Kirstin Bailey and Lucia Schulz contributed to this blog.
The Center for Rural Affairs’ farm and community-focused work was highlighted at this year’s Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society (NSAS) Conference in Aurora, Nebraska.
Center staff led five sessions during the two-day conference in February, including sessions on Nebraska Farmers Market Toolkit, two on Beekeeping for Farmers, Farm to School in Nebraska, and presentations from our first-year Conservation Fellows.
“The conference brought local food advocates, beginning and experienced farmers, and many present and past Center board members together,” said Cait Caughey, beginning farmer and market associate with the Center.
Additionally, Center staff led an all-day training for the Beginning Farmer Conservation Fellowship, a Center initiative alongside NSAS, Big Muddy Urban Farm, and Metro Community College. The project equips and trains beginning farmers on conservation and climate mitigation practices. During the one-year program, fellows receive mentorship, additional training, technical assistance, and funding for a conservation project on their farms.
Nine fellows attended classes focused on conservation practices and climate change. The day began with a soil health presentation featuring hands-on components with Aaron Hird, Natural Resources Conservation Service Nebraska State Soil Health Specialist. Nebraska State Climatologist Martha Durr presented on effects of climate change on Nebraska agriculture, projections for how the growing season will change, and steps farmers can take now for climate change adaptation and mitigation. Kris Engler, a horticulture specialist from Metro Community College shared water conservation techniques for small farms with the fellows.
“This year’s conference created an inclusive space for urban and rural farmers, folks who raise livestock, vegetables, bees, and more,” Cait said. “The topics were broad and wide-reaching, such as organic certification, regenerative practices, beekeeping, business planning, and building urban farmer cooperatives. It is great seeing how this conference has grown and evolved and still retains that farmer-to-farmer learning and camaraderie.”
Meg Jackson, former program coordinator with NSAS, organized the conference. Meg is now a local foods associate with the Center.
“The NSAS annual conference has been our keystone event for decades for farmers to connect and share knowledge,” Meg said. “This was the second year the Local Food & Healthy Farms conference was a collaborative partnership with NSAS, University of Nebraska Extension, and Nebraska specialty crop growers, with the intent to make it a more robust, dynamic conference and to build connections across the food system.”
More than 200 farmers and food system professionals, researchers, and advocates joined the conference for learning, networking, and community building.
“That collaboration brought new people and new energy to the conference, building more networks across the local food system that we're excited to grow with future conferences,” Meg said.
Feature photo: Kelsey Jones and Patricia Pinto present at the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society Conference in February. They recently completed a Beginning Farmer Conservation Fellowship with the Center for Rural Affairs. | Photo by Center staff