LYONS, NEBRASKA – In Nebraska, residents spend nearly $5 billion annually on food. Approximately 90 percent of that money leaves the state, according to a 2015 Center for Rural Affairs report.
The study prompted Center staff to take a deeper look into food systems in their home state. Staff hosted a public panel and discussion alongside expert Mark Winne, a community food systems and food policy council expert. The conversation centered on what makes strong, regional food systems and how food policy councils inform the public and policymakers.
“Food and economic security in rural communities is directly related to community development,” said Sandra Renner, project specialist at Center for Rural Affairs. “We found, in many rural areas, food purchased at grocery stores is imported, and dollars spent for this food ultimately end up out of state.”
As a result of the dialogue, partners from across the state formed the Nebraska Food Council. Members include Robert Bernt, Clear Creek Organics, Spalding; Katie Jantzen, West End Farm, Plymouth; Vern Jantzen, Nebraska Farmers Union, Plymouth; Brent Lubbert, Big Muddy Urban Farm, Omaha; Shawn Koch, ASC Lockers, West Point; Denny Hogeland, KDK Meats, Bridgeport; Beth Kearnes Krause, Nebraska Food Cooperative, Julian; Nazim Khan, executive chef, Bryan Medical Center, Lincoln; Nathan Morgan, The Big Garden, Omaha; Jessica Davies, Panhandle Public Health, Hemingford; Ashley Frevert, Community Action of Nebraska, Lincoln; Chuck Francis, University of Nebraska - Lincoln, Lincoln; Vanessa Wielenga, University of Nebraska Extension, Lincoln; Ruth Chantry & Everett Lundquist, Common Good Farm, Raymond; and Terrell McKinney, Nebraska Appleseed, Omaha.
“Members of the council hope to provide opportunities for local food system leadership to the general council membership, local councils, and members of the ad hoc committees,” said Renner. “The council focuses on issues like equitable food access, land access, capital needs for beginners, developing markets, and distribution networks.”
The partners will also concentrate on engaging underserved voices in the food system, supporting food councils across the state.
The first project is a statewide food system assessment conducted in partnership with Megan McGuffey, a Ph.D candidate studying food and farm issues at University of Nebraska - Omaha. Results will be released this fall.
Upcoming workshops for local food system leaders will be posted at cfra.org/events.
The Nebraska Food Council is supported by a steering committee, Center for Rural Affairs, and Nebraskans for Peace, and is funded by a U.S. Department of Agriculture Community Food Systems planning grant.