Resource Spotlight: Center for Rural Affairs


This month’s Resource Spotlight is zooming into Nebraska’s Center for Rural Affairs where we’re speaking with Sandra Renner, Farm & Community Program Director. We first met Sandra at the Food Systems Leadership Retreat in Kansas City, MO in October 2018 and were wow-ed by the variety of work that they’re doing, especially when it comes to community outreach. Read on to learn more and how to get in touch:

Contact person: Sandra Renner (sandrar@cfra.org or 402-687-2100)
DM Sandra on FSLN: https://foodsystemsleadershipnetwork.goentrepid.com/members/sandrarenner#.XQ0JvOhKiUk
Or head straight to their website: https://www.cfra.org/
And be sure to sign up for their newsletter!  https://www.cfra.org/sign-up
Alright, let’s get to it!
Tell us a bit about the Center for Rural Affairs main area of work/expertise.
Our program encompasses several areas of work such as food systems – including farm to school, food policy councils, community gardens, beekeeping, beginning farmer outreach – including women, Latinos, and military veterans, women non-operator landowner outreach, tribal community food, conservation and environmental practices, and rural community inclusion.
The Center for Rural Affairs’ mission is to establish strong rural communities, social and economic justice, environmental stewardship, and genuine opportunity for all while engaging people in decisions that affect the quality of their lives and the future of their communities.
And if you were to describe the Center for Rural Affairs in a haiku, how would you do that?!
I had some fun with this one, and I polled our staff for thoughts. We also had some conversation about whether the word rural can be 1 syllable instead of 2. (haha!) Can I share a few?
Top staff pick:
Create vibrancy
In your rural community
We empower you
-Johnathan Hladik, Policy program director

Food, bees, you and me
Inclusive outlooks our creed
Join with us and see
-Jordan Feyerherm, Community organizing associate
Lead rural voices
Welcoming all to live it:
Values, worth, action
-Emilee Pease, Development assistant
Rural Nebraska
Equity focused work
Farm, food systems, inclusion
-Sandra
Okay, those were pretty great, I had to leave all of those in there! Readers, which one is your favorite?!
So tell me, what does the Center for Rural Affairs bring to the (national food systems) table?
Center for Rural Affairs policy work is focused nationally, and our boots on the ground are primarily in Nebraska working on projects like farm to school, beginning farmer – to include women, Latinos, and military veterans, conservation and climate, food policy councils, women non-operator landowners, rural food and art business supports, and community food projects with the Santee Sioux and Omaha Nations. The Center brings nearly a decade of working hand in hand with the National Farm to School Network, becoming the Midwest Regional Lead organization early on, and piloting farm to school to 12 rural Nebraska schools statewide. We recently partnered with our state department of education to pilot and roll-out a branded program called, Nebraska Thursdays, where schools commit to plating one Nebraska-sourced lunch on the first Thursday of the month. We also have conducted two pilot rounds of Greenhouse to Cafeteria, putting often empty (or growing annual flower) greenhouses into vegetable and fruit production, teaching organic practices to FFA students, and the students then harvesting and procuring local, fresh produce to the school cafeteria. The Center launched Nebraska’s first statewide food policy council, the Nebraska Food Council, and published a statewide community food assessment shining a spotlight on Nebraska’s spending nearly 90% of their annual food budget out of state.

What do people/orgs look to you for?
CFRA strives to serve all rural Americans. We are often a national thought leader on issues and work we are involved in, particularly our policy work, and more recently our work in community inclusion in communities across Nebraska experiencing demographic shifts due to immigration. We’re piloting inclusive food programming this year and supporting more local efforts aimed at food equity through food policy councils or food system working groups. We are often connected to communities looking for a solution to their food system issue, such as the grocery store closing or how to organize around a food related issue.

What one (or two!) problem(s) can someone find solutions for on your site?

  1. How can beginning farmers access land and credit?
  2. How do I get started in farming?
We have a variety of articles and case studies from farming practices to conservation to growing foods for schools. We also offer many new resources to Latinos in Spanish, as well as  to rural communities who want to develop their leadership to better cultivate deeper conservations over difference.
Are there certain tools or resources that you’ve found especially popular?
Our beginning farmer resources are, by far, the most visited pages on our website. We also run a beginning farmer helpline that answers inquiries nationwide on getting started in farming. We do this in both English and Spanish.
Who can access your resources? How?
Anyone can access our resources by visiting our website: www.cfra.org

What other resources or support is the CFRA looking for?
We’re looking at ways we can develop more content using the channels that serve our different audiences in the way they are most comfortable accessing them. Some audiences prefer social media and videos, so we’re looking at ways to create more diverse content that plays to those audiences.

What other “resource-full” organizations would you recommend?
CFRA is a founding member of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and a close partner. In our food systems work, we rely heavily on our partnerships for maximum impact and that includes our friends at the University of Nebraska Extension – Regional Food Systems team, USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), and USDA Rural Development to name a few. I personally find that FSLN truly fills a gap for resources that we didn’t otherwise have in food systems work!

You all are doing so much good! Thank you for sharing your work with the rest of the FSLN and I hope we’ll be able to connect in person soon!  

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