Small towns: Unique and exciting

Small towns can be places of art and culture showcased in unique and exciting ways. Folks assume that only cities have such opportunities, but our project shows that assumption is not correct.

We looked at community-supported art as one way to bring attention to arts and culture in the small towns of Decatur, Lyons, and Oakland. These towns then worked together to organize and lead the Byway of Art Tour held Sept. 30, showcasing these cultural gems in a thoroughly enjoyable way.

The Byway of Art began in 2014 with an “outdoor living room” experience where couches, coffee tables, lamps, and snacks were placed on each town’s main street. Folks stopped by for a cup of coffee and sat to talk about their town: what they love, the history, and what their community meant to them.

Ideas for public art pieces were developed from those first community conversations, and shared with folks in each town. Decisions were made and projects got underway.

Rural Legends Trolley

Decatur residents wanted to create a storytelling trolley. In the mid- to late 1800s, pictures showed the town had sophisticated transportation with a postcard of a trolley traveling down Broadway (their main street). 

During their outdoor living room conversation, we learned the trolley was actually a myth to attract new people to town. 

The picture of the trolley had been superimposed; no actual trolley ever existed. But, one exists now and continues the legend of the trolley. The venue is used as a place to read, tell stories, display local art, and more.

Lycka Till

Oakland is rich in Swedish history and wanted to honor that. 

Lycka Till, a mobile stage with a backdrop of a Swedish fishing town was designed, built, and dedicated. (Lycka Till is Swedish for “Break a Leg” and the perfect name for a stage for performers.) Opening night drew more than 100 people who were delighted to watch a live, Swedish-style vaudeville show with jokes, music, singing, and even a little bit of dancing. 

The stage is available to the community, and has already been reserved for several events this summer. It will be used for many years to come, showcasing the arts.

Storefront Theater

Lyons chose to honor a movie theater that was built years ago, and has now been renovated into a venue with unique features. 

An old storefront was turned into bleachers. The faux storefront folds out to accommodate the bleachers that roll out onto the sidewalk, and a mobile movie screen is brought onto Main Street. Movies have been held there all spring and summer, complete with free popcorn. The theater has drawn folks from other towns and beyond.

Byway of Art Tour

People were excited to take part in the Byway of Art Tour, and we consider the event to be a success.

We heard stories from participants who had never been to Decatur, for example, and had no idea the village had an art gallery. One was already planning another visit. 

People visiting Lyons were wowed by Cosmic Film Studios and the art show at the Andromeda Gallery. 

The stop in Oakland featured dinner and a bake sale. Folks filled the street as they enjoyed the Swedish vaudeville show on Lycka Till.

We saw community pride grow, faces of people reflecting their enjoyment of each piece of art, and interest to go back to those towns. That’s community development at its finest.

Feature photo: A postcard from the 1800s showed a trolley traveling down Decatur’s main thoroughfare. Through conversation with the residents, we learned the trolley was a myth; the photo was faked. As their community’s project, a trolley was installed in a greenspace on their main street. The venue is used to tell stories, display local art, and more. Here, local author, Mary Connealy, presents to visitors. | Photo by Rhea Landholm

Inset photo: Residents of Oakland are proving small towns really do have it all. This summer, they unveiled Lycka Till, a mobile stage with a backdrop of a Swedish fishing town. Brian Depew, Center Executive Director, and Deb Anderson, Community Lead, officially dedicate the project during the Byway of Art Tour in September. | Photo by Rhea Landholm Read more about Small towns: Unique and exciting

  • Small Towns
  • Small TownsCommunity Development
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Staff Spotlight: Rock focuses on water and clean energy in Iowa

Katie Rock recently joined the Center for Rural Affairs, where her focus will be on water and clean energy issues in Iowa. She is based in our Nevada, Iowa, office.

“I’m excited to join the Center’s staff in Iowa. There is a lot at stake for rural communities when it comes to water and clean energy,” said Rock. “How Iowa handles these issues will leave a lasting legacy for families, communities and the land. I have a real passion for making sure rural areas have a voice on these issues and can benefit from new opportunities.”

She serves as commissioner with Polk County Soil and Water Conservation District and on the executive committee of the North Raccoon River Watershed Management Coalition.

Rock brings a broad background in agricultural research to the Center, covering biomass crops, biotechnology, and information technology. She has also done advocacy for young farmers, students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and through Make It Work, an advocacy group focused on working family issues.

Raised on a farm outside Muscatine in eastern Iowa, Rock has a bachelors in plant health from Iowa State University and a masters of science in applied plant science from the University of Minnesota. She is pursuing a masters in public administration at Drake University. She lives in Des Moines with her husband and three sons. Read more about Staff Spotlight: Rock focuses on water and clean energy in Iowa

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Iowa farmers prioritize needs in new farm bill

By Kevin Patrick Allen, Public News Service - Iowa

Iowa plays a large role in the process of creating a farm bill and, with less than one year remaining before the current bill expires, work is underway to draft legislation that will support farmers in the state. 

Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley, as well as Rep. Steve King, sit on the agricultural committees that draft the farm bill. 

Anna Johnson, a policy program associate at the Center for Rural Affairs, says initial plans and new ideas are being discussed. The Center already has identified key focus areas that include strong support for conservation. 

"We could be providing incentives for conservation practices like cover crops by offering higher premium subsidies to farmers who practice conservation and have conservation plans in place," she states.

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) are initiatives that the Center for Rural Affairs maintains should be well funded. The programs offer financial and technical assistance to farmers while tying payments to performance. 

The Center is also pushing for a bill that will support beginning farmers and rural development. 

Johnson says it's clear that a level playing field doesn't exist for small farmers competing with much larger counterparts. She stresses that issue can be addressed, in part, by adjusting crop insurance payments and the method used to determine those payments. 

"We're concerned about farm consolidation in the rural communities, so we are proposing that in the next farm bill, Congress cap the crop insurance premium subsidy per farm at $50,000 per operation," she says.

Johnson argues that crop insurance should provide a basic level of support, particularly to small and mid-size farms, rather than disproportionately benefiting farmers with the most acreage. 

The current farm bill will expire Sept. 30, 2018.

The first farm bill was created in 1933 and provided subsidies to farmers during the Great Depression. 

Farm bills are drafted every five years to govern a variety of agriculture programs across the country.

Photo courtesy of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Read more about Iowa farmers prioritize needs in new farm bill

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Rural mental health care must not be overlooked

The challenges that try rural communities in nearly all aspects of health care – greater travel distances, fewer providers, heightened health concerns, lower incomes – also stand in the way of the delivery of behavioral and mental health care services. While there is not a greater prevalence of mental illness among rural residents, a significant disparity exists in access to mental health services and care for rural populations.

In the United States, there are nearly 4,900 areas with mental health professional shortages. Of these, nearly 54 percent are classified as rural.

A mental health professional shortage area is designated as such by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in cooperation with state partners. This designation provides access to federal funds in the form of scholarships and loan repayments or enhanced reimbursements to providers and clinics for services.

Even with these incentives, it would require more than 1,600 additional mental health providers, psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, social workers, or psychiatric nurse practitioners to meet the need in rural shortage areas alone.

Efforts to build and maintain an adequate behavioral and mental health workforce are not immune from the circumstances which confront general rural workforce development and retention initiatives.

As the topic of behavioral and mental health draws the attention of Congress and state legislatures in the aftermaths of violent acts and as a facet of the fight of the opioid epidemic, the existing disparity of behavioral and mental health care in rural America must continue to be addressed, starting with building a workforce to meet rural resident needs. Read more about Rural mental health care must not be overlooked

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Untapped economic opportunity in organic farming

Organic farming in Iowa is on the rise, and proving to be an important economic opportunity for small to mid-size farmers. This growing industry is significant for our state because it gives farmers an important and often untapped avenue to continue farming and make money. In a tough farm economy, strong and viable economic opportunities such as this are a valuable option for farms.

Demand for organic products is growing at such a high rate that consumer need is exceeding domestic supplies. The U.S. is now spending more than $1 billion a year to import organic products. This rise in demand gives Iowa farmers a good opportunity to jump in on the higher price premiums – up to three times as much as conventional products.

Organics can be a boon to rural communities, as well. Rural economies suffer when farms consolidate in small communities. The growing organic market presents a viable opportunity to keep small to mid-size farmers in production.

Many Iowa farmers are already growing and producing organic products. In the past five years, the number of organic producers has increased by 31 percent, and the state ranks sixth nationally in largest number of organic farms. Farmers in Iowa also saw a 43 percent increase in the value of organic commodities produced, from $72 million in 2008 to $103 million in 2014. This $100 million market is mostly from producing organic corn, soybeans, and milk.

Transitioning to farming organically is a long process, however there are options for federal financial assistance. Those interested in the higher prices should consider programs to ease into this great economic opportunity.

Contact me at or 515.215.1294 for more information.

Join us for the 2017 Organic Conference "Securing Tomorrow Today — Organic Leads the Way" on Sunday, Nov. 19, and Monday, Nov. 20, at the University of Iowa, Iowa City. The conference features roundtable discussions and an organic luncheon, as well as information from keynote speaker Jeff Moyer. Workshop tracks include: crop production, livestock production, local foods, policy, and beginning farmers. Click here for more information and to register. Read more about Untapped economic opportunity in organic farming

  • Farm Policy
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Latino Business Center: Latino-owned businesses represent 24 percent of U.S. businesses

Note: This is the fifth and final in a series from our small business program, Rural Enterprise Assistance Project (REAP), highlighting activities from Sept. 1, 2016, to Aug. 31, 2017. Our staff placed 124 loans totaling $2,541,952 in that time period. To apply for a microloan, click hereClick here for the first story on highlights from businesses, here for the second story on staff accomplishments, here for the third story - a report from our executive director, and here for the fourth story on the Women's Business Center.

Latino-owned businesses will number 4.37 million this year, as projected by a Geoscape study.

This represents a growth of 31.6 percent since 2012, more than double the growth rate of all businesses in the U.S. (13.8 percent).

The Latino share of new entrepreneurs represents 24 percent of all businesses, compared to 10 percent a decade ago – a 140 percent increase. Latinos are 1.5 times more likely than the general population to start a business, according to the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity.

While men owned more than 56 percent of Latino businesses in 2012, women now drive more of the growth. Between 2007 and 2012, the number of female Latino-owned businesses grew an incredible 87 percent.

Sales from Hispanic-owned businesses contribute $709 billion to the U.S. economy, an increase of 32 percent since 2012, and twice the total in 2007 ($351 billion dollars).

Because of this demand, from September 2016 to August 2017, the Center’s Latino Business Center (LBC) awarded 59 loans to Latino small businesses totaling $1,032,295.

From October 2016 to June 2017, the LBC served 826 people through trainings, roundtables, and technical assistance: 

  • 483 business owners participated in technology classes, e-commerce, Business Plan Basics, Simple Steps to a Well-Run Business, Marketing Trends, and QuickBooks courses.
  • 343 entrepreneurs were counseled during 1,293 sessions.
  • Small Business
  • Small BusinessREAP
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Congress: Rural Development deserves a seat at the table

The Center for Rural Affairs was among several national organizations urging Congress to include a directive in appropriation legislation for Fiscal Year 2018. Section 755 of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations bill directs the Secretary of Agriculture to nominate an individual to fill the role of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Under Secretary for Rural Development.

In May, U.S. Agriculture Sec. Sonny Perdue announced a reorganization eliminating the Undersecretary for Rural Development.

“The Center for Rural Affairs has fought on behalf of rural communities for nearly 45 years," said Anna Johnson, policy program associate, in a press release. "We are heartened that Sec. Perdue is making strong efforts during his early days in office to express support for rural communities. However, we are concerned about the path he has chosen. Sec. Purdue has proposed eliminating the position of Undersecretary for Rural Development and moving oversight of Rural Development agencies to the Deputy Secretary, USDA’s second-in-command. If he makes this change, Sec. Perdue will be removing the position of the most significant rural advocate within USDA. Rural America stands to suffer as a result." 

Perdue's announcement followed a request by the Trump Administration to cut the USDA budget by more than 20 percent.

“Rural America deserves a champion who is not distracted by the other demands of managing the diverse responsibilities of USDA," Johnson said. "By retaining the Undersecretary position, USDA will be better positioned to work with rural people and achieve a vision for America that includes thriving rural communities and economic opportunity for all.”

The Fiscal Year 2018 Senate bill includes language directing USDA to retain the Rural Development Mission Area and appoint an Under Secretary for Rural Development. The Senate bill also includes funding for the long-standing position.

On Oct. 31, the letter was sent to The Honorable Rodney Frelinghuysen, Chairman, House Appropriations Committee; The Honorable Nita Lowey, Ranking Member, House Appropriations Committee; The Honorable Thad Cochran, Chairman, Senate Appropriations Committee; The Honorable Patrick Leahy, Ranking Member, Senate Appropriations Committee; The Honorable Robert Aderholt, Chairman, House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee; The Honorable Sanford Bishop Jr., Ranking Member, House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee; The Honorable John Hoeven, Chairman, Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee; and The Honorable Jeff Merkley, Ranking Member, Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee.


Dear Chairs and Ranking Members:

As you prepare to finalize appropriations legislation for FY 2018, we write to urge your support for including Section 755 of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations bill, which directs the Secretary of Agriculture to nominate an individual to fill the role of USDA Under Secretary for Rural Development. We further request that you support the inclusion of $896,000 for the Under Secretary’s office.

In May 2017, USDA announced that it intended to eliminate its Rural Development Under Secretary. USDA’s decision to downgrade rural development and undermine its leadership structure is shortsighted and dangerous. Fortunately, the FY 2018 Senate bill includes language (SEC. 755) directing USDA to retain the Rural Development Mission Area and appoint an Under Secretary for Rural Development. The Senate bill also includes funding for the long-standing position.

Rural Development is an organization of 5,000 people, 400 offices, and 40 programs, with a loan portfolio of $216 billion dollars. In FY 2015 alone, USDA’s Rural Business-Cooperative Service helped rural business owners and entrepreneurs create or save over 52,000 rural jobs; the Rural Utilities Service helped 5.5 million people receive new or improved electric facilities and 2.4 million people receive new or improved water facilities; and the Rural Housing Service provided over 140,000 new home ownership opportunities. Given its size and complexity, USDA Rural Development requires an Under Secretary to ensure that the work of the agencies is coordinated and accountable to tax payers.

Without the political leadership of an Under Secretary, agencies will tend to drift to separate agendas and difficult issues will go unresolved. Moreover, Rural Development deserves a seat at the table when high-level decisions are being made. As part of the USDA subcabinet, a Senate-confirmed Under Secretary can offer that leadership and political legitimacy. We therefore urge you to adopt the Senate language retaining funding for the Office of the Under Secretary for Rural Development and directing the Secretary to appoint an individual to fill that position.

Thank you for your consideration.


Agriculture and Land-based Training Association
Alabama State Association of Cooperatives
American Federation of Government Employees Local 3354
Arkansas Land and Community Development Corporation
Ashtabula, Geauga, Lake Counties Farmers Union - Ohio
California FarmLink
California Institute for Rural Studies
Carolina Farm Stewardship Association
Center For Rural Affairs
Center for Small Farms & Community Food Systems - Oregon State University
Certified Naturally Grown
Community Food and Justice Coalition
Contract Poultry Growers Association of the Virginias
Cottage House - Alabama
Dakota Rural Action
Delta Land & Community
Desert Forge Foundation
Family Farm Defenders
Fair Food Network
Farm Aid
Farms Not Arms
Farm to Table New Mexico
Farming 4 Justice – North Carolina
Farmworker Association of Florida, Inc.
Federation of Southern Cooperatives / Land Assistance Fund
Food for Maine’s Future
Friends of Family Farmers
Friends of the Earth
Hmong National Development Inc.
Housing Assistance Council
Island Grown Initiative
Indian Nations Conservation Alliance
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future
Kansas Rural Center
Land Stewardship Project
LiveWell Colorado
Maine Farmland Trust
Mississippi Association of Cooperatives
Missouri Rural Crisis Center
National Association of Development Organizations
National Association of Towns and Townships
National Family Farm Coalition
National Farm to School Network
National Hmong American Farmers
National Latino Farmers & Ranchers Trade Association
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
New Mexico Food and Agriculture Policy Council
Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society
Northwest Forest Worker Center
Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association
Oklahoma Black Historical Research Project, Inc.
Organization for Competitive Markets
Pesticide Action Network
Roots of Change
Rural Advancement Fund of National Sharecroppers, Inc.
Rural Coalition / Coalición Rural
Rural Development Leadership Network
Slow Food USA
Somali Bantu Community of Lewiston Maine
Sustainable Food Center – Texas
Taos Country Economic Development Corporation
Texas/Mexico Boarder Coalition
The Center for Family Farm Development, Inc.
Union of Concerned Scientists
Western Sustainable Agriculture Working Group
Winston Country Self Help Cooperative - Mississippi
World Farmers Read more about Congress: Rural Development deserves a seat at the table

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Women's Business Center: Training and Technical Assistance Provided

Note: This is the fourth in a series from our small business program, Rural Enterprise Assistance Project (REAP), highlighting activities from Sept. 1, 2016, to Aug. 31, 2017. Our staff placed 124 loans totaling $2,541,952 in that time period. To apply for a microloan, click hereClick here for the first story on highlights from businesses, here for the second story on staff accomplishments, and here for the third story - a report from our executive director and interim REAP director.

From September 2016 through August 2017, Women’s Business Center specialists and contracted technical assistance providers delivered 4,559 hours of business counseling (including preparation hours) to 653 clients. 

We have provided 179 training opportunities to 1,285 individuals. 69 percent of those trained were women. (Click here and bookmark this page for more training opportunities.)

This is the 16th year of funding for the Women’s Business Center.

In the last year, the Women’s Business Center:

• Administered the InnovateHER Challenge, with the Nebraska District Office of the Small Business Administration. Three businesses, whose products or services positively impact women, competed for prize money. The application of Sonia Rocha-Sanchez and Michael Feloney, F & S Medical Solutions, LLC, was submitted to the national competition with their innovation SimplCath, a female catheterization assistance device.

• Collaborated with local economic development agencies to sponsor Diane Siefkes, a social media consultant, presenting online marketing and Facebook sessions in Hartington, Valentine, Ainsworth, Alma, O’Neill, Hebron, Central City, and Sidney. Approximately 110 businesses, resource providers, and nonprofits attended.

• Piloted “Primed for Growth: A Financial Education Program for Women Entrepreneurs,” an eightsession program.

• Collaborated with local economic development agencies and educational institutions to host three Business Plan Basics sessions in Red Cloud, Auburn, and Walthill. Latino-targeted series were held in Schuyler, Columbus, Grand Island, South Sioux City, and Loup City. Approximately 50 participated, from start-up to existing businesses.

• Continued collaboration with the University of Nebraska Entrepreneurship Clinic. Law students assist business owners in determining the best legal structure for their businesses and assist with filing documents. The students presented at the Women Entrepreneur Conference.

• Partnered with GROW Nebraska to hold the MarkeTECH Conference in Kearney. 

• Delivered QuickBooks training sessions in Lewellen, Scottsbluff, Ainsworth, Norfolk, Walthill, Laurel, Wayne, Hartington, Chadron, and O’Neill using the Mobile Laptop Lab. Approximately 90 businesses have been assisted. The laptops are also used for computer and e-commerce trainings.

• Held four seminars in Lincoln in collaboration with Community Development Resources, focused on Facebook, marketing budgets, LinkedIn, and sale and use taxes.

• Sponsored a monthly Women’s Roundtable in Seward. Local women business owners gather to network, discuss cooperative marketing opportunities, and support each other.

• Held a seminar on Federal Contracting and Certification as a Woman-Owned Small Business in collaboration with the Small Business Administration Omaha District Office. Also collaborated on a business start-up session and a business financing session in Grand Island.

• Held two business ownership seminars in Lincoln and Beatrice.

Photo: The Women’s Business Center co-sponsored the Women Entrepreneurship Conference in Grand Island, alongside the Nebraska District Office of the Small Business Administration. Participants had the opportunity to network and enhance their entrepreneurship skills. A panel of women entrepreneurs shared their experiences, and sessions addressed target market, marketing on a budget, and legal issues related to small businesses. | Photo by Emilee Pease Read more about Women's Business Center: Training and Technical Assistance Provided

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Celebrate local businesses on Nov. 25

Growing up, I would earn a quarter per chore – a quarter each for washing dishes, dusting, sweeping, and more. I pocketed the quarters, hopped on my bike, and rode four blocks to the main thoroughfare in my town of 1,000.

I would peruse toy racks at the pharmacy and hardware store; drool over bulk candy at the grocery store and the flower shop; and peer at notepads in the glass case at the newspaper office. These locally-owned businesses received all of my hard-earned quarters.

At age 8, I didn’t realize I was supporting small businesses or the local economy. I also didn’t think to save my quarters for spending at a big box or department store. I only knew how handy it was to be able to shop in my community.

Main street businesses are an important part of our life in rural America, and Small Business Saturday, on Nov. 25, is the perfect time to celebrate them. Show your support by making purchases, which keep locally-earned dollars in your communities.

In 2015, U.S. small businesses represented 99.7 percent of businesses with paid employees, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. When we shop, eat, and have fun at local establishments, we benefit our neighbors.

During this holiday season, and year round, #ShopSmall. Support your community, your friends, and your way of life. When local businesses succeed, we all win.

Businesses: There is still time to join in Small Business Saturday. Participating in Small Business Saturday is a great way to promote your business and reach new customers. Visit to find marketing materials, merchandise, tips and insight, and how to get more involved. Read more about Celebrate local businesses on Nov. 25

  • Small Business
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Weekly column

Public power can invest locally in renewable wind and solar energy

When it comes to wind energy potential, Nebraska is in a prime position. The state is fourth in the U.S. – in fact, the state could produce enough energy from wind to meet its energy needs 118 times over, or enough to power 511,000 average homes. But, even with this potential, Nebraska lags behind its neighbors in developing our wind energy resources, currently putting the state at 18th for installed wind energy capacity.

Falling short doesn’t mean we miss out on cheap and clean renewable energy. Nebraska communities stand to gain a lot from wind energy – development provides new sources of income for landowners through land-lease payments, new temporary and permanent jobs are created to construct or service projects, and projects add new tax revenue to small towns and counties.

New income and an influx of workers during construction also helps spur economic activity for small towns and rural areas. The tax revenue generated from projects assists communities in funding schools, as well as essential services like police and fire departments.

Nebraska has an impressive amount of potential to generate renewable energy; however, the state has a lot of catching up to do compared to its neighbors. To capture that potential, developers and local officials need to work with community members to determine the best way to build projects.

Residents will also have to tell public power they want local, cheap, and clean renewable energy to power their homes and businesses. Public power has the opportunity to invest locally in renewable wind and solar energy, keeping the dollars we spend on electricity in our state.

Nebraska can find a way to work toward reaching its renewable energy potential, realizing the benefits renewables like wind can bring to small towns and rural communities across the state. Read more about Public power can invest locally in renewable wind and solar energy

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Beginning farmers and ranchers benefit from act introduced this week in Congress

Do you support beginning and aspiring farmers and ranchers? Your voice is needed!

This week, a bill supporting beginning and aspiring farmers and ranchers – the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act (BFROA) – was introduced in Congress by Reps. Tim Walz (D-MN) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE). 

The Center for Rural Affairs understands the challenges beginning farmers and ranchers face, and has endorsed BFROA. You can learn more about the bill here.

A quick call to your representative expressing your support for this bill will make a big impact! Call the Congressional Switchboard at 202.224.3121.

The average age of today's farmer is 58 years old. Over the course of the next five years, nearly 100 million acres of farmland are predicted to change hands. We need to support policies that ensure beginning farmers and ranchers have the necessary tools and resources to be successful in the future. The 2018 farm bill is the perfect opportunity to address the challenges beginning farmers and ranchers face, and provide solutions to overcome these barriers.

In order to keep our agricultural economy strong, we need to support policies that help beginning farmers and ranchers in four key areas:

  1. Access to affordable land;
  2. Education to develop necessary farming skills;
  3. Sound financial management tools, such as credit and crop insurance; and
  4. Conservation and land stewardship.

In brief, BFROA helps support beginning and aspiring farmers and ranchers by:

  • Expanding beginning farmer and rancher access to affordable land;
  • Empowering producers with the skills needed to succeed in today's agricultural economy;
  • Ensuring equitable access to financial capital and federal crop insurance; and
  • Encouraging commitment to conservation and land stewardship.  

In order for Congress to include this bill in the 2018 farm bill, representatives need to hear from you. If you care about the next generation of farmers and ranchers in your state, now is the time to let them know!

Want to show your support for beginning and aspiring farmers and ranchers? Here’s how you can get involved:

Call your representative expressing your support by dialing the Congressional Switchboard at 202.224.3121.

Not sure what to say? Here is an example:
“Hello, my name is _________, and I live in [town where you live, so they know you are a member of their district]. I’m calling to let Representative/Senator _________ know I support the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act. To keep our agricultural economy strong, our beginning farmers and ranchers need support in the 2018 farm bill. Thank you!”

If you're looking for more information:

Since this bill was just introduced, the legislative number has not yet been assigned. You can follow BFROA updates HERE to stay in the know.

Did you call? Let us know!
Contact me at or 402.687.2100 x 1012. Read more about Beginning farmers and ranchers benefit from act introduced this week in Congress

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Demand for small business capital is strong

Note: This is the third in a series from our small business program, Rural Enterprise Assistance Project (REAP), highlighting activities from Sept. 1, 2016, to Aug. 31, 2017. Our staff placed 124 loans totaling $2,541,952 in that time period. To apply for a microloan, click here. Click here for the first story and here for the second story.

The unexpected passing of Jeff Reynolds, long-time director of the Rural Enterprise Assistance Project (REAP), made 2017 a year of change and transition for our small business development work. 

Jeff was committed to rural small business development, and to each and every small business owner we ever worked with. Since becoming program director in 2000, Jeff led a dramatic expansion of our small business lending, training, and technical assistance work. 

He fundamentally believed in small business development as a strategy for small towns. He helped design, campaign for, and win both state and federal programs that now provide resources to other small business development organizations. His impact extends far beyond Nebraska.

We miss Jeff’s dedication, his good spirit, his can-do attitude, and his uplifting presence, and we dedicate our work with Nebraska small businesses this year to him.

Lending for the year

Demand for small business capital is strong in rural Nebraska. When traditional lenders aren’t meeting the need, we do our best to serve rural entrepreneurs. 

From Sept. 1, 2016, to Aug. 31, 2017, our staff placed 124 loans totaling $2,541,952. Total outstanding loans have climbed to $6 million. Just five years ago, that number was $2.6 million. Our small business loans range from $1,000 to $150,000. The growth is a reflection of demand from the field and dedication of the staff.

One area of growth is from Latino entrepreneurs. Latino borrowers now account for 30 percent of our loan portfolio. As the demographics in rural Nebraska shift, we are dedicated to ensuring that new immigrants can become full participants in their communities, including as small business owners.

Our clients are everyday, rural people

Borrowers include individuals such as Ana Gonzalez, who always dreamed of starting her own business. Her dream became reality when she opened The Enchanted Bakery in Grand Island, Nebraska.

Previously, Ana operated a home-based bakery, but with growing demand, she knew she needed a storefront. Our staff was able to assist Ana not only with a loan, but also with training and hands-on help to get the business up and running.

The training and hands-on assistance we are able to offer small business owners are a hallmark of our program. We offer trainings on QuickBooks, online marketing, financial literacy, and other topics to business owners across the state. We also work one-on-one with clients to help them develop business plans, and provide business coaching.

Business ownership remains one of the key ways for individuals to build assets over time. Across the nation, there is a significant, unmet need for alternative financing such as ours.

Mission-driven and community-oriented control of capital will be a key strategy to help everyday rural people build a future for themselves and their communities in the coming decades.

Feature photo: REAP clients include individuals such as Ana Gonzalez, who always dreamed of starting her own business. Her dream became reality when she opened the Enchanted Bakery in Grand Island. Our staff assisted Ana with training, hands-on help, and a loan. | Photo submitted

Photo: Rachel Pittner, owner of the Groomin’ Room in Minden, Nebraska, has always loved dogs. She opened her business in Minden in 2013. REAP helped Rachel with a loan in 2015 to purchase a building after her existing location, which she rented, was sold. | Photo submitted Read more about Demand for small business capital is strong

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Iowa's fight for water quality continues

Iowa’s 2017 legislative session ended without a bill to create a long-term, stable funding source for water quality. Hard feelings amassed all around, between the House and Senate, and between the legislature and the public at large. The stalemate on funding, dismissal of the Des Moines Water Works lawsuit, and retaliatory effort to dismantle the Des Moines Water Works in the statehouse has kept the debate alive, well, and as charged as ever.

Should Iowans expect a change of course in 2018? Gov. Kim Reynolds could make a difference. Reynolds told a crowd in Altoona, Iowa, last summer that she wanted water quality to be “the first bill [she] signs as governor.” She also participated in field days that promoted soil organic matter. However, she has been quiet on proposals she would like to see from the Republican-led legislature. Key committee leadership in the House and Senate will need to take care of the details.

The frail state of the budget will dominate discussions at the Capitol this session, and any bills addressing water quality will have to fit within this debate. State revenue projections continue to decline, with the latest projections indicating a $133 million shortfall from last year. Last session, we participated in Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy coalition urging for a ⅜ cent raise in the sales tax to fund a dedicated trust for natural resource protection. A sales tax raise is still possible, as it is known to have broad public support, but not likely without other tax revenue offsets.

All eyes will be on House Republicans to make a deal. The quickest path to the governor’s desk would be to pass the Senate bill from last session and allow the House to make amendments. All members of the House are up for reelection in 2018, adding to the pressure. The Senate bill from last session allowed for increased funding from an excise tax on drinking water and gambling revenues. Compared to the House bill from last session, it places more emphasis on administering projects through the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship in a direct contract to landowners.

No matter what is decided at the state house this session, the fight for water quality will continue. It’s estimated an investment of $5 to $6 billion is needed to adequately address water quality in Iowa. With our state’s land value assessed at more than $200 billion, that figure represents a 2 to 3 percent investment in infrastructure protection. The Raccoon River, providing water for the Des Moines metro, is estimated to require $300 to $500 million alone. It will take a sustained effort of thousands of projects, hundreds of people, and, yes, millions, if not billions, of dollars.

Many water quality initiatives currently active in the state are funded through federal sources, or privately. And, a number of outreach efforts are underway to engage farmers in implementing cover crops and other conservation practices. We will explore these topics, and more, in our ongoing series on water quality.

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Small business staff present, collaborate, and lead

Note: This is the second in a series from our small business program, Rural Enterprise Assistance Project (REAP), highlighting activities from Sept. 1, 2016, to Aug. 31, 2017. Our staff placed 124 loans totaling $2,541,952 in that time period. To apply for a microloan, click here. Click here for the first story on business accomplishments.


Monica Braun received the Association of Women’s Business Centers 2017 Advocacy Award for efforts on behalf of the women’s business centers.

Juan Sandoval received the Nebraska Entrepreneurship Outstanding Service Award from NET-Force and Nebraska Enterprise Fund in recognition of sustained and outstanding leadership and advocacy for entrepreneurship education and business development services.


Braun presented “What’s in Your Business Plan?” sessions at the AgCeptional Women’s Conference in Norfolk, in November.

Nancy Flock presented at a college and career fair in Cambridge, in October, to students who want to return home after college to start businesses.

Janelle Moran and Griselda Rendon were the featured speakers at the October Nebraska City Small Incubator coffee.

Dena Beck was the special guest speaker at the Sutton Area Chamber’s annual meeting.

Gene Rahn spoke to the KBR Leadership Academy in January.

Conference attendees

Beck, Brian Depew, Rhea Landholm, and board member Jay Hall attended the Opportunity Finance Network Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, in October 2016.

Braun, Kim Preston, and Dongwen Wang attended the annual Women’s Business Center Conference in September, in Alexandria, Virginia.

Braun and Beck attended the Governor’s Economic Summit in July.

Moran, Braun, and Beck attended the 2017 Nebraska Economic Developers Association (NEDA) conference at Nebraska City and set up a booth. Beck presented in a preconference session.

Beck, Flock, and Braun participated in the Connecting Entrepreneurial Communities Conference in McCook, in April; and the Nebraska AgriEco-Tourism Conference in Broken Bow, in February.


Flock worked with an Intensive Business Development Project for Dawson County. Through this project, it was identified that one business was ready to expand into a larger restaurant and REAP was able to provide financing.

Braun was a member of the planning team for the annual GROW Nebraska MarkeTECH Conference; and was a part of the planning and implementing team for the EntrepreneurShip Investigation Camp in Seward, in June. 

Flock was a judge in the Hormel Business Plan Competition at McCook; and Beck was a judge at Big Idea Kearney, in November. 


We collaborate with many organizations to better serve entrepreneurs and communities. 

Staff participate in resource network meetings in their regions to keep abreast of what other resource providers have to offer. They inform others about REAP services to keep referral networks current and to assist our clientele.

The Nebraska Small Business Collaborative (NSBC) consists of REAP, Community Development Resources-Lincoln, Catholic Charities-Omaha, and Nebraska Enterprise Fund.

REAP participates in NEDA, an association of professional economic developers dedicated to the prosperous growth of Nebraska’s business climate.

The Center is a part of NET-Force, an organization made up of entities that facilitate entrepreneurship. Each community college is represented, as well as the University of Nebraska and Nebraska Enterprise Fund.

Staff Training & Networking

Braun participated in the NET-Force Entrepreneurship Best Practices Summit, in October; Nebraska Financial Education Coalition meeting in Lincoln, in October; and Small Business Administration (SBA) speed mentoring session in Lincoln.

Moran and Braun attended the SBA district office informational day for lenders in Lincoln, in May.

Flock attended the Community Reinvestment Act for Workforce Workshop in Broken Bow, in June.

Survey Work

Beck completed the fifth biennial “Small Business Needs Assessment Survey.” The survey, administered every two years, helps determine the needs of rural entrepreneurs in Nebraska. In 2017, the survey was conducted in Kansas and South Dakota; data analyzation is in progress. If you would like a program delivered to your community or organization, contact Beck at 308.528.0060 or

Photo: Monica Braun (center) received the Association of Women’s Business Centers 2017 Advocacy Award for efforts on behalf of women’s business centers. Read more about Small business staff present, collaborate, and lead

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