Last weekend, the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society (“NSAS”) held its annual Healthy Farms Conference in Kearney, Nebraska.  The Healthy Farms Conference has been bringing the sustainable community in Nebraska together for nearly 20 years, and this year’s conference was exceptional.

The keynote featured a talk by Paul Willis, founder of Niman Ranch’s pork division. Niman Ranch is a network of farmers and ranchers who raise high quality premium meats under an exacting set of protocols which ensure that the animals are raised using natural, humane, and sustainable methods. Chipotle Mexican Grill produced an enlightening biographic video of Paul’s story available here. Paul’s talk showed that sustainable farming can be a sound and profitable business model while benefiting the land, animals, and consumers.

Paul’s talk gave way to two days of break-out sessions on varied topics from the use of cover crops, to budgets and estate planning, to pollinators and pest management, and many more.  (This author found the “Dry Curing & Smoking Ham” session from Chad Lebo of Cure Cooking to be the most compelling!)

Finally, the conference wrapped up with a capstone talk from Leigh Adcock, Executive Director of Women, Food & Agriculture Network (WFAN).  As Leigh noted, roughly half of all farmland in the United States is owned by women, and their needs are varied.  Women operators tend to own their land, tend to be smaller in total acreage, and tend to grow more specialty crops.  WFAN has been assisting them for almost 20 years, through programming, advocacy, and (as the name implies) networking.

All in all, the 2014 Healthy Farms Conference was a successful meeting of producers, consumers, service providers, and supporters of sustainable agriculture in Nebraska.  The 2015 conference is already in the planning stages—see you next year!

UPDATE, 2/21/2014, 4:30 P.M.  Dave Vetter of Grain Place Foods points out that NSAS has been holding its conference for much longer than 20 years.  According to Dave, NSAS was originally organized as the Nebraska Organic Agriculture Association as a result of a series of meetings arranged by Bob Steffen in 1976.  Bob was the Farm Manager at Boys Town and managed the farm according to bio-dynamic principles from the early 1940’s until he retired in the late 70’s.  The first “annual meeting” of the predecessor to NSAS  was held in February 1977, as a potluck lunch with about 25 attendees.  Suffice it to say, sustainable agriculture is alive and well in Nebraska!