2007 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 chuckh@cfra.org with comments, questions, or for more information.

Rural Policy in 2007 — Building New Alliances on Rural Issues
In 2007 the Center led the fight for farm program payment limits reform, arguing that farm program money is better spent supporting beginning farmers, protecting our natural resources, and encouraging rural small business development. Support for rural small business development became one linchpin of our argument. It was not the only thing we fought for, but it was an issue that many new allies coalesced around.

Many agriculturally-based rural communities have suffered a precipitous loss of small businesses that serve their communities. Small businesses are vital to their future success. They are our grocery stores, hardware stores, local retail, and local service businesses. When we work to strengthen these businesses, all of rural America benefits.

Building on our own success promoting rural microenterprise through the Center’s Rural Enterprise Assistance Program, we championed a rural microenterprise assistance program as a part of the 2007 farm bill. We were successful in getting the program authorized in both the House and the Senate, and the Senate bill provides mandatory money for the program. While the fight to fully fund the program is likely to go on beyond the end of the farm bill debate, we have gained more support this year for rural microenterprise in the farm bill than under any previous farm bill.

New and old allies alike joined us in support of the rural microenterprise program. Some of these groups were new to the farm bill debate, and the breadth of support for the program demonstrates that this legislation can help make the farm bill about all of rural America.

One group, the Association for Enterprise Opportunity, made support for the program a major priority. Working with the Center, their efforts brought farm bill support for rural microenterprise to the attention of rural development organizations and contributed to the legislative campaign. Nearly 100 organizations, including some of the largest and most influential local and regional economic development organizations in the nation, joined with the Center in signing a letter supporting inclusion of the program in the farm bill.

Throughout the farm bill debate we stood on principled ground and voiced support for policy that will truly support family farming, rural communities, and our natural environment. Even without winning every fight, we advanced policy in the interest of rural communities across all of rural America.

Contact: Brian Depew, briand@cfra.org or 402.687.2103 x 1015 for more information.

Grassroots Letters Supporting Microenterprise
Through the efforts of various farm bill coalitions, hundreds of letters poured into Congressional offices this past year. We are proud to share one written on behalf of rural microenterprise assistance.

Senator Robert Casey,

I urge you to support the Rural Microenterprise Assistance Program in the Rural Development Title of the 2007 Farm Bill. Please fight for mandatory funding of $20 million dollars for this program.

As you know many rural communities in Pennsylvania are experiencing shifts in their traditional economic base. Many rural families can no longer rely on farming but must develop small enterprises to supplement their farming income. These small businesses provide important goods and services to their communities and create local jobs.

Microenterprise programs reduce poverty, build communities, and give entrepreneurs vital skills they will use for the rest of their lives. These programs play an important part in helping rural communities re-focus their economic base.

Please support this important initiative.

Rachel, Lancaster, Pennsylvania 

Research and Analysis - Growing in Recognition and Importance
Since its start in 2002, the Center’s Rural Research and Analysis Program has become a nationally recognized source of data, materials, and exploration on issues of importance to rural people and rural places. In the program’s five years, we have highlighted promising practices in rural communities, illuminated strengths and weaknesses in current and proposed policy, and stressed the impacts of current and proposed policy on rural people. Two recent activities demonstrate our growth and reach.

In 2006 we created the Rural Development and Rural Asset-Building Virtual Library on the Center’s website (www.cfra.org). This is intended to be a one-stop collection of all the Center’s publications, reports, and studies on rural development, rural asset and wealth-building, and rural poverty issues. The library holds nearly 40 publications, a one-of-a-kind collection of practical and applied policy research devoted to rural development issues.

In three years, our Rural Brief series – that provides information and analysis of rural development and asset-building funding in the federal budget – has gone from nonexistent to over 5,000 subscribers in every state and the District of Columbia and two Canadian provinces. Again, the Rural Brief series is unique in providing usable information to rural people and organizations about a breadth of rural issues across the federal budget.

In 2007, the Rural Research and Analysis Program produced four major publications that received national and regional attention.

Two farm bill-related reports exposed the lack of investment in the type of economic and community development in rural areas that attracts and retains residents and builds wealth and assets. These reports are highlighted in the article on pages 1 and 2. Through them, the Center played a unique role – providing one-of-a-kind analysis during the farm bill debate that both exposed the failings of a harmful public policy while also pointing the way to a brighter, hopeful future.

A third farm bill report addressed the challenges in developing a new generation of farmers and ranchers. Giving A Beginner A Chance in the 2007 Farm Bill served two purposes. It was an analytical primer on beginning farmer and rancher policy recommendations for the farm bill, and it provided information and assistance to beginning farmers and ranchers entering high value markets. Using case studies and summaries of research, it highlighted numerous beginning farmer and rancher initiatives from across the nation.

In the same vein, 2007 also saw the release of Promising Opportunities, the third report in our Rural Economic Development Initiative series. Following 2004’s Fresh Promises that highlighted economic and community development strategies that were working in rural communities, Promising Opportunities considers initiatives and proposals that could easily be modified for use at the state and local level. From value-added agriculture to local food to small business development to community infrastructure, Promising Opportunities examines public policy initiatives that would create opportunity for rural residents and a bright future for rural communities.

All publications of the program may be found at http://www.cfra.org/publications/virtual_library.

Contact: Jon Bailey, jonb@cfra.org or 402.687.2103 x 1013, for more information on the Center’s research and analysis program.

REAP Assisted Record Number of Rural Small Businesses in 2007
The Center’s Rural Enterprise Assistance Project (REAP) works with startup and existing small businesses with five or fewer employees. The largest full-service microenterprise development program in the state, REAP strives to serve all of the Nebraska’s rural areas with business management training, networking, one-on-one technical assistance, and small loans.

The past year was an exceptional one for REAP in reaching rural entrepreneurs and placing micro loans. The services offered also continued to grow and expand through the Women’s Business Center and the Hispanic Business Center.

Jose Lopez received assistance through the REAP Hispanic Business Center last year. He is a good example of the people we strive to help. Jose came to Nebraska from California 11 years ago looking for better working opportunities. In 2003 he opened Lopez Auto Sales, a used car dealer located on Highway 30 in North Bend, Nebraska.

Jose saw the opportunity to buy a building and relocate his business to the Schuyler area, so he contacted Hispanic Business Center Director Adriana Dungan for help with his business plan and packaging the loan. After several months, Jose was able to purchase the building including the business that was currently in operation, a liquor store. With a great plan in mind and using his business skills acquired over 20 years of experience working in a family run small business in his native Guatemala, he went into his new business venture.

With an investment of over $200,000 he’s kept the liquor store up and running and has shown increased sales every month. The Auto Sales business will stay in North Bend with the plans to open up a new Auto Business in Schuyler. The assistance Jose received through the REAP Hispanic Business Center has been a difference maker!

REAP Statistics
From Oct. 1, 2006 to Sep. 30, 2007, REAP trained or counseled over 1,800 entrepreneurs. The program placed 56 loans totaling $713,175 and leveraged an additional $1,957,500 from other sources. REAP’s lending and assistance helped to create or retain 366.0 jobs in this time period.

Since its beginning in 1990, the REAP program has provided business development services to over 10,000 micro businesses. Historically, REAP has placed 555 loans totaling $3,964,255 while also leveraging an additional $9,283,655 from other sources due to REAP assistance.

Contact: Jeff Reynolds, REAP Program Director at 402.656.3091 or jeffr@alltel.net. More information about REAP can be found at http://www.cfra.org/reap.

Whiat It Takes for Successful Rural Community Development
The Center for Rural Affairs helped 11 small rural communities with their community development efforts last year and 39 since we began offering these services. Over the years, we have learned 5 critical ingredients to help communities build their own capacity to survive the forces arrayed against them.

Cookie cutter approaches to community development are ineffective. All communities, rural or otherwise, are uniquely different and have uniquely different needs. Geography isn’t an issue – some of the most diverse communities are less than 5 miles apart with much the same background.

All communities have unique gifts and talents. Traditional community development processes dwell on the needs of the community. Others have risen above to look to the future and develop the assets they possess. Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) takes what is rich and attractive in a community or region and develops a plan to make it even better.

Communities were created for a purpose, but it is often forgotten. The origins of the community define who they are and the identity they have been given. Important as it is to understand your community’s purpose or origin, the reason for existence can change and so must the development of the community. For example, many railroad communities created during the late 1880’s no longer have a railroad running through the town. Does this mean that communities should cease to exist? No, it means these communities must rethink their existence and build upon the gifts that have been given.

You cannot force community development upon a community that does not want it. Development must occur from the inside out, and the desires of outside developers are not always welcome. Noted author E.F. Schumacher often compared outside intervention to someone coming to your house, barging through the doors, and cleaning the bedroom without permission. This act would be viewed as an unwelcome invasion of privacy. Why would communities allow outsiders to do the same thing in the towns we have settled in and call our homes?

Building the capacity of rural communities is the key to helping people help themselves. The Center for Rural Affairs works as a community development resource and will offer education and technical assistance in many facets of community development. However, it has always been the desire of the Center to make sure that all communities carry on that development through their own leadership and direction.

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