Small Business: Is Your Farmers Market a Good Place to Start?

I love Farmers Markets. Love them. They play such an important role in our towns. It’s where we go to buy fresh eggs, fruits, vegetables, and baked goods. Some markets also have craft vendors and artists. I go to every Farmers Market I can, not just for the food but also to get to the essence of community.

It’s a place where I can see my neighbors, meet new friends, and get to know the market vendors. It’s a place where people connect. It’s rare to see anyone at a Farmers Market who is not smiling, even a little bit. It’s a place where community is represented across age, gender, race, and ethnicity.

When we buy locally and support our local growers and vendors, that money goes right back into our local economy. I love Farmers Markets.

I realized the other day that a Farmers Market might be a great place to try out a new small business idea to see if it has legs. There certainly are advantages to testing out your small business idea at your local market. You can build up a clientele, a reputation, and tell your story while making money.

Selling at the market is not only a source of revenue. It’s also one of the best marketing opportunities available. It’s the best way I know to meet your customer face-to-face and start to build a relationship.

The customer gets to know you, and you get to know them. They learn your story – maybe you grow the strawberries you are selling on the farm that’s been in your family for three generations. Or maybe you are a brand new farmer and bring your kids to the market with you.

Perhaps you paint lovely pictures because your grandma took you on walks on her farm, and you are inspired by nature. Those are stories that allow people to get to know you. They help build loyal customers who tell other potential customers. Of course people get to taste your wonderful food or see the things you’ve created, too.

I believe firmly that a business plan is a must-do for anybody who wants to start a small business. But selling at a Farmers Market is a great place to start. As your market business grows, so does the opportunity to take it to the next level. Read more about Small Business: Is Your Farmers Market a Good Place to Start?

  • Small TownsCommunity Food

Conservation Stewardship Program Now Accepting Applications

On May 1, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced farmers and ranchers can now apply for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). It rewards producers for conservation practices on their working farm or ranchland. When Congress finalized this year’s funding bill, they restored money they accidently cut off in the bill passed last October.

The new legislation removed the remaining obstacles to enroll in CSP this year. It was a welcome move by Congress to address this oversight. Farmers and ranchers have been waiting to sign up. Each year there are twice as many, or more, applying than can receive contracts under available funding.

USDA will provide nearly $175 million in funding for enrollment of up to 12.6 million additional acres this year. That will bring a grand total of 62 million acres by year’s end.

If you are a farmer who has been waiting to get into the program, you should move forward now.

The deadline for applications is May 31, 2013. Even if you are in the midst of planting, make time to visit your local NRCS office. Start the application process right away.

CSP is one of the most popular conservation programs at NRCS. It has enrolled nearly 39,000 farmers and ranchers operating 50 million acres of farm and ranch land under five-year CSP conservation contracts worth $3.5 billion.

Previous sign-ups have yielded some great success stories for farmers and ranchers. But they’ve also brought disappointment and frustration. That’s why I encourage farmers and ranchers to call the Center for Rural Affairs Farm Bill Helpline. We’ll answer your questions about the application process. And you can share your experiences, both positive and negative.

You can reach the Farm Bill Helpline at 402.687.2100. Ask for Traci Bruckner. Or send a message online. Other resources that may help you include USDA’s CSP website and the USDA Service Center locator.

I'm here to help you! Read more about Conservation Stewardship Program Now Accepting Applications

  • Farm PolicyFarm and Food

Sodsaver Bill Introduced in Senate

Last week, Senator John Thune (R-SD) and Senator Amy Klobuchar lead a bipartisan group of senators in introducing legislation that would modify crop insurance premium subsidies for insured crops grown on native sod converted to cropland.

The Senate Sodsaver bill prohibits federal commodity payments on newly broken native sod, and it reduces the federal subsidy for crop and revenue insurance by fifty percent on native grass and prairie lands. It also requires that newly broken sod be isolated from other crop acres when calculating insurable yields, and operators would be required to take a percentage of the county average yield for any newly broken native sod until they are able to show a multi-year yield history.

The bill is also cosponsored by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tom Harkin (D-IA), and Mike Johanns (R-NE). And according to the Congressional Budget Office, this legislation could save taxpayers $200 million over 10 years, encourage conservation of grasslands that pheasants, ducks, and other wildlife use as a habitat, and help level the playing field for producers who need access to grazing land.

The Center for Rural Affairs applauds Senators Thune, Johanns, Bennet, Klobuchar, Brown and Harkin for introducing this crucial, common-sense legislation to preserve grazing land, protect hunting opportunities and conserve vital soil resources. Last year’s Senate Farm Bill included a nationwide “Sodsaver” provision and we urge the Senate Agriculture Committee to include this legislation in the Farm Bill that they will begin writing and debating in coming weeks.
  Read more about Sodsaver Bill Introduced in Senate

  • Farm PolicyFarm Bill
Weekly column

Perfect Turning Machine Turns Out Wonderfully

Kathy and Sonny Porter have been involved in the Perfect Turning Machine business for 15 years. Sonny used his hands-on know-how to develop his own components. They are used in land surveying instruments, firearms, and aerospace, along with manufacturing items for other businesses.

Sonny began his business journey in Greeley, Colorado, and then moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming. Several years ago he purchased a building and moved his machine shop to Kimball, Nebraska.

In 2011, Sonny had the opportunity to purchase the rights to the Borzit System, a small ground-boring machine used by landscaping companies putting in underground sprinklers. It can also be used to drill shallow water wells, etc.

Perfect Turning had been manufacturing the components before buying the rights to the machine and manufacturing it. Kathy learned about REAP and was directed to our Panhandle office. She got in touch with me to see if REAP could help secure funding to purchase the Borzit System.

I met with Sonny and Kathy, and we put together a business plan. The Porters used that to complete their loan application. REAP financing enabled Sonny and Kathy to purchase the system from Colorado and move it to their operation in Kimball.

Borzit System sales have seen some growth, but Sonny says the firearms component manufacturing has grown substantially. He predicts this growth will triple in 2013. The Borzit Product and the firearm components are shipped all over the United States.

The manufacturing business uses services and products of several local Kimball businesses. Besides Sonny and Kathy, Perfect Turning has two other full-time employees and one part-time employee.

Last year Sonny purchased an additional CNC lathe machine and has another one on order. Plans for more expansion are underway. Both Kathy and Sonny attribute help from REAP as instrumental in growing their business!

Perfect Turning Machine Shop
Kathy & Sonny Porter
Kimball, NE Read more about Perfect Turning Machine Turns Out Wonderfully

  • Small Business

Rural Monitor: Be Un-apologetically Rural

I was catching up on the great content from and I came across an interesting item in their Thursday Roundup from earlier this month. It was a quick note about the seemingly low opinion of rural America held by Adam Orth, the former director of Microsoft's games division. It came out during a Twitter exchange you can read about in detail here.

In short, the exchange was about the concern some have surrounding a product that may require an always on broadband connection. This can be a difficult to accomplish in rural places, and this was pointed out. At the mention of the small cities of Blacksburg, Virginia, and Janesville, Wisconsin, Orth wrote, "Why on earth would I live there?"

Orth's implied anti-rural and small town America attitude is a problem. You can witness the attitude other places too, such as in the ways small town life is depicted in film and television. In a more meaningful way, rural communities experience this via education legislation that favors the needs of urban schools over rural. The larger problem, however, is that this implied anti-rural attitude often exists most deeply within those residing in rural America.

Visiting small towns often invokes a series of apologies. "Sorry, we don't have _________." "We only have __________." Rural Americans need to be un-apologetically rural.

Let’s stop apologizing for what we lack and start bragging about what we have. Rural people’s ingenuity and tinkering ability mean we can make and fix just about anything. Urban, suburban, or rural: no matter. We’re proud of our unique contribution. Read more about Rural Monitor: Be Un-apologetically Rural


Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act Introduced in Congress

The Center for Rural Affairs applauds the reintroduction of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act. This cross-cutting initiative will help the next generation of farmers and ranchers enter agriculture and take advantage of emerging markets. Rep Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), Tim Walz (D-MN), Chris Gibson (R-NY) and Collin Peterson (D-MN) reintroduced the act in the House of Representatives. Tom Harkin (D-IA) took the lead in the Senate.

We’re delighted to see these members of Congress acknowledge the need for creativity in the Farm Bill to address beginning farmer and rancher issues. With this bill and the farm bill debate this year, we are going to invest in creating a new generation of farmers and ranchers. We commend Rep Fortenberry, Sen Harkin and the other sponsors.

Their legislation is smart, cost-effective public policy that will create jobs and invest in the future of rural America. It addresses key obstacles that often prevent beginning farmers and ranchers from getting their operation started.

The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act contains multiple crucial provisions, including:

  • Reauthorizing the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, a beginning farmer and rancher training and support initiative. It would provide $20 million in annual mandatory funding through 2018 to help meet growing demand for the program, and include a new priority on agricultural rehabilitation and vocational training programs for military veterans, as well as food safety training.
  • Devoting $20 million in annual funding for the Value Added Producer Grants Program. It will retain the priority for projects benefiting beginning farmers and ranchers as well as a set-aside of program funding for these projects.
  • Creating savings and enhancing lending provisions that help beginning farmers and ranchers access credit and establish a pattern of savings.
  • Providing conservation incentives to assist beginning farmers and ranchers and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers to establish conservation practices and sustainable systems on their farms and ranches.

Creating a new generation of family farmers and ranchers is a long row to hoe, but there are proven strategies that create real opportunities for beginners. And the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act was written to invest in those strategies and help new farmers and ranchers overcome barriers and take advantage of emerging markets.

The bill is smart, cost-effective public policy that will create jobs and invest in rural America’s future through training, mentoring, business planning and other services for farm and ranch startups. It will also fund the highly effective Value Added Producer Grants program with emphasis on projects benefiting new farmers and ranchers. Read more about Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act Introduced in Congress


Golden Opportunity on Wind Energy in Nebraska Unicameral

April is the windiest month on the calendar, caused by the change of seasons. And the winds of April are a good symbol of the growing support for wind energy in the Unicameral and across Nebraska.

LB 402, legislation written to help overcome years of missed opportunity by removing barriers to wind energy development, came to the floor for opening round of debate on April 25. The bill would provide incentives to develop Nebraska’s considerable wind resources in the right way - a way that enables rural Nebraskans to share in the wealth and small business opportunities that development creates.

While all this spring snow makes it feel like we’re still waiting for that change of seasons, our long wait for a change in the way we produce and consume electricity may be coming to an end.

LB 402 builds off of the Community Based Energy Development (C-BED) program Governor Heinemann signed into law in 2007. The bill make it easier to qualify under the C-BED program, boosting participation and making it easier to bring investment into rural communities by encouraging the use of Nebraska materials when developing a new project, and encouraging developers to hire Nebraska citizens to do the work.

Amendments to LB 402 would also encourage wind developers to invest in Nebraskans themselves through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan. These plans provide an ownership stake in the projects the employees help create. On average, participants receive 5% to 12% more in wages and have almost three times the retirement assets as do workers in comparable companies, keeping money from local projects here in Nebraska.

By supporting local investment and giving local workers a share in the profit, we can have the best of both worlds: clean, affordable energy and communities that are stronger because of it.

Iowa and South Dakota use wind to generate over 23% of electricity. In Kansas and Colorado, over 11% of energy is generated using wind resources. In Wyoming this number is close to 9%. A total of 14 states, the majority of which have wind resources inferior to ours, generate at least 5% of their electricity using wind power. Nebraska has yet to hit the 4% mark.

Their rural communities have grown. Their schools have improved. Their property taxes have decreased. So have electric rates. All while watching community wealth dramatically improve. That’s because state and local governments throughout the Upper Midwest and Great Plains have enacted policies that level the playing field, remove tax barriers to wind energy development, and create an environment that encourages energy independence.

We urge prompt action on LB 402. Read more about Golden Opportunity on Wind Energy in Nebraska Unicameral

  • Clean Energy
Blog (deprecated)

Women Entrepreneurs Conference Abuzz with Networking

What do you get when you have an event targeting entrepreneurial women? Lots of sharing of ideas, inspiration, and information! That’s what took place at the Women Entrepreneurs Conference held at the YWCA of Grand Island on March 20, 2013.

Marketing tips and advice came from Ann Martin of idea bank marketing in Hastings. Ann shared great information about customer service. You know how important first impressions are, right? Think of the voice that answers the phone at your business. Then carry that enthusiasm and service to your online and social media marketing.

Karen Linder, Linspiration, Inc., shared her wisdom on Ladies Who Launch. Karen delved into the characteristics of successful women entrepreneurs, using examples from her book, “The Women of Berkshire Hathaway.” You could purchase the book for future inspiration and encouragement – and a great read!

We also addressed the Affordable Care Act. Sean McGuire presented straightforward information about specifics business owners will need to know as the law moves forward. Find out more at (See the all the Center's reports on the Affordable Care Act here, including one on What It Means for Small Business.) 

Odee Ingersoll represented the Nebraska Business Development Center. He talked about planning for business succession. Keeping rural businesses prospering is a key to building healthy rural communities. Are you preparing for your businesses’ succession/transition phase?

One of the best steps to take when you start a business is talking to those who have “been there, done that.” Three panel members talked about their career progressions. Panel members were: Alison Martin, Two Paw Pets, Inc. and The Tail Waggin, Grand Island; Margaret Kring, My Fair Lady’s Fashions, Holdrege; and Tonja Broadwell, Kelly Supply/KDSI, Grand Island. They answered questions from the audience and willingly shared from their experiences.

New information, support and encouragement, and networking throughout the day = a great conference. We’re planning a repeat next year, so stay tuned!

Thanks to the YWCA of Grand Island and the Small Business Administration Nebraska District Office for partnering with the REAP Women’s Business Center to host this event. Read more about Women Entrepreneurs Conference Abuzz with Networking

  • Small Business

REAP Newsletter Spring 2013

Energy Efficiency for Small Business
Small businesses typically spend 30% more of their operating costs on utility bills than large firms in the same industrial classification. Energy is seen as “the cost of doing business.” But those “fixed” costs can be reduced. Energy efficiency projects help improve your businesses’ cash flow and bottom line. Read more about REAP Newsletter Spring 2013

REAP Friend of the Year 2012

Rex Nelson was awarded as the REAP Friend of the Year for 2012. His leadership with the McCook Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) has benefitted entrepreneurs and REAP micro businesses throughout South Central Nebraska. Rex serves as the Executive Director.

Since 2008, I've held monthly office hours with MEDC in McCook. Even with a location change, Rex made sure space was available in the restored Keystone Business Center for consultants such as REAP.

Rex, together with MEDC’s Director Angela Allen and Administrative Assistant and former Business Coach Sue Shaner make referrals, take monthly appointments, and help to advertise REAP’s monthly office hours. It’s hard to overstate the importance of this.

These monthly visits to the Keystone Business Center give REAP an opportunity to work with other entities housed there such as MidPlains Community College and the Nebraska Business Development Center. The building also has a training room adjacent to the office where REAP has partnered on various trainings.

The McCook Economic Development Corporation knows REAP’s mission and works with us to assist businesses in their region. It’s a win-win combination! Read more about REAP Friend of the Year 2012

Energy Efficiency for Small Business

Small businesses typically spend 30% more of their operating costs on utility bills than large firms in the same industrial classification. Energy is seen as “the cost of doing business.” But those “fixed” costs can be reduced. Energy efficiency projects help improve your businesses’ cash flow and bottom line.

The Nebraska Business Development Center has a new program to help small businesses save energy. NBDC can provide energy efficiency screenings, find financing opportunities for energy efficiency improvements, and quantify energy savings. A grant from the Small Business Administration makes the assistance possible.

Here are a few tips to help your small business (selected from our flier, Ernie-the Energy Saver).


  • Use more efficient lighting. Lower heat-producing lamps reduce direct energy costs and reduce heat load. Replace incandescent lamps with compact fluorescent lamps.
  • Try lower light levels for computer work. Older offices may have been designed for higher light levels required for “pen and paper” tasks. Keep existing lamps clean to get maximum output.

HVAC – Heating Ventilation & Air Conditioning

  • Turn it off when it isn’t needed. Typically, this is the biggest user of energy. Use a programmable thermostat to adjust the temperature. Run the system less and with more efficient temperature settings (warmer in summer, cooler in winter). Each degree of higher temperature can save about 3% in cooling costs.
  • Maintain your system. Keep the filters and heat-transfer surfaces clean. Contract for biannual maintenance to assure the system is working in top order.
  • Upgrade equipment to a more efficient system. There are many incentives for ground-source or even air-source heat pumps. Consult with an HVAC contractor or engineer to design a more efficient system.
  • Use ceiling fans. Their use can reduce air conditioning 3-5 degrees in the summer. Reverse direction in winter to push warm air down. Open windows in the spring and fall as outside conditions allow. Eliminate direct sunlight in summer. Daylight is good, direct sunlight is bad.

Building Envelope – Weatherization

  • Stop infiltration of outside air into your building. The building envelope is the building “shell” and includes the walls, windows, outside doors, foundation, floor, roof, and skylights.
  • Plug or fill cracks or leaks with caulking and weather stripping. Typically there are gaps around windows, doors, and utility switches/outlets.
  • Add insulation to ceiling, walls, and foundations. This reduces heat transfer.
  • Control humidity. In the summer, the temperature can be slightly higher if the air is around 50 percent relative humidity. In winter, the temperature can be slightly lower if the air is around 30-40 percent relative humidity.

Office Equipment, Hot Water

  • Laptops use less power than desktop computers, flat screen LCD monitors use less power than traditional CRT monitors and are more environmentally friendly. Inkjet printers use less energy than laser printers.
  • Eliminate “phantom” loads. This keeps equipment in the “ready” mode. Use power strips to completely shut down energy consumption of equipment not in use. If equipment has energy-saving software, be sure to enable it. “Sleep” modes use less power than “ready” modes.
  • Hot water temperature is often set too high, and the tank and pipes are not insulated. The amount of water used can be reduced by installing aerators or low-flow devices. Fix leaks and maintain the system.

By Jean Waters, University of Nebraska at Omaha, for the Spring 2013 issue of the REAP Business Update. Read more about Energy Efficiency for Small Business

  • Small Business

Food, Farms, Jobs and Economic Growth

Recently, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Representative Chellie Pingree (D-ME) introduced the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. The sponsors worked diligently to write commonsense legislation that addresses the infrastructure challenges and informational barriers that family farmers and ranchers face in their efforts to develop local and regional food systems.

By overcoming these barriers and making smart investments that will expand business and marketing opportunities for family farmers and ranchers as well as increase consumer access to local, healthy foods, this legislation will help create jobs and economic growth on America’s country roads and small town mainstreets.

The Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act is comprehensive, touching seven major Farm Bill sections - from credit and crop insurance to research, nutrition and rural development. Many provisions were included in either or both the Senate-passed and House Agriculture Committee-passed farm bills in 2012.

Moreover, the bill would invest just over $100 million annually, including funding for several vital sustainable agriculture programs that were left high and dry when the Farm Bill extension passed as part of the fiscal cliff legislation in the waning hours of the last Congress.

That investment is small in overall farm bill terms – roughly one-tenth of one percent of total farm bill spending – but big in helping a growing sector of the food system flourish, while creating jobs and lasting economic benefits to family farmers, ranchers, consumers and America’s rural cities and small towns. Read more about Food, Farms, Jobs and Economic Growth

  • Farm PolicyFarm Bill
Weekly column

Democracy should work in Nebraska

Nebraska's nonpartisan Unicameral is a refreshing relief from partisan trickery and gridlock in Washington. For generations, Nebraskans have put good governance ahead of party loyalty, with legions of state Senators crossing political and ideological lines to find solutions to challenges facing the state.

The recent debate over a bill to provide health insurance coverage to an estimated 54,000 low-income, working Nebraskans is stalled after an unusual display of petty politics and opposition stall tactics.

The bill, LB 577, represents a compromise that has the support of a clear majority of state Senators - Democrats, Republicans and Independents. The bill’s lead sponsor is a Republican, and a recent poll showed that 55% of Nebraska adults support the expansion of Medicaid as provided by LB 577.

Sensing strong support in the Legislature and across the state, opponents have taken the unusual step of filibustering the bill, demanding a supermajority of 33 votes to cut off debate and refusing to allow an up or down vote on the issue.

Nebraskans send 49 Senators to Lincoln to make decisions, not just when it is easy, not just when it is popular, but when the stakes are high and the outcome controversial. And we call on them now to let LB 577 have a fair vote. A handful of Senators should not stand between a majority of Nebraskans’ desire to provide health care coverage to over 54,000 of our low-income, working friends, neighbors and family members.
  Read more about Democracy should work in Nebraska

  • Rural Health
Weekly column

Banking on Carbon: Policy Considerations for Carbon Payments and Sequestration in Agriculture

The climate is changing at a quickening pace as a direct result of human activities. Our actions cause increasing amounts of atmospheric greenhouse gases that trap solar energy, driving increasingly severe and frequent heat waves, droughts and strong storms. Read more about Banking on Carbon: Policy Considerations for Carbon Payments and Sequestration in Agriculture


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