Sustainable Ag Tour Scheduled for August 15th in Eastern Nebraska


A SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education) sponsored sustainable ag tour is scheduled for August 15th in eastern Nebraska.  An air-conditioned coach bus will leave the East Campus near 40th and Holdrege in Lincoln, NE at 7:30 a.m. for the tour.  This year the tour will travel west and north of Lincoln in eastern Nebraska, touring a variety of farm stops.  We hope to return to Lincoln at about 5:30 p.m.

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Our first stop is at Dave and Deb Welsch’s “West Blue Farm” near Milford, NE.  West Blue Farm has been Certified Organic for their crops for many years. They produce corn, soybeans and alfalfa annually and have been rotationally grazing, (mob) grazing their cow herd.
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The Welsch’s have direct marketed several hundred broilers locally in eastern Nebraska for several years.
Cattle in Feedlot West Blue Farm
They also direct market several beef from their cowherd each year. They are currently transitioning their crop and livestock farming enterprises to a couple of young producers and will discuss this process at our visit.
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The second stop on our tour is Pekarek Produce near Dwight, NE.  Pekareks grow several different vegetables sustainably for various farmers markets and grocery stores, and they have also marketed to the University Good Fresh Local Program for many years.
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The Pekarek’s utilize several several high tunnels and greenhouses in their production system. Crops grown in the high tunnels include broccoli and tomatoes. 
We will then travel to District 10, a renovated old school house near Abie, NE.  It is owned and operated by Mary Sohl.  Mary hosts many events at this facility and caters meals which are prepared at a certified kitchen at another site.  Mary will be serving the tour group lunch and will explain about her rural entrepreneurial business enterprise she has started in Butler County.  
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The next farm stop on the tour is Larry Stanislav’s organic farm. Stanislav, a certified organic farmer, has an extensive crop rotation with spring wheat, corn, soybeans and cover crops used to control weeds and increase fertility.  Stanislav has conducted on-farm research studies with the University of Nebraska on the use of different cover crops.  
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Stanislav has conducted on-farm research studies with the University of Nebraska on the use of a crimper for cover crop termination on his organic farm.
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The University of Nebraska evaluated the use of flaming for weed management on Stanislav’s organic farm. 
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We will then travel up the hill to Liz Sarno’s organic certified grass farm.  Liz has developed organically certified pastures and utilizes rotational grazing with her Grass-Finished Devon Cattle.
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Liz Sarno also has a Boer Goat Herd and has received a SARE Farmer/Rancher Grant in the past.
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Our final stop of the day will be at Mark Roh’s farm, “Abie Vegetable People”.  Mark is a market gardener.
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Mark will discuss his operation and the various crop rotations, pest control methods, on-farm processing, mechanization and the storage facility on his farm. 

For more information visit the SARE Sustainable Ag Tour webpage at: The cost of this tour is $25 a person. Please contact the Nebraska Extension in Nemaha County at (402) 274-4755 or email  or for questions or to register by August 11th.  We hope many of you will be able to participate in this excellent sustainable ag tour sponsored by Nebraska SARE!

Opportunities for Growing and Grazing Cover Crops

Many farmers are growing cover crops to prevent erosion and improve soil health.  Why not graze cover crops on your farm and gain some added income?

                    Wednesday, August 9th, 2017

                              11 am – 5:30 pm

Lancaster Event Center – Exhibit Hall 

84th & Havelock Lincoln, NE 

You can still register up until tomorrow August 4th. Register by going to: or calling 402-441-7180

Learn how farmers and ranchers are currently making cover crops a part of their farming systems in Nebraska and elsewhere.


11 – 11:15 am — Registration – Highlight Videos: Making Cover Crop Work Advice from NE Producers

11:15 am – 12:15 pm — Free Lunch and Tradeshow

12:15 – 12:45 pm — What Every Farmer Needs to Understand About Soil Health. Presenter: Jacob Ness, Soil Health Partnership

12:45 – 1:30 pm — Opportunities for Incorporating Cover Crops and Grazing into Cropping Systems. Presenter: Daren Redfearn, UNL Forage Specialist

1:30 – 2 pm — Impacts of Cattle on Cropland. Presenter: Mary Drewnoski, UNL Beef Systems Specialist

2 – 2:30 pm — Tradeshow

2:30 – 3:15 pm — Integrated Crop-Cattle Production: One Farmer’s Journey. Presenter: Mike Buis, Chatham, Ontario, Canada

3:15 – 4 pm — Pricing Cover Crop Grazing and Developing Rental Agreements. Presenter: Jay Parsons, UNL Agricultural Economics Professor

4 – 5 pm — Partnering for Profit: Producer Panel Keys to Successful Farmer-Cattlemen Partnerships. Panel Members: Chad Dane, Gary Bader, Burdette Piening, Rodney Wiese, Mike Buis

5 – 6 pm — Tradeshow/Networking
Reception to follow sponsored by Polansky Seed

You can go to  to view the speaker profiles.



Bio-Based Weed Control

Blaster #1
 Watch a webinar this next Thursday, July 27th at 10:00 a.m.  Dr. Sam Wortman, Assistant Professor, Department of Agronomy and Horticulture, University of Nebraska-Lincoln will present a webinar on “ Bio-based weed management tools for specialty crops.” Sam will discuss some of the research he has conducted with cover crops and other methods of weed control in organic specialty cropping systems.  This meeting will be recorded.
Here is the link to the Zoom Meeting  and also the meeting ID #     
Meeting ID: 730 760 379


Blaster #2
Dr. Wortman conducted research at the University of Illinois with this weed blaster.  His research started in the greenhouse where he used grit to blast weeds.
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From the greenhouse, research moved to outside plots.  Dr. Wortman evaluated the effectiveness on weed control in garden crops. The machine above was used to blast weeds. 
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Hand weeding is still a method of weed control in organic production. This can be expensive and time consuming as well.  In organic production there are several methods that can be used for weed control.  
Black Plastic
The combination of several management strategies for weed control is the best path to success.  Black plastic has been used for several years as a reliable method of weed control. 


Blaster #4
A large scale mechanical blaster is being used for weed control by this farmer.
Cover Crop #1
Many farmers are using mixtures of cover crops in their cropping systems.  While being much more expensive, will it be cost effective to use a mix?  Dr. Wortman will discuss his research on cover crops in the webinar.  


Cover Crop #2
A mix of 18 cover crops is being evaluated. 


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Mustard produced the most biomass in the spring monoculture and spring mix.


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In the summer, sudan grass produced excellent biomass in a monoculture and in a mix as well.



This is an excellent opportunity to learn about bio-based weed control methods in organic specialty cropping systems. Let people know about this webinar that may be interested in learning more about this topic.  This Zoom meeting will be recorded.  




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.


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.


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)


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.


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)


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:

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 and This webinar will be recorded. If you have questions about this webinar, feel free to contact me at 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 Contact Gary Lesoing, Extension Educator at or at (402) 274-4755, Nebraska Extension in Nemaha County to learn more about the program or if you have questions.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 or (402) 274-4755.