funding for schools and local governments was the topic of a recent community conversation in Nebraska City, hosted by the Center for Rural Affairs. Community leaders and Otoe County residents gathered to discuss property tax challenges facing agricultural land and residential property owners and the radiating impact on schools and local governments.

Dr. Jeff Edwards, of Nebraska Public Schools, reiterated the message shared by superintendents and school boards across the state: the reliance upon agricultural land property taxes is not a challenge created by school spending, but one that has been shifted from the state.

“Our budget is increasing by only 1.02 percent this year, with all of the new money going to general budget increases,” Edwards said. “Despite the rhetoric, public schools are not overspending.”

Like most Nebraska schools, more than 80 percent of Nebraska City Public Schools’ budget is consumed by staffing costs like salaries and health insurance; costs that are often beyond a district’s control. Yet Nebraska ranks 49th in state funding for education, so schools are forced to turn to property taxpayers to shoulder the burden.

This weighs heavily upon farmers, like Gene Hobbie of rural Dunbar.

“Going to the courthouse twice a year to pay property taxes on my farm land really hurts,” said Hobbie. “But, there is nothing that can be done about it. Even the banker has started to talk about how we can cut costs even further so that the property taxes can be paid.”

Attendees also mused on possible solutions to help bring better balance and equity in funding for schools and other local entities. Options such as sales tax on luxury services like dry cleaning or limo services were also offered as revenue generators.

“I am in favor of an income tax increase to help fund schools,” said Hobbie.

Consensus was found in the need to roll back tax incentive programs like the Nebraska Advantage Act and return the dollars to the revenue stream. Nebraska City resident Stephanie Schrader shared that the Nebraska Advantage Act no longer benefits small and local businesses as it was originally designed.

“Instead of using the funds to incentivize on a per job basis, the act has evolved to give multimillion dollar tax breaks to big businesses without consideration of the cost per job,” said Schrader.

As solutions to Nebraska’s tax imbalance are explored, it is imperative that we highlight those who would be most affected by these policies. Tax cuts and revenues which push back rhetoric and instead bring fairness and equity to Nebraska’s tax system are required in order to fund schools, services, and communities – and protect the good life.

Pictured: The Nemaha County Courthouse in Auburn. Nemaha County is just south of Otoe County on the eastern edge of Nebraska. Read more about Let’s accurately frame Nebraska’s property tax challenge

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