Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Listening Sessions Help Guide the Grant-Making Process for NCR-SARE

NCR-SARE, in cooperation with the Nebraska Great Plains Resource Conservation & Development Council (RC&D) and Iowa Golden Hills Resource Conservation & Development (RC&D), conducted public listening sessions at three locations in east-central NE and southwest IA to discuss increasing the sustainability of their agriculture.

The NCR-SARE listening sessions serve as an opportunity to bring together people with differing viewpoints within a community of place to share their perspectives of sustainability and agriculture. Reports resulting from the listening sessions serve as a respected information source on the status and prospects of sustainable agriculture and as such guide the Administrative Council that directs the NCR-SARE competitive grants and other programs.

“The purpose for the listening sessions is for NCR-SARE to learn from residents of the region what is on peoples’ minds, what NCR-SARE is doing well, and what we might change to better meet the needs of people who live in the region,” said Bill Wilcke, Regional Coordinator of NCR-SARE.

NCR-SARE and the RC&Ds partnered with cooperative extension and community colleges to provide public meeting facilities in Lincoln, NE, Omaha, NE, and Council Bluffs, IA. The sessions took place in late September, 2010, in Lincoln, NE at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Office, Council Bluffs, IA, at Iowa Western Community College, and Omaha, NE at Metropolitan Community College.

“Southwest Iowa and east central Nebraska form a natural ‘food shed’ based on the naturally occurring flow of goods and services between the rural countryside and the metropolitan areas,” explained Norman Hanson, Chairperson of the Nebraska Great Plains RC&D.

To discover how the communities of Lincoln and Omaha,NE and Council Bluffs, IA are defining sustainability in their area, listening sessions were held in each of the communities during a three-day visit by NCR-SARE researchers and educators. The sessions included facilitated discussions, tours, and question and answer periods, among other activities.

Grounding their perceptions in visits to local community gardens, small-scale producers, and programs to foster future growers, the participants then listened at each location as stakeholders in the local food system discussed their perceptions of current trends and how their communities will sustain food production and distribution in the future.

After an introduction ice-breaker that generated ideas defining community, participants were asked a round of questions in each listening session. They received a handout with the questions as they registered and the questions were posted on a power point as the group discussed them. Questions addressed topics such as trends in rural and urban food systems, community and regional challenges for food systems, observed successes in urban and rural communities, perceptions of sustainable agriculture, and the future of food systems.

Some of the major trends addressed by participants included: an increase in local production and distribution, a decreased proportion of farming to production needs, an increased need for effective and accurate communications about food systems and regulations, gaps between the pricing and affordability of land and food, the availability of food sources, an increased awareness of health and food relationship, a need for more reliable education/knowledge at all intersections in the food system, a need for employment security for all in food delivery system, and the need for more and younger farmers.

A summary of findings and the data that support the conclusions and recommendations for next steps was developed. It will help guide NCR-SARE in its effective design and distribution of grants.

In order to generate and disseminate sound and practical information and to increase the sustainability of agriculture, NCR-SARE will continue to listen and respond to groups and communities of farmers, ranchers, researchers, and extension agents throughout the region. Suggestions of where listening sessions should take place are welcome and you can direct ideas to ncrsare@umn.edu.

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