Green School Farms – Gary Fehr

Much has happened since I conducted this interview last fall with Gary Fehr.  Earlier this winter, Gary’s wife, Shannon Moncure, passed away following a courageous battle with cancer.  Shannon was a strong advocate for local food and served in several different capacities on the Nebraska Food Coop Board.  She was instrumental in getting this Cooperative established.  Shannon was also a strong supporter of sustainable agriculture. Shannon served on the Nebraska SARE (Sustainable Research and Education) Advisory Committee. This blog is in memory of her.  I wish Gary the best of luck as he follows his dream of developing his farm and continuing to produce local food organically for the community of Lincoln and other people in southeast Nebraska.

In this blog post I am interviewing Gary Fehr of Green School Farms. Gary produces food organically on a farm he rents west of Lincoln, NE, just off of West Van Dorn St.  Gary has marketed his produce through a number of methods, including a CSA, wholesale farm distributors and a local school  since he began farming. Follow along with this photo blog as we tour the farm.

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Gary put together this makeshift high tunnel or you may call it a medium tunnel.  It is taller than a low tunnel, but not nearly as big as a high tunnel.  It serves its purpose though of being a season extender to crops.  This is out on the garden site west of Lincoln.  (photo Gary Fehr)

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A well was dug to provide irrigation water to the garden site. Water is  essential for the successful production of local food in southeast Nebraska. In most years at least some supplemental water is needed to raise a good vegetable crop.

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Gary grew several types of greens and salad-type vegetables that he marketed through his CSA, the Nebraska Food Coop and schools. (photo Gary Fehr) 2016-04-18 21.16.17.jpg

Here is an image of a snail. Snails, slugs and other critters can become pests, foraging on different crops, especially salad greens. These pests can be kept out of gardens by using different types of materials, i.e saw dust, egg shells, ash and sand and nut shells. (photo by Gary Fehr)

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You can see from this photo that Gary planted several different varieties of greens.  Being an organic grower, Gary utilized several different methods of weed control. Notice the cereal rye growing between the rows of his crops in his garden site. Cereal rye has been shown to be beneficial as a cover crop, particularly  for suppressing weeds. It can also be used as a windbreak, protecting young seedlings from hot, south winds. (photo Gary Fehr)

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Gary uses an old drill to crimp down the cereal rye.  This makes an excellent weed barrier and also keeps the soil cooler during the hot summer to reduce evaporation from the soil surface.  (photo Gary Fehr)

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Cereal rye after it was crimped down by an old drill in Gary’s garden spot.  The rye needs to be at least in the flowering stage when it is crimped or else it will come back and try to produce seed. Research has shown the cereal rye is beneficial in suppressing weeds and some diseases. The above ground biomass adds carbon to the soil and the roots underground do the same. When the roots die there will be more pore space which improves water infiltration and  water storage in the soil. (photo by Gary Fehr)

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Another cover crop that Gary incorporates into his garden rotation is hairy vetch. Hairy vetch is a legume that fixes nitrogen and provides significant nitrogen (100 lbs of N/ac) for the subsequent crop, i.e. a high nitrogen user like corn.

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As an organic grower Gary used several different materials to mulch the vegetables in his garden.  Cardboard can be used to smother weeds and old hay can be used to cover soil to reduce competition from weeds and also add organic matter to the soil.

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Gary grows a number of different crops throughout the growing season of spring-summer-fall. Drip Tape is used to water the crops during the drier parts of summer.

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Some of the summer crops that Gary grew in 2016 included sweet corn, peppers, and water melon. (see photos above taken by Gary Fehr)

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From the photos above, you can see that peppers were a staple in Gary’s Green School Farms garden.  He planted several different varieties and they were excellent producers.

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Another important crop at Green School Farms was tomatoes (see photos above) Gary grew several kinds of tomatoes up until the first killing frost in the fall.

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Gary even grew some Okra on his farm. Although he had a limited number of plants, they produced well for him. (see photos above)

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Cantaloupe was a good crop for Gary, producing in the late summer and into the early fall. (see photos above)

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Early in the fall Gary planted salad greens.  In the photo above he covers some of his crop to protect it from a freeze.  Notice the companion flowers growing next to his crop. As an organic grower Gary uses different plants that attract beneficial insects that are predators for pests or some plants that repel and protect the crop from harmful pests.

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One last crop Gary plants and sells that will keep for use in the winter is butternut squash.  This popular squash is used several ways in various dishes and soups for people that love local food. (see photo above)

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A photo taken near the end of the growing season at Gary Fehr’s Green School Farms in west Lincoln. I know Gary purchased some land near Raymond, NE and hopes to move his farm out there in the future. I wish Gary the best of luck as an Organic Farmer and Local Food Producer in southeast Nebraska, I hope for many years to come!  Good Luck Gary!!!!

Webinar Scheduled for Thursday, April 6th at 10:00 a.m. on Permaculture

Nebraska SARE is sponsoring a webinar on April 6th  from 10:00 – 11:00 a.m. Central Time on Permaculture. The link to this webinar is listed below:

https://nebraskaextension.zoom.us/j/853147857

Meeting ID: 853 147 857

The title of the webinar is: “Nebraskan Permaculture Design, Trees as the Farmer’s Best Friend, & Other helpful tips”   By Gus von Roenn, Permaculture designer, builder, urban farmer, activist, educator, land steward, event planner and nonprofit founder.

Please tune in to this webinar to see how the concepts of Permaculture can be applied to the unique circumstances presented in Nebraska. Permaculture is the pursuit to feed, shelter, transport, and energize your life in your community without compromising the integrity of the world’s living environment. Working with nature allows us to achieve our goals with minimal maintenance. Poorly designed landscapes, buildings and technology that attempt to counter the forces of nature add complexity to our lives and create dependence on a complex system that needs maintenance.

Gus is an advocate for permaculture and sustainable practices throughout Nebraska. He works through many organizations like the Nebraska Farmers Union, the Sierra Club, Nebraskans for Solar, Nebraska Sustainability Agricultural Society, the Metro Omaha Food Policy Council and Omaha Permaculture to elevate the discussion of issues surrounding healthy food accessibility, land stewardship and entrepreneurship in low-income communities. His academic background is in anthropology, sociology, archaeology and permaculture while working in landscaping, photography and home remodeling to pay off school. Currently, Gus is a certified permaculture designer with his own Permaculture design consulting firm and landscaping crew to install the designs. He is also the founder of a nonprofit called Omaha Permaculture that accepts degraded, vacant land for restoration while providing space to incubate agriculture-related entrepreneurial opportunities.  As an advocate for everything Permaculture and sustainability in Nebraska, he likes to help many organizations teach their constituents the limitless opportunities that create abundance in all of our communities for all of us to share.  You can learn more about Gus and permaculture at http://www.vrpermaculture.com/ and http://www.omahapermaculture.org/. This webinar will be recorded. If you have questions about this webinar, feel free to contact me at glesoing2@unl.edu or (402) 274-4755.

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Examples of how permaculture is being used in landscapes

Small Farm Workshop Scheduled for April 8th in Nebraska City.

Looking to learn how to produce your own food or start a diversified agriculture business on your acreage or in your backyard? UNL Extension will be hosting “Small Spaces, Big Potential”: a Small Scale Farming Workshop on Saturday, April 8th in Nebraska City at the Kimmel Education and Research Center (5985 G Road) beginning at 9:00 am and running till 4:00 pm.

The workshop will feature presentations by local farmers, UNL faculty members, and Nebraska Extension personnel. Breakout session topics will include: new rules and regulations, pastured poultry, community supported agriculture (CSA), cover crops, three secrets to profitability, using social media to market your product, intensive vegetable production, integrated pest management, bio-based weed management, and USDA micro-loans.

The cost to attend if pre-registered is $35 per individual, $50 per couple, and $10 per youth participant. The cost of at the door registration is: $45 per individual, $60 per couple, and $20 per youth.  For questions or to pre-register contact the Nemaha County Extension Office (402-274-4755.

Representatives from GROW Nebraska™ will discuss the Latest Web Tools to Maximize Market Reach. 

Farm Beginnings® scheduled in Nebraska for 2017.

Nebraska Extension is planning its 9th Farm Beginnings® Program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Kimmel Education and Research at 5985 G Rd, Nebraska City, NE 68410 in January, 2017. Nebraska Extension and the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society are facilitating the Farm Beginnings® Program to be held in Nebraska City. The Farm Beginnings® Program is an educational training and support program designed to help people who want to evaluate and plan their farm enterprise.  Farm Beginnings® participants engage in a mentorship experience and network with a variety of successful, innovative farmers; attend practical, high quality seminars, field days and conferences.  The program is unique in that several successful farmers participate in the program as presenters, explaining firsthand the nuts and bolts of their farming operation.  While this isn’t a program for someone wanting to get into conventional farming, it is a program that has attracted several people interested in farming on a smaller scale, some who have migrated out from urban to rural areas.  One past participant in the class said, “This program had a huge impact.  I have improved my business plan, my overall efficiency and continue to try new ideas I thought to not be possible.”  Any beginning farmer would benefit from attending these training sessions.  Most of the farmers that present come from small to medium sized farming operations that produce and market many different diversified and value-added products.  Many of these farmers direct market their products.

Participants of this course may be interested in becoming involved with growing alternative crops, producing fruits and vegetables for direct sale to consumers, grocery stores or restaurants.  Others may be interested in growing livestock for direct marketing.  This is an opportunity for people interested in learning about this type of farming from farmers that are doing it and making a living at it.

The Farm Beginnings® Program consists of a series of 11 sessions from January through April that cover a variety of topics including: building networks, goal setting, whole farm planning, building your business plan, marketing, business and farm management and financial management.  While the class participants will learn firsthand from the farmers, they will also work on developing their own business plan as they progress through the course.  As part of the class tuition, participants will also have the opportunity to attend the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society’s Healthy Farms Conference held during the winter in 2017. This is a conference that has been held annually for a number of years and has sessions that focus on topics in sustainable agriculture, such as: vegetable production, grass-fed beef, pasture poultry, meat and dairy goat production, composting, cover crops, organic farming, growing crops in high-tunnels, bee keeping, farm transitioning and agri-tourism.  We also schedule a farm tour early in the course and tour several farms in the summer to see how the farmers are operating.  If interested, participants also have the opportunity to have a farmer mentor.

Cost of the total program is $500, but you may qualify for a partial scholarship of up to $200. For a brochure and an application for the Farm Beginnings® Program go to http://extension.unl.edu/statewide/nemaha/farm-beginnings-2017/. Contact Gary Lesoing, Extension Educator at glesoing2@unl.edu or at (402) 274-4755, Nebraska Extension in Nemaha County to learn more about the program or if you have questions.

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One of the presenters in the class is Ralph Tate.  Ralph took the first Farm Beginnings® in 2005-2006. He has since become a certified Holistic Management instructor and practices mob grazing on his farm.  He teaches participants about Holistic Management principles and also financial management in class.  In the summer we visit Ralph’s farm and rotational grazing system near Fairbury, NE.  Here is a photo of Ralph explaining his pasture management system.

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Another presenter at our class is Dave Welsch. He is an organic farmer from Milford, NE.  He and his wife Deb direct market beef and also several hundred broilers every summer. We usually tour Dave and Deb Welsch’s West Blue Farm each summer.  Here we are viewing their cattle herd in their rotational grazing system.  Dave is an excellent teacher and also discusses farm finances and cash flows in the class.  Deb Welsch has served as a mentor for several women that are involved in sustainable agriculture.

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A couple of other farmers that present in our class are Travis Dunekacke and Paul Rohrbaugh, both from southeast Nebraska. The photo above shows Travis on the left and Paul speaking to a group as we tour his farm near Steinauer, NE. Paul was instrumental in getting the Farm Beginnings® program started in Nebraska.  He served as co-facilitator with me for the first couple of classes we had here in Nebraska.  Paul raises naturally produced grass-fed beef and also pasture poultry.  The name of his company is Pawnee Pride Meats.  Travis Dunekacke produces heritage swine on his farm near Elk Creek, NE. He sells most of his swine directly to several restaurants in Lincoln and Omaha and other places in southeast Nebraska.  He works very closely with developing relationships with several chefs in the area. Both Paul and Travis discuss marketing to the class.

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A photo of Travis Dunekacke’s swine operation (T D Niche Pork) .  These hogs are being raised to be sold to one of several local chefs that will serve this pork in their local restaurants in Nebraska. Berkshires are the primary breed Travis raises, although he does raise some Red Wattles when a chef requests them.

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A farm we usually tour in the summer and also have them speak to us as part of the class room portion of the Farm Beginnings® course, is Common Good Farm.  Either Ruth Chantry or Evrett Lundquist will come and speak to the class about their organic and biodynamic farming operation near Raymond, NE. The photo above was taken when we toured their farm with the class.  As you can see Common Good Farm raises a variety of vegetable crops on their farm and also produces and sells, eggs, beef, pork and honey as part of their operation.  Common Good Farm explains all the important details involved in planning on their farm.  They have also had interns work on their farm over the years.

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Our class has toured Bluff Valley Farm near Rulo, NE near the Missouri River.  Ken and Mary Grace Thiltges and their family produce and market naturally produced meat on their farm.  Pastured poultry and lamb are two of their more well known products.  The photo above shows Ken, with the brown hat on, explaining their operation and showing some pastured turkeys that they are producing for Thanksgiving.

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This photo is of Ken, with the brown hat and Mary Grace, just to his right, showing the tour their flock of sheep.  They have marketed some of their lamb through the Good Fresh Local Program to the University of Nebraska where it is used in a couple of the cafeterias on campus. The Thiltges have also sold their products at farmers markets, from their own on-farm store  and through the Nebraska Food Coop.

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This is a photo of the flock of Rhode Island Red chickens that Daniel Hromas had when he started his egg laying operation, renting an acreage near York. Dan graduated from the Farm Beginnings® class a few years ago after returning from serving in Iraq.  Dan is a disabled veteran and has worked with the Veteran’s Coalition when he started his farm. He has since been able to buy a farm on the edge of Grand Island where he moved his operation. Dan has served as a spokes person for the Veteran’s Coalition. Dan will be featured in this blog of local food producers in the near future. He is just one of several Farm Beginning graduates® that are producing local food for consumers at some level. To find out more about this program contact me at glesoing2@unl.edu or (402) 274-4755.

          

Survey of Local Food Producer Blogs

Last April I initiated a blog about Local Food Producers in our area as part of my i-Three Corps project.  The purpose of this project was to bring awareness to local food and producers, particularly beginning farmers.  The goal is to help increase sales for these farmers and ultimately increase their profitability. I do know other Extension Educators in other states have been writing blogs about local food producers and it has been very successful.

Below are some survey questions regarding this blog.  I would welcome and appreciate comments about the blog.  My plan is to continue on with this blog.  I have just barely scratched the surface of beginning local food producers in our area, let alone the established producers.

Do you think a blog like this, highlighting local food producers is beneficial for the local food scene?

Is it beneficial for the local food producers?

Will it increase awareness of local food?

Did anyone tell you they saw this blog?

Do you think I should continue with this blog telling others about local food producers and other programs and activities related to the local food system?

Thank you for your comments!

Farm2Fork Ranch – Greg and Stephanie Pankau Family

 

 

In this blog post I am interviewing Greg and Stephanie Pankau  of Farm2Fork Ranch. Greg and Stephanie live on the edge of Rockport, MO with their three children; Emma, a 10th grader, Trulin, who is in the 6th grade and Lilly a 4th grader.  They took the Farm Beginnings® class several years ago and have continued to raise several types of poultry and livestock and be involved in a number of diversified enterprises with the farm. It is important for them to know where their food comes from and at the same time provide their children an opportunity to learn and gain responsibility, as they are very much involved in the farm.  Greg and Stephanie and their family produce food naturally on their farm in northwest Missouri. Follow along with this photo blog as we tour the farm.

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Poultry is an integral part of the Farm2Fork Ranch operation.  They have raised several breeds of turkeys, including Red Burbons, Blue Slate, Broad Breasted and Whites.  They process some for meat, but also collect and sell eggs from the hens, which bring a higher price and are good for baking.

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Farm2Fork Ranch uses Rhode Island Reds and Koo Koo Marans for their laying flock.  Chicken eggs are another product they sell to their customers. This provides a good way for their children to get involved on the farm by taking care of the chickens and collecting eggs.

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Farm2Fork Ranch utilizes a small chicken tractor for their modest broiler operation. They will harvest and process chickens each summer to sell on the farm as well. The Pankaus also have  Muscovy ducks. These ducks provide excellent jumbo sized eggs, can be used for meat,and are excellent for controlling pests, such as mosquitoes and grasshoppers.

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Farm2Fork Ranch has a number of animals on their acreage on the edge of Rockport. In this photo Trulin is watering the animals.  In this pen are a few goats, a couple of calves and a pot belly pig.

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The Pankaus also have pygmy goats on their farm among all the different types of animals.

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The Pankaus rent a pasture and some buildings on the other side of Rockport where many of their animals are kept.  The pasture is primarily made up of cool-season grasses, but there is a mix of several other type plants as well.

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This photo shows a mix of primarily white clover, but also red clover that is scattered throughout the pasture.  These legumes add a higher protein forage for the livestock as they graze the pasture.

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Cattle panels are used to keep livestock in on some of the rugged areas of the pasture.

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This photo illustrates how steep some of the pasture is.  Sheep and goats like to browse on the trees, brush and weeds, while cattle usually prefer grass.

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Trulin and Lilly herding their sheep.  They have katahdin/dorper crossbred sheep.  These are hair sheep bred for meat.  The dorper is a Dorsett/ Blackhead Persian sheep crossbred developed in South Africa.  These sheep are raised on pasture during the grazing season and receive hay in the winter.  Lamb is another meat that is processed and sold to Farm2 Fork customers off the farm.

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Emma brings up one of the Pankau’s cows from their breeding herd. They have a mixed herd of several breeds.  This cow is a high percentage of the Devon breed. Devons do well as grass-fed beef.  Calves from the herd have been raised up, butchered and sold to several customers of Farm2Fork Ranch over the years.

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Farm2Fork Ranch originated with Longhorn cattle and still have longhorns, but have Longhorn/Piedmontees cross cattle in their herd. The Piedmontees cattle originated out of the Piedmontee area of Italy.

 

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 This is a photo of a (Texmontese) Longhorn/Piedmontese cross cow in the Pankau’s herd.

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As Greg mentioned in his interview, pot belly pigs are an integral part of their farming enterprise.  They have farrowed several litters of pot belly pigs and have sold many just as pets to people that live in the city.  This has been a very lucrative business for Farm2Fork Ranch.  Also Greg explained that the pigs are effective in keeping predators away from their chickens. At activities the Pankaus have participated in with their animals, the pot belly pigs have been a big hit.

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Bees have also been an excellent enterprise at the Farm2Fork Ranch. Besides selling honey that they collect during different seasons of the year, the Pankaus infuse various flavors into the honey and market this product.  I can say from experience that these different flavors of honey are excellent and honey is a natural food that has been shown to have several health benefits.

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Farm2Fork Ranch has been involved with a number of activities over the years where they bring some of their animals to conferences, festivals or different events for youth and people living in urban areas. Petting zoos have been a very popular activity for them.  Sometimes they have even invited groups out to their farm to see the animals.  They are incorporating this agri-tourism type enterprise along with the enterprise of raising animals and their products  for food and marketing it to the community.

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These sheep from Farm2Fork Ranch’s flock are content in their pasture as they have plenty of forage to eat and also shade during the hot days of summer. They are also well taken care of by the Pankau family. I want to thank Greg and Stephanie for letting me visit their farm and I wish them luck in their various farming enterprises in the future and in producing good, fresh local food for their community.

LOCAL FOOD, SUSTAINABLE AG AND VALUE-ADDED AG TOUR on August 4th

The Nebraska SARE Program and Nebraska Extension are sponsoring a tour on August 4th  that focuses on local food production, sustainability and value-added ag enterprises. This tour will be an opportunity to learn more about local food production, sustainability and entrepreneurship in Nebraska.  On this tour, you will have the opportunity to visit five entrepreneurial enterprises where you will see very diverse operations. The tour will depart from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln East Campus in an air conditioned coach bus at 7:30 a.m. on August 4th.  Anyone is welcome to participate in this tour.

Our first stop on the tour is Kimmel Orchard & the Kimmel Education and Research Center in Nebraska City. To learn more about these places go to: http://www.kimmelorchard.org/ and http://extension.unl.edu/statewide/kimmel/.

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Our second stop of the tour will be Garden of Ellen’s, just a short distance north of Kimmel Orchard off of Highway 75. Ellen Shank and her husband Jim have both retired from long careers and undertook a second career of raising and marketing produce from high tunnels and the garden on their farm in 2011.  The Shanks market at area farmers markets and from their farm.

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We will then travel to Union Orchard. Union Orchard formerly was owned and operated by the University of Nebraska.  There we will see how the Wostrel Family and orchard manager Vaughn Hammond are developing the orchard and transforming it into a destination for families to come and visit year round.  Union Orchard has planted new crops and several acres of fruit trees, especially apple trees.  Some of the crops they are growing include asparagus, rhubarb, strawberries, apples, grapes and pumpkins.  They also have a corn maze for the fall harvest season.  Some of these crops are sold as a U-Pick business, while other produce is picked and sold fresh or made into a value-added products, like pies, donuts, jams and jellies or even wine.  We plan on eating lunch at the orchard, although the menu has not been determined at this time.  You can find out more about Union Orchard on my blog; https://saremansagnews.wordpress.com/2016/06/16/union-orchard/ or on their website:  http://www.unionorchard.com/.

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Following our time at Union Orchard, we will go up Highway 75 a few miles to Plattsmouth and visit Nebraska Hop Yards. This is Nebraska’s newest value added ag enterprise, owned by Annette and Bruce Wiles that has caught a lot of interest from people.  There we will learn about how this enterprise came about, how it was developed  and what the plans are for it. Here are a couple of links where you can find out more about this operation; http://www.neded.org/news/645-august-2015/1800-state-s-largest-hop-yards-and%20-first-processing-facility-opens and http://midwesthopproducers.com/.

The final stop of the day will be Lakehouse Farm and Prairie Plate Restaurant near Waverly, Nebraska. Renee and Jerry Cornett have begun this farm a few years ago and opened a restaurant out on the farm.  We will enjoy a cool drink and light snack there as well.  The Cornetts grow much of their own produce for the restaurant in a high tunnel and outside garden and purchase local food from area farmers as well.  Here is a link to their website; http://lakehousefarm.com/prairie-plate-restaurant/.

I am looking forward to the tour next week. Cost of the tour is $25 and includes, transportation, lunch and a late afternoon snack. Please register by either emailing me at glesoing2@unl.edu or calling my office at (402) 274-4755 by Monday, August 1st so we can make arrangements for the food and handouts. Please let me know if I need to get you a parking permit for your vehicle at the UNL East Campus.