Award winners fight for food security in rural America

The Center for Rural Affairs prides itself on bringing communities together through innovation, stewardship, and community development.

By connecting with individuals who make extraordinary contributions in building community engagement within their own communities, the Center can continue to expand its work and help better rural America.

Tim Rinne and Ron Todd-Meyer, both of Lincoln, Nebraska, have gone above and beyond to display these qualities to aid the Center’s work. For that reason, they have received the 2018 Bob Steffen Pioneer Award. Brian Depew, executive director, and Sandra Renner, director of the Farm and Community Program, presented them with the award during a ceremony on July 16, in Lyons, Nebraska. They were to be honored during an award ceremony on March 8 in York, but it was cancelled due to inclement weather.

Both award winners have done more than just take an interest in the Center’s work—they’ve spent decades actively promoting it.

“I’ve always been a fan of the Center for Rural Affairs’ work in support of family farming,” said Tim. “So, once it finally dawned on me that Nebraska itself was actually ‘food insecure’ (we grow ‘feed’ here, not ‘food’—nobody sits down to a plate of field corn and soybeans), and that we needed to ‘relocalize’ our food supply, the only organization in the state set up to take this issue head on was the Center.”

Tim feels growing food locally is good for rural America’s families, communities, and local economies.

“Keeping rural Nebraska healthy and sustainable has been the Center’s stock in trade since its founding,” he said. “It just went without saying that the Center would need to be the ‘backbone organization’ of any food policy council we wanted to establish.”

Ron agrees, and has made his voice heard at a national level, by visiting elected officials in Washington, D.C.

“Today, most people in the U.S. are disconnected from the real source of our food supply,” he said. “With the increasing disruption that climate change will have on the global population and the production and distribution of resources, it is necessary for a return to a more local supply and distribution.”

The award recipients have been members of Nebraskans for Peace for many years. Ron is currently the president, and has been a member of the organization since the 1980s. Tim has been the state coordinator for Nebraskans for Peace for more than 25 years.

They are also ambassadors for the newly-formed Nebraska Food Council. The idea for the council came after a Center for Rural Affairs report found that, in Nebraska, residents spend nearly $5 billion annually on food, and approximately 90 percent of that money leaves the state. A public presentation and discussion on what makes strong, regional food systems led to the formation of the Nebraska Food Council.

Along with other members of the council, Tim and Ron hope to provide opportunities for local food system leadership. The council focuses on equitable food access, land access and capital needs for beginners, developing markets, and distribution networks. They also concentrate on engaging all voices in the food system and gathering input from local food councils across the state.

In addition, Tim and Ron have attended events and trainings throughout Nebraska to widen the council’s reach, as well as recruited members to join the council.

“Their commitment to stronger local food systems and developing community-based food councils has contributed greatly to our work,” Renner said. “They are champions for getting local food to all Nebraskans.”

And, though both gentlemen are grateful to receive the Bob Steffen Pioneer Award, they feel the Center deserves to share the spotlight.

“None of this would have happened without the Center, and all the good that will come of this work is attributable to the Center,” said Tim. “I’m honored and flattered, but anything I personally have done pales in comparison to the Center’s heavy lifting.”

“In my 72 years, I have come to the understanding that if a peaceful world is the goal, then the first step is for all creatures to have access to food, shelter, and a sense of place in the ecosystem,” said Ron. “It is good to receive this award, but much more needs to be done.”

Food security and food systems stay front and center in both Ron’s and Tim’s minds. For as much work as has been done, they urge people to continue fighting for a better tomorrow.

“I can’t imagine a more important mission right now than relocalizing our food supply,” said Tim.   “Seventy years ago, 99 percent of the food we ate was local and organic. Today, as part of the global food system, those numbers are reversed—only 1 percent is. In a world where the average bite of food we eat travels 2,000 miles to reach our mouths (and climate change is making it progressively more difficult to grow food), this a risky way of making sure we’ve got something to put on the table.”

Though Tim stresses concerns that climate change will continue to disrupt food production and distribution, prompt food and water shortages, and hike prices, he also feels strongly about the potential of continued partnerships between organizations trying to make a difference.

“Getting back to growing and consuming locally sourced food is one of the best ways we can cope with this changing food landscape,” said Tim. “Nebraskans for Peace looks forward to a long, rewarding collaboration with our friends at the Center to advance the work of the Nebraska Food Council.”

Feature photo: (From left) Brian Depew, Center for Rural Affairs executive director, and Sandra Renner, Center for Rural Affairs Farm and Community Program director, award Tim Rinne and Ron Todd-Meyer with the 2018 Bob Steffen Pioneer Award on July 16, in Lyons, Nebraska. They were to be honored during an award ceremony on March 8 in York, but it was cancelled due to inclement weather.​ | Photo by Kylie Kai