On a July morning, the sky shone blue with puffy white clouds. Sand hills rushed past the windows, and a dust cloud collected behind our car as we made our way through central Nebraska. We found the driveway on a curve, several miles from the nearest town, with a sign proclaiming “Hansen Common Stock Farm.”
Greeting us at the end of the long driveway were David and Connie Hansen. They waved and beckoned us into their home, through the screen porch, into their living room where a beautiful quilt hangs on the wall. Emilee Pease, executive and development assistant, and I sat down to talk about the Hansens’ rich history with the Center for Rural Affairs and their dedication to rural life and to our organization’s values.
In the beginning
In the early 1970s, David and Connie were involved in groundbreaking talks with Center founders that resulted in the organization’s establishment in 1973 (check out more of the Center’s early history here). David was a Methodist pastor, focused on rural issues and concerns.
By 1978, David had joined the Board of Directors, serving for 39 years, retiring in 2017. He was president from 1992 to 1995.
“I thought an organization that was going to deal with things that were going on in rural America was required,” David said.
Connie was involved as well. She joined the Center’s Granary Foundation Board, serving for several years.
When the Center for Rural Affairs was formed, corporate farming was a big concern, and remains an issue today.
“David has helped in our fight against corporate farms,” said Brian Depew, Center for Rural Affairs executive director. “He has testified in front of legislative bodies in Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, and in Washington, D.C., most notably in favor of Initiative 300, Nebraska’s anticorporate farming law.”
“I thought I-300 was extremely important,” David said. “I think it established momentum so corporate ownership has not taken off like we feared it might—although there’s plenty of it. Even though it was struck down, people learned and realized that too much land ownership by too few people is not good.”
Other Center issues David noted of high importance were:
- Fair property taxes;
- Small farm energy project;
- State legislature and national legislatures; and
- Work in coalition building.
“I would say that legislative work has become prominent because it has a big bearing in what happens in society,” he said. “We try to get laws that are fair and not allow money to control things.”
He praised the hard work of Center staff over the years. And, he mentioned work with other organizations and lawmakers.
“When we are getting other organizations involved, you have a better power block to influence legislation,” David said. “Work in lobbying relationships has been critical. We don’t have enough voice in what goes on in making laws. That ends up not being good for society.”
When David joined the board, the first annual meeting was in the winter in Walthill, Nebraska, the Center’s home at the time. He said it was “a challenge to get there.” After that, the date of the annual meeting was changed.
Connie always accompanied David to the meetings, eventually held throughout Nebraska, and they carpooled with several individuals, meeting “a lot of wonderful people” according to Connie.
“I found the meetings very assimilating discussion,” David said. “People were so knowledgeable and interested in rural things. I value the experiences.”
For almost 40 years, the couple scheduled family weddings, reunions, and other events around board meetings. They even spent their 25th wedding anniversary in bunk beds at Ponca State Park—where a board meeting was held.
And, in the past, many board members hosted meetings at their homes. David and Connie had their turn holding an event in conjunction with the mortgage burning of their farm in the 1990s.
However, the rain poured for days prior to the meeting, so everyone parked on the gravel road and then rode a hayrack down the lane. (The original plan was to give hayrack tours around the farm.) Connie noted committee meetings were held in bedrooms.
Another board meeting memory hangs above their heads: the quilt in the living room. David purchased the quilt en route to a board meeting from a shop in Dodge, Nebraska, that was located below a grocery store.
David was raised on a farm about 20 miles east of where they live now, near Anselmo, Nebraska, a combination of ranch and cultivation.
“The best fertility for the land is the feet of the owner,” David said. “If people are out walking around on their land to see what is going on, they can take better care of it.”
Today, the couple farms organically, with a focus on conservation. And, David still hays the way he grew up haying. They grow alfalfa, and other crops as needed. For example, when we visited, they explained they didn’t need any corn because they had enough corn on hand from the year before. They didn’t need any soybeans for nitrogen build up, so they didn’t plant soybeans.
They didn’t always plan on buying a farm, though when the opportunity came up, tenacity and hard work prevailed.
“Somehow we were determined that we would own this,” Connie said.
The couple lived in Omaha, and resided in a house owned by the church where David pastored. They couldn’t get a loan from the bank, due to lack of collateral. And, by that time, land prices were sky high.
In 1981, a small property came available where they live today, and they were able to work things out through a contract. The couple got by with little equipment, and say they have the only manure spreader in their part of Custer County, maybe even the whole county.
“That is why we had animals, we had diversity,” David said. “So, we use crop rotation; we use the kind of crops that would do well. We grew things our animals need and eat.”
The operation is called “Hansen Common Stock Farm” because the couple, and David’s brother, scraped together what they could to purchase the place.
Along with working the farm, Connie was also employed at the hospital in Broken Bow, Nebraska, and David was a substitute pastor for many years.
Honored for their dedication
Connie and David received our Seventh Generation Award in March 2018, for their major contributions in improving rural life and protecting our land and water. The couple are lifetime advocates of family farms and the rural way of life.
“David and Connie truly live out the Center’s values in every aspect of their life; they are inspiring,” said Brian. “Every time I visit with them, I come away with renewed energy for our work.”
Feature photo: Connie and David Hansen, of Anselmo, Nebraska, were involved in groundbreaking talks with Center founders that resulted in the organization’s establishment in 1973. The couple has dedicated themselves to our organization and its values, with David serving on the Board of Directors from 1978 to 2017 and Connie serving on the Granary Foundation Board. | Photo by Rhea Landholm