Kearney-area resident receives Rural Community Champion Award

Small Towns

From volunteering in her church to donating homegrown fresh produce to her neighbors, Candi Benge demonstrates extraordinary commitment to serving her community every day.

Along with that commitment comes Candi’s firm belief that everyone should have access to fresh food, no matter what their financial status. To help make that possible, she became involved in the Kearney Area Farmers Market in Kearney, Nebraska.

Candi has sold produce from her farm, Little Town Gardens, at the market, and she served on its board of directors in 2020.

While looking into using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) at her farm, Candi discovered it could be implemented at the farmers market, along with Double Up Food Bucks (DUFB). Vendors at the Kearney Area Farmers Market can now accept SNAP benefits as payment, and customers can use DUFB to double their SNAP funds and stretch their purchasing dollars.

“This has opened up shopping opportunities and offered so many more options for our customers,” Candi said. “Now they can purchase bread, meat, honey, and fruits for their families.”

For her commitment to helping others, Candi has been chosen to receive the Center for Rural Affairs 2023 Rural Community Champion Award.

This award is bestowed upon a person who works with the Center to make extraordinary contributions in building community engagement within their own communities. People who receive this award provide a model for innovation, stewardship, or community development.

“Candi has made many meaningful contributions to her community over the past years,” said Bobbi Howard, Farm and Community director with the Center. “Candi’s tireless efforts and outstanding leadership have opened up opportunities to increase access to local, nutritious, fresh food at the Kearney Area Farmers Market. She is innovative, engages others in the work, and attracts support, all to build a better future for her friends and neighbors.”

Working with Center staff, Candi helped develop activities for a Food Security Infrastructure Grant to promote SNAP and DUFB and educate the public and producers about the programs. She continues to work with the Center to implement the grant activities and improve food security in Buffalo County.

“Shopping at the farmers market is more of a social and peaceful environment than going to the cold, sterile environment at the grocery store,” Candi said. “Plus, we are all very happy to see people, and we aren’t laying out any stigma, so our customers feel loved while they shop.”

She also has led SNAP and DUFB trainings for local farmers and volunteers, as well as volunteered her own time, giving interviews, offering advice to new farmers, and sharing her own produce to those in need. Candi donates all of her leftover food from the market to local food pantries.

In 2020, she received the Nation of Neighbors grant to help with a service she developed called Missy’s Club. Through it, Candi and her husband, David, provide free produce to cancer patients undergoing treatment.

“When David and I were first starting our farm, there was a young woman in our community who was diagnosed with a really vicious form of cancer,” Candi said. “While she was going through treatment options the doctors told her that the more fresh and clean greens she could eat the better for her to fuel her body's recovery.”

Candi and her husband volunteered to grow vegetables for her and her family, and now, they offer this service to anyone in need.

“If someone is fighting cancer or recovering from cancer it is our privilege if we can grow veggies for them,” Candi said. “It’s just so important to me that our work has a deeper, more important purpose than to just try to make money to support ourselves. We want to try to make everyone know that they matter to us.”

Candi is grateful for receiving the Rural Community Champion Award, and chooses to use her platform to shine a light on others making a difference in rural America.

“I’m super flattered and very touched to have won this award,” Candi said. “Though, I’m just the name and face that people see in the media; there are so many more people doing so much more of the work, and I share this award with them.”

Candi was presented with her award during the Buffalo County Community Partners board meeting on March 13.

Read more about Candi's efforts here.

Photo: Bobbi Howard, Farm and Community director for the Center for Rural Affairs, presents Candi Benge the 2023 Rural Community Champion Award. Denise Zwiener (right), executive director for the Buffalo County Community Partners, stands in support of Candi and the work she has contributed to Buffalo County.  |  Photo by Kylie Kai