Workshop #18
February 25-26, 2010

Leaders from Aurora, Clay Center, Davenport, Deweese, Harvard, Hastings, Kearney, Omaha and Superior convened in Adams County seat on February 4 and 5, 2010 to explore the sustainability imperative facing their communities. Though the community representatives brought unique challenges to the table, it was the commonalities that took center stage at this workshop.

Participants also learned about regional water resource management, wind power generation exportation issues, the impact local food systems can have for the regional economy and the opportunities offered by the South Central Economic Development District.

The group grappled with the elusive definition of sustainability—specifically, how a community comes to common agreement. One participant, providing counter evidence to the state’s so-called brain drain, is a recent graduate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a master’s degree in architecture. Adele Phillips has returned to the Midwest to intern at the Aurora based Prairie Plains Resource Institute. “Sustainability is a word that is easily co-opted,” Phillips observed. “We need to remember to take a holistic approach—when we think about a community we need to remember not to think about that community solely in terms of economics—it is also a social issue.” Indeed, the greatest challenge for much of Nebraska is getting community members and farmers to recognize that they are part of the same picture.

Bill Whitney, Director of the Prairie Plains Institute agreed. “You have to develop a common language so people can understand at a cognitive level,” he said. “An example is the word ‘conservation’ – if you use this word amongst urban people and farmers, there is not a mutual understanding.”

Whitney’s remark touches upon the primary goal of the NSLW. In convening workshops across the state of Nebraska, a common understanding of the state’s challenges is being forged amongst our leaders. The urban-rural dichotomy isn’t the only impediment to consensus, however, as Peggy Rupprecht, an administrator with Omaha’s Westside Community Schools, observed. Leaders today must begin cultivating the contributions of Generation Y and overcome the evident differences in leadership styles.

Nanette Shackelford is a city council member and resident of Clay Center as well as an adjunct professor in business at Hastings Community College with a concern for the sustainability for the region’s smaller communities. An effective leader needs to be able to engage people with tenacity and respect, Shackelford commented. She further observed that an effective leader is able to show both sides of the coin and reveal the paradoxes.

Jim Crandall, of the UNL Nebraska Cooperative Development Center, did just that when he touched upon the disconnect between the farmer, the gate, the processor and the consumer in modern agriculture in his presentation to the group on the benefits the consumption of local foods has for the economic development of a region. “Increasingly,” Cramer said, “people want to know where their food comes from and knowing your farmer is a trend with significant benefits to your community.” A challenge facing local farmers wanting to engage in direct marketing is how to get their meat to market and still meet federal regulations. “One way to get around the regulation issue is to own the animal before you process it,” Crandall remarked. Mobile meat processing units are cropping up to this end in the region.

On the second day of the program, participants were engaged in further discussion on the topics of water quality and regional economic development. Ann Bleed, former State Hydrologist for the Nebraska Department of Water Resources spoke to the region’s water quantity and quality issues. Adams County, for instance has between two and eight wells per square mile in a part of the state which has seen a decline in groundwater levels ranging between ten and thirty feet between predevelopment and Spring 2009, with five to ten feet of that decline happening between 2000 and 2009. The issue is not how we are using our water domestically, so much as the rapidity in which we are depleting our groundwater for agricultural uses. The International Water for Food conference at UNL on May 2-5 will explore how to grow more food with less available water resources.

Sharon Hueftle, Executive Director of the South Central Economic Development District (SCEDD), engaged the group with a discussion on building sustainable economies of scale. The SCEDD is a regional resource center which is meant to help local governments in its region plan and promote community and economic development through business facilitation, community needs assessments and the development of entrepreneurial coalitions through programs such as EDGE.

Water for Food: Growing More with Less
By 2050 the world population is expected to increase 40 percent and the demand for food will double. Agriculture uses 70 percent of the world’s freshwater withdrawals for irrigation, and 60 percent of the food supply is produced by rain-fed agriculture, yet global water supplies face increasing demands from expanding urban populations and a changing climate holds unknown risks. We must grow more food using less water.

Hosted by the University of Nebraska and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Water for Food: Growing More with Less, will be May 2-5, 2010, at The Cornhusker Marriott Hotel in Lincoln. Visit the website for more information:

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Resources from the
Hastings Workshop

Most of the workshop materials can be downloaded from our Resources and Documents pages. Below are some materials specifically from the consultants and speakers at the Hastings workshop, as well as some who were not there.

Hydrologist Ann Bleed talked about water resources and ways of using water more efficiently. Download a PowerPoint of maps showing Nebraska's groundwater resources here >

Community Food Systems, PowerPoint presentation by Jim Crandall, Associate Director of the Nebraska Cooperataive Development Center, Nebraska’s center for cooperative-based business development.

All Roads Lead to Energy Efficiency, PowerPoint presentation by Ken Curry, Energy Efficiency Expert for Nebraska Public Power District.

Ways of recruiting and retaining young people—both professionals and young families—in our rural communities was a topic of much interest. The Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University conducted a study which identified and examined career choice factors and public service perceptions among members of Generation Y. Download a PDF the report here >

Read University of Nebraska Rural Initiative Director Sandy Scofield's important paper, A Crash Course in Infrastructure: Expensive but Essential Components for Rural (and Urban) Nebraska’s Future, for important ideas on how infrastructure contributes to growth and development in Nebraska's towns and cities. Download the PDF here >

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