Annual Report - Message from the Executive Director

The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises. - Ecclesiastes 1:5

The Center for Rural Affairs is helping give rise to a new day in the communities of rural America. We don’t work alone. The Center is part of rural America, and rural people are essential partners in our work. Our role is to provide vision for the future, to lead with persistence in the face of challenges that dim the hope of the fainthearted.

Our vision looks to the future as it draws on our past. Farms, businesses, and communities must change to thrive. But our values must remain constant. They are the unchanging markers that guide us in shaping a future that serves the common good.

Our values are rural values: fairness and opportunity for all, widespread ownership of farms and businesses by those who work, conscience that balances pursuit of self interest with responsibility to our neighbors and society, and stewardship that leaves the land as well as we received it to the next generation.

We work in service to these values, but are practical in searching for approaches that work to advance them. We roll up our sleeves to undertake the difficult task of changing policy in Washington and state capitals and fostering new approaches to revitalize the farms, ranches, small businesses, and communities of rural America. We’re getting results. Accomplishments for 2007 include:

Winning New Farm Bill Investments

We’re partway to winning new investments in rural small business and microenterprise development, new funding for beginning farmer initiatives, new emphasis on small and midsize farms in the Department of Agriculture’s Value Added Producer Grants Program, and new incentives in federal conservation programs for communities to work with landowners in using public access to natural space as a community development asset. But nothing is final. We are still waiting for the final version of the farm bill.

We still have a chance to win tighter limitations on subsidies for mega farms that drive smaller operations out of business. We won Senate farm bill language directing the Dept. of Agriculture to establish regulations to enforce the 1921 Packers and Stockyards Act prohibition on price discrimination by meatpackers against small and midsize producers.

Building the Movement

We gained 10,000 new people writing letters, sending emails, and making calls to Congress on critical rural issues. We engaged rural leaders from North Carolina to North Dakota and Iowa to Idaho with their representatives in Congress.

Bringing the Voice of Rural People to America

Our work was quoted in stories by daily newspapers in Omaha, Des Moines, San Francisco, Tampa Bay, Sioux Falls, Garden City, and St Louis and in national media including DTN, Congressional Quarterly, and Time Magazine. Our guest opinions were published in more than 30 daily newspapers, and our work was the basis for over 1,600 radio reports across America.

Informing Policy Makers and the Public

Our report Oversubsidizing and Underinvesting documented to Congress that the federal government gives more to the 20 biggest farms in each of 13 states than it invests in community development in the 20 counties in each of those states suffering the worst population decline – counties composed of 3 million rural people. The report drew coverage in Time Magazine.

Our report on Economic Outcomes of Rural Microenterprise Development in the 2007 Farm Bill documented that investing in small business and microenterprise development creates genuine opportunity in rural communities.

Strengthening Rural Small Business

Our REAP program provided loans, training, and technical assistance to over 1,800 Nebraska small businesses. We are nearing $4 million in small loans to rural businesses with five or fewer employees.

We’re helping get microenterprise development services to new people and places. Here in Nebraska, we’ve added new staff to help Hispanic immigrants achieve their entrepreneurial ambitions and contribute to their communities.

Supporting Sustainable Agriculture

We provided technical assistance to six new cooperatives to enable them to help nearly 70 farmers reach new more profitable markets. We also worked with four Natural Resource Districts and 36 farmers across Nebraska to demonstrate how we can help solve climate change by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to build soil organic matter.

With Nebraska Farmers Union, we’ve helped foster locally owned wind power development in Nebraska, promising an environmentally friendly energy source and income opportunities for rural people.

Developing Rural Communities

We assisted 11 rural communities in efforts to train new leaders and engage young people in their communities. And our Winds of Life project has involved 40 community projects, 10 outdoor art sculptures, and numerous artists with windmill-based art. The project is building community and raising funds for community development initiatives across Nebraska.

These results don’t always come easy. You’ll find our staff going the extra mile. Our work day is not confined to 8-5. We’re aiming to change the course of history in rural America, so we work hard and set high standards for ourselves.

We also practice what we preach here at the Center. In an era of obscenely high CEO salaries in corporate America and even some nonprofits, we’ve maintained a top to bottom salary ratio of about 2:1. We place service to others over self. We are honored to do it with you who join us in this work.

- Chuck Hassebrook

Contact: Chuck at 402.687.2103 x 1018 or with comments, questions, or for more information.

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