A degree in general agriculture and a desire to explore his options brought Charles Shapiro from New York to Nebraska in 1975. His passion for the practice kept him here to further his education, and brought him back to the state for good in 1984.
A self-described “agricultural scientist,” Charles discovered the Center for Rural Affairs shortly after coming to Nebraska, and has taken an interest in the organization since its early days.
“I came to Nebraska because that was where there was a lot of agriculture,” said Charles. “I went to a meeting sponsored by the Center and agreed with their approach to providing both information about alternate farming practices and making public policy suited to the family farm.”
Throughout his career, he had many opportunities to work alongside Center staff and eventually became a member of the Center’s Advisory Committee.
Advisory Committee members are recruited for their special backgrounds and insight into the Center’s program areas. They meet quarterly, along with the Board of Directors and Center staff.
“Being part of the Advisory Committee has allowed me to provide technical assistance without having any responsibility for decision making,” Charles said. “Over time, I have also appreciated that my attention is almost 100% focused on subject matter and not some of the other decisions boards make that are necessary for the organization but are not really tied to a specific issue or program.”
Charles spent most of his career in the academic field, although his work was focused on production issues related to Nebraska agriculture. He retired in January 2018 and now does some consulting and community service work.
His decades of experience and expertise allow him to add valued input during committee meetings.
“I like to think that I look for data and research information to inform my decisions, and I try to put the details in context with a broader system analysis,” he said. “I see myself as being a supporter of what the Center wants to do, and one who is also thinking about how the expectations and reality might relate to each other.”
These insights help the Center continue working toward goals that help better rural America, and the lives of the people who live here.
“The Center is working to make the ‘American Dream’ a reality for people who want to be part of a democracy that rewards ideas, innovation, and hard work,” said Charles. “Much of mainstream society does not focus on helping people be part of the ‘melting pot.’ The Center does not get the credit it deserves for trying to keep the playing field even for entry-level efforts, but it is a critical component of our economy and our social fabric.”
Charles says the notion of creating an even surface for all to stand on is what makes the Center’s mission so important.
“The concept of a level playing field, a market system that is not controlled by political power, social status, or money, is the premise for support for marginalized, minority populations to participate and help improve our society,” he said. “I also like that the Center is not constrained by one methodology, that it helps in education, policy, and economics. And, what it can’t do by itself, it partners or advocates for someone or a group to take on the issue.”
He hopes that mission continues to inspire others, like him, for generations to come.
“The Center has done an excellent job of attracting young people to keep the focus on current issues, using technology and the communication methods that are appropriate for the times,” said Charles. “The Advisory Committee system is a good mechanism to include outside ideas and keep both the wisdom of experience and the idealism and enthusiasm of the young balanced in a productive way.”
And, he is excited to do his part to help make that happen while working alongside others committed to that same goal.
“The Center attracts a rich selection of engaged, interesting people, and it’s a joy to know there are similar thinking, caring people working on these issues across the state,” said Charles. “The Board, the staff, and the many interns all together make a stimulating mix of ideas and experiences. I thank everyone at the Center, young and old. It has been an honor to work with this group for so many years.”
Feature photo: Charles Shapiro, right, sits with Farm & Community Assistant Director Wyatt Fraas during a board meeting in 2019. | Photo by Rhea Landholm