NSAS: Growing Sustainable Agriculture in Nebraska
June 3, 2011 | Erica Jobman
The Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society (NSAS) has been promoting sustainable agriculture throughout the state since 1976. NSAS’s principal objectives are to encourage the growth of agriculture and food systems that fortify the land, provide a social benefit to individuals and communities, and improve the quality of life for present and future generations.
The organization was founded by two farmers: Bob Steffen, a former Farm Superintendent of Boys Town in Omaha, NE and David Vetter, a farmer from the small town of Marquette, NE. The trend in agriculture at the time of NSAS’s formation was “go big or get out,” said William Powers, Executive Director of NSAS and a farmer from Ceresco, NE. “The big reason for forming NSAS was because a group of farmers saw that they wanted to change the way food was produced.”
Over 40 years after its creation, the organization has grown to around 800 members. “It was originally created for farmers by farmers,” Powers said. NSAS has since grown more inclusive and today includes chefs, educators, and other individuals who support its mission, but are not directly involved in farming or farm operations.
Definition of Sustainable Agriculture
NSAS believes that in order for agriculture to be sustainable it must be both economically feasible and viable, support rural communities and bolster and support the environment. NSAS feels that sustainable agriculture is vital for rural Nebraska and small communities across the nation since it supports farmers, local schools, businesses and churches. “It’s a win-win situation,” Powers said. “It is ultimately good for the future.”
To encourage people to get involved with the organization and promote sustainable agriculture, NSAS sponsors and supports a number of ongoing sustainable agriculture projects and initiatives throughout the state. One of its core initiatives is Farm Beginnings Nebraska, a joint project of UNL Extension, NSAS, Center for Rural Affairs and Nebraska RC &D’s that seeks to educate and train beginning farmers in the intricacies of farm management through a combination of classroom and practical hands on instruction. The program also provides participants with the opportunity to network with established farmers, attend conferences, and partake in farm tours and field days.
NSAS also hosts the Annual Healthy Farms Conference in February, which features workshops and speakers that focus on a range of issues from production to marketing to conservation in farming and beyond.
In addition, NSAS seeks to influence the adoption of nationwide sustainable agriculture policy related to the farm bill and federal budget by working with both the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and Nebraska government officials.
Funding and Other Challenges
Funding for NSAS presents an ongoing challenge. Powers believes the goal of a nonprofit organization is not to make money, but instead to sell an idea. “In this economy, people aren’t willing to give to an idea unless they believe in it,” he said.
According to Powers, another hurdle for NSAS is member retention as members often move to other states or drop out of the organization altogether for one reason or another. To combat this membership attrition NSAS has greatly increased the number of networking events that it offers to members. “Farmers love to talk and so we try to promote that,” said Powers. “We are giving them a voice and letting them use that voice, rather than being that voice.”
If you’re interested in supporting or becoming a member of NSAS you can sign up here: http://www.nebsusag.org/join.shtml.