Rural Rockstar: Martin Kleinschmit is a Champion of Change

Nebraska farmer Martin Kleinschmit was among 12 people recognized as a Champion of Change for Sustainable and Climate-Smart Agriculture. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack welcomed them to a White House ceremony on Oct 26, 2015. Martin has been a pioneer with many of his efforts to help fellow farmers care for their land and make use of renewable energy.

Martin was a Center for Rural Affairs project specialist for 17 years. He worked on beginning farmer issues, soil conservation, organic farming, renewable energy, and grazing management.

Even before that, he was a participant in the Center’s Small Farm Energy Project, the country’s first on-farm research project on renewable energy. He came to lead our work on building soil, wind power for farms and communities, and organic farming. He tested many of these ideas on his own farm.

But it is his pioneering work with climate change and that has taken him to the White House. Martin recruited a group of farmers interested in hearing about soil life and climate change.

These farmers were at first merely willing to learn and to test some practices on a few acres. But they had so much fun learning together and trying new approaches that they met for two years and made changes on twice as many acres as planned.

Martin later expanded this approach across Nebraska. He was among the first to tell a national audience that farmers are willing and able to make changes that can impact global warming.

Though Martin has retired from the Center for Rural Affairs, he has slowed only a little. Before he retired, he pushed for another initiative to provide USDA incentives to farmers who would protect soil and water with organic practices, now a national policy.

For the first four years of his retirement, he oversaw a project to introduce farmers to organic farming, resulting in 60,000 acres being enrolled in organic transition in Nebraska. These days he’s running a new business that installs solar panels to take advantage of Nebraska’s ample sunshine and opportunity to sell power back to the electric company.

The Champions of Change program was created by the White House as a way to recognize individuals who are doing extraordinary things to inspire and empower members of their communities. The individuals in this class of Champions were honored for exemplary leadership and innovation in agricultural production and education.

You can find information on the program and read descriptions of all the Champions of Change here.

Feature image: Martin Kleinschmit, pictured at the center of the photo, is shown doing one of the things he loves best - sharing his knowledge with a group of farmers. Photo by Wyatt Fraas