Dennis Demmel of Ogallala, Nebraska, has been intrigued by the Center for Rural Affairs since its inception in 1974.
“Outside investors were buying up farmland in large scale in some localities, oftentimes developing center pivot irrigation on fragile Sandhills land,” he said. “I was very interested in the preservation of small family farms and protection of the environment of rural communities.”
After meeting one of the organization’s founders, he took the next step and got involved. Dennis was a Center staff member from 1975 to 1983, working on the Center’s Small Farm Energy Project.
He continues to share his insights on the organization's work today, serving on the Center’s Board of Directors since 2017, and on the Center’s Advisory Committee before that.
Dennis has seen the issues in rural America change over the years, and he’s seen the Center and its Board grow along with them.
“Our concerns have evolved, including health care and food access in rural communities,” he said. “New entrepreneurs have entered the local food scene to pursue better food quality and nutrition for better health. The farm to school food movement is also gaining traction in rural communities, and policy issues are an area related to these developments that are on the agenda for the Center Board and staff.”
Wth his degree in mechanical engineering, background in manufacturing, and 30 years of farming experience—a decade of that as a certified organic farmer—Dennis brings an abundance of knowledge to the board, especially in the area of climate and renewable energy issues.
“Being together with everyone and discussing the various issues is invigorating,” he said of his fellow Board members. “My wife always says I come home from meetings with enthusiasm. The Board is like family.”
Dennis is proud to contribute to the Center’s mission, and he believes that work is helping rural America.
“There is an emphasis on economic and social justice, protection of the environment, and building strong rural communities,” he said. “Policy work engages citizens in encouraging proper action to enhance these concepts. The Center supports the smaller businesses or individuals in their hometowns to promote vibrant communities, and immigrants are welcomed, with many attempts made to be inclusive. All of this work emphasizes citizen involvement to bring about change.”
Dennis looks forward to continuing to serve on the Board, with old and new faces alike, and to seeing where the Center goes in the future.
“The current Board members are fully engaged, and new members bring fresh ideas and energy to the table,” he said. “Collaboration with staff is also rewarding, as the Center has some fantastic staff, and they are doing wonderful things in our rural communities.”
Feature photos: Dennis Demmel, center, participates in a Center Board meeting in December 2019, in Louisville, Nebraska. | Photos by Rhea Landholm