Reflections on a Founding Father

What would Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and 3rd President of the United States, make of today’s move toward wealth and power concentrating in fewer and fewer hands? Both in terms of land ownership and large corporations, would Jefferson show a cavalier laissez-faire attitude? Doubtful!

Jefferson held a firm vision of the ideal citizen. He steadfastly believed that farmers especially fulfill that vision. Why did he believe this? For three main reasons:

  1. Because farmers toil in the earth, bringing forth nature’s harvest to earn their livelihood, Jefferson believed they will respect the integrity of the land with an eye towards the long term. They would see themselves as faithful stewards of a limited natural resource to be used not only to support their own family, but to be nurtured and protected for future generations as well.
  2. Farmers hold a strong belief in family and community. They profoundly understand the inter-connectedness of nature’s design for relationships among people, as well as the ecology of the soil, water, and air. They understand and will uphold the ideal of the common good, even when it may place some boundary on personal interest.
  3. Farmers will stand up and fight, if necessary, for their common good way of life. They are concerned citizens who will give voice to the ideals of democracy, standing up for economic justice and opportunity for all to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

Thomas Jefferson had his shortcomings as does any person. But his belief in the cornerstone values of America is still spot on, whether you are a citizen of rural or urban orientation. So I wonder what Jefferson would think of today’s government policies that betray the common good, overtly favoring the interests of large corporations and the concentration of wealth in fewer hands. What would he make of policies fashioned by big money interests and implemented at the expense of small farmers and ranchers, and other small businesses?

Unlike Marie Antoinette’s famous words of indifference to the common citizens of France struggling to afford bread, I doubt Jefferson’s refrain would be: “Let them eat cake instead!” Read more about Reflections on a Founding Father

Blog (deprecated)

Shelved Genetically Modified Wheat Discovered in Oregon

Last month, an unapproved variety of genetically engineered wheat was discovered growing in an Oregon field, creating a cascade of disconcerting, if not unforeseeable, consequences of Monsanto’s previous efforts to develop a Roundup resistant strain of wheat.

Tests confirmed the wheat growing in the Oregon field was a genetically modified strain developed by Monsanto to resist Roundup herbicide (glyphosate) tested by Monsanto between 1998 and 2005. According to the US Department of Agriculture, Monsanto field tests were conducted in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington, and Wyoming.

Monsanto shelved their genetically engineered wheat in large part because of stiff resistance from farmers and their customers. Our good friends at Dakota Resource Council in North Dakota led that state in providing some of the most effective resistance in the nation.

Those North Dakota voices predicted what would happen if such an uncontrolled, unapproved release of genetically modified wheat occurred, all too prophetically. Japan quickly suspended some imports of US wheat, while the European Union and several Asian nations announced US wheat imports would undergo more rigorous testing. On May 31, South Korean millers announced that imports of US wheat were on hold.

While biotechnology has undeniably become a part of American agriculture, those farmers from North Dakota, Montana, Oregon and other wheat producing states also raised the undeniable fact that wheat is, in many fundamental ways, a different crop than corn and soybeans.

American wheat is far more likely to be used as a primary ingredient in human food and is far more likely than other crops to be exported to countries that have different attitudes than many Americans about the use of genetically modified crops in food.

Lawsuits in Kansas and Idaho and outspoken farmers are lighting a fire under Monsanto to put the genetically engineered wheat genie back in the bottle. We sincerely hope they can.

And we think listening to farmers just makes sense. I remember when Todd Leake, a wheat farmer and Dakota Resource Council member from Grand Forks County, North Dakota, told me, “We have no business commercializing or developing genetically modified wheat until our customers tell us that’s what they want.”

I’ve always tried to avoid disagreeing with Todd, especially when he’s right. Read more about Shelved Genetically Modified Wheat Discovered in Oregon

  • Farm PolicyCorporate Farming

Community Inclusion: What’s the Point?

The national conversation is focused on immigration reform. Couple that with the significant demographic shift we have experienced in Nebraska and elsewhere, and it seems like a great time to talk about the value of inclusion in our towns.

With an influx of New Americans, we have a real opportunity to embrace not only the changes that new folks create, but also the knowledge that an inclusive community is stronger economically and socially. An inclusive community tends to attract new people to your town. Research shows one of the reasons youth leave and don’t return is a lack of diversity.

So many folks tell me their grandparents were immigrants. My grandparents were farmers who wanted to make a better life here. My grandfather was foreign born, and while he spoke some English, he was never comfortable with the language. He didn’t speak English very often. But people knew of his kindness, generosity, and that he was a very good farmer. He raised a large family, loved them dearly, went to church, and contributed to the community. 

That’s no different from immigrants today. If you look around you will see strong people with strong family values and commitment to family. You will see people who work hard, start new small businesses, go to church, bring a fresh perspective and new ideas, and are trying to make a better life for their children. 

If you look a little harder you will learn their stories and hear immigrant youth say they plan on going to college to start a career that will help their community when they go back to live and raise a family. These young folks want to and plan to return to their community. 

The economic contribution made by New Americans is significant. A University of Nebraska Omaha study found immigrant spending in Nebraska resulted in $1.6 billion of production to our economy, generating approximately 12,448 jobs. Take immigrant employment away, and state production would fall by $13.5 billion, or about 78,071 jobs.

So, what’s the point to inclusion? A stronger community economically and socially. Diversity of thought and experiences, innovative ideas, new small businesses, full schools, youth who want to return and contribute to their community, and great new neighbors! Read more about Community Inclusion: What’s the Point?

  • Small TownsCommunity Development

Poll Finds Rural Voters Support Investment in Small Business, Education

Most rural Americans believe the small-town way of life is worth fighting for and support government action to strengthen rural communities.

A poll of rural voters, conducted by the nationally respected bipartisan polling team of Celinda Lake of Lake Research and Ed Goeas of The Tarrance Group, found that rural voters think for themselves and don’t neatly fit an ideological stereotype.

Over half said “owning my own business or farm is a big part of the American dream for me,” and most agreed with helping small business through cutting taxes, spending and regulation as well as through government loans, tax credits, training and antitrust enforcement. Three-fourths support tax credits and investments in new transmission lines for development of renewable energy generation in rural areas.

Eighty percent of rural voters polled support grants and loans to revitalize small towns through upgrades to water and sewer systems, roads and bridges. The same percentage support job training to improve earnings, Medicaid for health care coverage and other assistance to help the working poor afford necessities of life such the Earned Income Tax Credit. Eighty-five percent favor preschool programs to prepare lower-income children to succeed in school.

Rural voters support cutting farm subsidies to big mega farms to pay for some of these measures, while opposing general cuts in farm subsidies. They oppose across the board tax increases, but favor repealing the Bush tax cuts for those earning over $250,000.

Thank you rural America, for speaking up, we’re listening.

A full copy of the report and polling data can be viewed and downloaded at:

  Read more about Poll Finds Rural Voters Support Investment in Small Business, Education

  • Farm PolicyFarm Bill
Weekly column

Rural Poll Released Today

As Congress argues over farm subsidies and food stamps, Rural Americans complain that elected officials ignore small communities and fail to invest in their future. So found a unique, comprehensive poll of Rural Americans on the role of federal policy in creating economic opportunity for rural people and a future for their communities. The poll was conducted by the nationally respected bipartisan polling team of Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners and Ed Goeas of The Tarrance Group and released today by the Center for Rural Affairs of Lyons, NE.  It surveyed rural voters in the Great Plains, Midwest and Southeast.

The poll found Rural Americans united in their commitment to their way of life.  Nearly 9 in 10 believe the rural and small-town way of life is worth fighting for. “But they sadly believe the rural way of life may be fading and they want to stop it, reverse it, and revitalize rural America," said pollsters Lake and Goeas.  “And they believe they are being ignored by politicians and government and blame them for the state of the rural economy.”

Nevertheless, the poll found divided views about the role of government and populist views about the economy and big institutions.

Three fourths agree that America’s future is weakened by a widening gap between the rich and families struggling to make ends meet.  But they split evenly on whether it’s time for government to play a stronger role in strengthening rural communities and making the economy work for the average person in rural and small-town America; or whether “turning to big government to solve our problems will do more harm than good.”

“Neither the conservative nor progressive ideological perspective has it right,” said Lake.  “On the one hand, the language around lower taxes, smaller government, and fewer regulations is one of the highest testing messages. On the other, they support policies that call for more job training, increased infrastructure investments, more technology, and better preschool – all requiring a role for government in making things better.”

Goeas said “It is too simplistic to believe rural America is anti-government and that there is nothing for progressives to say, nor is it possible to say that rural America wants bigger government and more spending. They want tax breaks but they also support increased loans and grants to help people gain skills and open small businesses.  They want more efficient and effective government and view much of public policy as a fairness issue in which rural America has not received fair treatment."

Among the results:

  • Over half said that “owning my own business or farm is a big part of the American dream for me” and most agreed with helping small business through less government (cutting taxes, spending and regulation) and strengthened government (loans, tax credits, training and antitrust enforcement).
  • Three fourths agree that too much of federal farm subsidies go to the largest farms, hurting smaller family farms.
  • Three fourths support tax credits and investment in new transmission lines for development of wind, solar and other renewable electric generation in rural areas.
  • Eight in ten support grants and loans to revitalize small towns through upgrades to water and sewer systems and investments in roads and bridges.
  • Six in ten say government has some or a lot of responsibility to help the working poor advance economically (versus a little or none).  Eight in ten support job training to improve earnings, Medicaid for health coverage and helping the working poor afford  necessities through payroll tax refunds like the Earned Income Tax Credit.  Eighty five percent favor preschool programs to prepare lower-income children to succeed in school. 

Rural Americans are frustrated that the economy has grown stagnant, feel they have too little control over their own economic situation and feel worse off now than four years ago, said Lake. “But rural Americans are somewhat optimistic that things will get better”, said Goeas, “and younger rural Americans are most optimistic.”

Center for Rural Affairs Executive Director Chuck Hassebrook said the optimism of the upcoming generation reflects the new entrepreneurial opportunities in rural America and growing appreciation for the rural way of life.  “They get it," said Hassebrook, “and that gives them the capacity to lead their communities to a better future.”

“Politically,” said Hassebrook, “the poll reveals openings for candidates of either party willing to fight for federal policy that supports genuine opportunity for rural people and a better future for their communities.”

He pointed to the question asking voters whether they would find it convincing if a US Senate candidate made certain statements.  Eighty seven percent said they would find it convincing for a Senate candidate to say:  “Small-town America is a big and important part of what makes America go. We are hard working, patriotic, faithful, and skilled. Making sure our families, our small business owners, and our workers have the same chance as everyone else is fair and smart. That means supporting policies like investing more in helping our small businesses get started and bringing technology to our areas so we can be connected to the new economy.” Read more about Rural Poll Released Today

File attachments: 

Center’s Board Calls for Action on Immigration

At our June meeting, the Center’s Board of Directors backed a proposal to fix the broken immigration system. Board president and Fullerton, Nebraska, farmer Jim Knopik noted that immigration reform is at the top of the national agenda. Given that, it is important to emphasize that rural communities have much to gain from fixing current immigration policy.

The Center’s policy calls for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who fulfill the requirements. Noting that it is important to resolve the current challenge of undocumented immigrants already here and provide for a more robust system of legal immigration in the future, the board’s proposal calls for an independent commission to set practical and appropriate limits for future legal immigration.

The board’s policy also called for stricter enforcement of existing labor laws and of the prohibition on hiring undocumented immigrants and falsely classifying them as independent contractors.

Under current law, the United States admits only 10,000 manually skilled workers on work visas each year. That is only about 1 for every 100 immigrants who enter without a visa and find work. The door to legal, documented immigration used by earlier generations is today largely closed for all but the wealthy and well-educated.

Reforming this system and more fully engaging immigrants in rural communities and American democracy through support for minority business development, voter registration, leadership development, and other means will bring people together and build community.

You can find the Center’s statement on immigration here. Read more about Center’s Board Calls for Action on Immigration

  • Small Towns
  • Small TownsInclusion

House of Representatives Rejects Farm Bill

Today the House of Representatives rejected final passage of the House Farm Bill by a 234-195 vote.
In an even more historic move, however, the full house voted 230 to 194 in favor of an amendment offered by Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) that would cap farm program payments so they support family farmers and ranchers, not passive investors and mega-farmers.

We thank Representative Fortenberry for leading the charge to close the gaping loopholes that have made a mockery of farm program payment limitations. His tireless advocacy for reducing the subsidies that mega-farms use to drive family farmers out of business is laudable.
The House Farm Bill failed in part because of huge cuts to the food stamp program. Also, the rules established for the debate didn't allow for consideration of needed reforms to federal crop insurance premium subsidies.

The House Rules Committee didn't allow amendments that would have reduced premium subsidies for those making over $750,000 in adjusted gross income. Nor did they allow a vote on an amendment that would have placed a cap on federal crop insurance premium subsidies to mega farmers. 
Representative Fortenberry’s amendment was a good amendment, an historic silver lining, in a farm bill that otherwise did not adequately reflect rural America’s most important priorities. The failure of this farm bill vote sends a clear signal that the Farm Bill needs much greater reform to achieve passage. Read more about House of Representatives Rejects Farm Bill

  • Farm PolicyFarm Bill
Blog (deprecated)

Monopoly Should Only Be a Board Game

I have long had a knack for successful strategy in playing Monopoly. As an adult though, I began to notice a strange feeling when I played. Unlike sporting activities like golf, tennis, and baseball or pretty much any other board game, Monopoly just didn’t seem fun when I was winning.

Watching people struggle to come up with funds to survive was a drag, even in a play environment. And once all competitors were ground into submission, progress came to an end.

This philosophy reflects real life. Monopoly is over-concentrated power by another name. Monopoly in an industry hinders progress as the monopolist seeks to “skim the cream” and maximize profits at the expense of re-investment.

Over-concentrated power in society disadvantages the common good. Instead of striving for everyone to progress, over-concentrated power seeks to maintain and capitalize on the status quo by whatever means it can. Whether concentrated power is wielded by corporations, government, or an unwholesome combination, its consequences harbor disadvantages for democracy.

British historian Lord Acton once wrote: “all power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” He wasn’t suggesting that people who are corrupted by exercising power are necessarily evil. Rather, the outcomes of absolute power may embody truly horrendous consequences.

Corruptive misuse of power can come about gradually, in not easily observed stages. But it may also start gradually and then accelerate aggressively. In the two decades between World Wars I and II, Germany witnessed a slow, steady concentration of political power. What followed was a fast and ruthless power consolidation, giving rise to a brutal totalitarian regime.

Our republic is founded on principles of widely distributed political power that should not be sacrificed by acquisition of unwarranted influence. This is the pure ideal upon which liberty is based, that democracy is meant to represent, and upon which our republic is dependent.

Long live democracy and death to concentrated power. Keep the harmful consequences of too heavily concentrated power limited to the Monopoly board game. Read more about Monopoly Should Only Be a Board Game

Blog (deprecated)

Sioux Chef Recipes from the Santee Garden and Market Project

Featuring simple cooking with fresh, seasonal ingredients from your garden or farmers market!

Sioux Chef was a crowd-funded project to bring fresh food cooking back to Santee. In 2012, fresh foods were barely available in Santee. New gardens and farmers markets began to change that. These recipes from the Sioux Chef project made newly available fresh foods accessible and useful with simple, tasty, fresh food recipes for all. Read more about Sioux Chef Recipes from the Santee Garden and Market Project

Farm Bill Debate Turns to House of Representatives

On June 10, the US Senate passed their version of the 2013 Farm Bill. And the House of Representatives has taken up the Farm Bill this week.

We applaud the Senate for passing a Farm Bill that closes the gaping loopholes that have made a mockery of farm program payment limitations. And we thank Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) for their tireless advocacy for reducing the subsidies that mega-farms use to drive family farmers out of business.

However, moving the same reforms forward in the House of Representatives, as their Farm Bill moves to the floor, will be a longer row to hoe. Fortunately, Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) will offer an amendment virtually identical to the provision Senators Grassley and Johnson worked to include in the Senate Farm Bill. Crucial decisions about this farm bill will be made in a House and Senate Conference Committee, making Rep. Fortenberry’s payment limits amendment even more crucial to pass in the House.

Likewise, the full Senate accepted an amendment offered by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Senator Dick Durbin that reduces crop insurance premiums subsidies for the nation’s wealthier farms. We urge Representatives to add the same income test to crop insurance premium subsidies that the Senate accepted. Even better, there is likely to be a House amendment to apply the Grassley-Johnson payment limit rules to crop insurance premium subsidies. Rural America wants and needs a Farm Bill that includes these crucial reforms. Read more about Farm Bill Debate Turns to House of Representatives

  • Farm PolicyFarm Bill
Weekly column

Wind Energy To Market

For decades we have been searching for ways to get the goods we produce to market. We started with railroad tracks. From there we focused on highways, and eventually the Interstate Highway System.

Today we turn our attention to transmission lines.

Access to transmission is the biggest obstacle to a thriving wind energy industry. Each year hundreds of wind energy projects remain stalled as developers wait their turn to get the energy they produce to consumers. This is a big problem in South Dakota, home to some of the best wind resources in the world.

That’s why Xcel Energy and Otter Tail Power Company are working to build a new 70-mile, 345 kV transmission line between Big Stone City and Brookings.  This is one of 16 multi-value projects designed to open the Upper Midwest and Great Plains to further wind development.

Earlier this month Xcel and Otter Tail filed a permit application with the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission. The PUC will hold a public meeting, meant to share information and get the input of community members impacted by the line, July 31 at 6:30 p.m. at McCrory Gardens in Brookings.

Clean energy transmission delivers low cost power, creates a reliable electric grid, and jump starts an industry important to all of us. To be built the right way each project must consider the opinions of those impacted, enable new wind projects, and treats landowners fairly.

Your opinion helps make this a community project that works for everyone involved.

Read more about Wind Energy To Market

  • Clean Energy
Weekly column

Transmission and Your Business

When something as big as a new transmission line is being built in your area, you won’t be blamed for asking a few good questions.  Where will the line be located? Do I have any say in the process? How will this project improve my community?

Fortunately, the Center for Rural Affairs understands your concerns. Clean Line does too. That’s why they’re holding a round of open houses to introduce the Grain Belt Express.

While this isn’t the first meeting designed to introduce the project and answer your questions, Clean Line has added a new twist. This time the open house will focus on business opportunity along the route.

Do you have a small business that might benefit? Perhaps you’re a contractor, a supplier, or provide a service critical to the siting and construction process. If so, there’s a good chance that Clean Line wants to hear from you.

While clean energy transmission can give rise to plenty of questions and more than enough complaints, it can also be a positive for you and your community. Transmission enables new wind generation, which adds jobs and boosts county-level income. Construction of the line will require local workers and locally sourced goods. This project alone will provide more than 5,000 jobs to construct the transmission line and wind farms and more than 500 permanent jobs to maintain and operate them.

The open houses are taking place June 25th through the 27th in Mexico, Moberly, Chillicothe, and Hannibal. Visit to learn more.

Read more about Transmission and Your Business

  • Clean Energy
Weekly column

Number 34 Had It Right

A prudent visionary addresses his nation: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machine of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

He expresses deep concern for the well-being of our posterity:

“Each proposal must be weighed in light of the need to maintain balance in and among national programs … balance between actions of the moment and the national welfare of the future. As we peer into society’s future, we – you and I, and our government – must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.”

Who was that prudent visionary? Dwight D. Eisenhower – a well-respected five star general in the US Army, appointed Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II. He later became the 34th President of the United States.

In his farewell address near the end of his presidency, he warns his fellow countrymen of the potential dangers of the military-industrial complex. He clearly points out that we must guard against those who will seek to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of a favored elite.

A military hero of our nation who played a significant role in overcoming a horrendous evil of the 20th century, a political moderate of the Republican party, goes on to warn fellow citizens of the dangers he sees brewing in his homeland. Has that early wake-up call been heeded sufficiently?

Increasingly, concentrated wealth, often under the guise of large corporations, is driving the political agenda and eroding the fertile soil of our democracy. Are we to let this happen to our children, grandchildren, and beyond? For the present common good and the well being and liberty of future generations, let us stand strong against this perilous concentration of wealth and power that so threatens our beloved democratic principles.

In rural America, we can start by aggressively pushing for policies that put small and beginning farmers and ranchers and main street business owners on a level playing field with over-subsidized and over-coddled large agribusiness and other mega-corporate interests. It won’t correct things overnight, but it would be a triumphant and sizeable step in the right direction.

And I’m absolutely certain number 34 would wholeheartedly approve. Read more about Number 34 Had It Right

Blog (deprecated)

More than a Farm Wife

Farm Wife. That’s what we call women who drive tractors, haul grain, gather cattle, run to town for parts, and cook supper, all with kiddos in tow. Often “farm wives” downplay their contributions to their farming operations, dismissing their involvement in the day-to-day operations including marketing and accounting.

A new Center for Rural Affairs project with the Women Food and Agriculture Network in Iowa aims to empower women as knowledgeable, business-savvy, focused owners and operators of farms and ranches.  More than farm wives.

Women are responding - telling us they need training and access to financial resources to get started in agriculture. Our Farm Dreams workshop in Syrcause, Nebraska, last month did just that.  The training helped aspiring women farmers and ranchers focus their farm dream to an achievable goal, identify financial resources and get started developing a business plan.

The women in attendance brought innovative ideas and narrowed them down to mission statements, integrating the most important aspects on their operations, including healthy soil and water, community involvement and social responsibility. I was especially inspired by a young woman dreaming of starting her own medicinal herb farm. More than a farm wife, for sure.

The Center for Rural Affairs supports women at all stages of their operations. Please call or email me, Virginia Meyer ( or 402.687.2103 ext. 1014 for more information on our work with women farmers and ranchers.  Read more about More than a Farm Wife

  • Farm PolicyBeginning Farmer & Rancher
  • Farm PolicyFarm and Food


Get the Newsletter