LPS Lunch Scraps may Fuel Commercial Worm Farm

[Editor’s Note:   Jeremiah Picard and Kate Lottinville with Cook Grow Sew, have satisfied many NFC appetites with their various products over the last two years. We wish them both the best in their worm venture as they recover from their house fire that was a complete loss…except for the worms, thankfully, that were snuggled up in their cozy surroundings (soil).]

January 13, 2015  •  by Algis Laukaitis | Lincoln Journal Star

JeremiahWormsThe Nebraska Farmers Union has come up with a new twist — let’s call it a wiggle — to recycle school cafeteria food scraps. Jeremiah Picard, with the Lincoln-based organization, wants to turn the discarded waste into a useful compost product with a commercial worm farm.

The process is called vermiculture. The goals are to help reduce the amount of waste that goes to the city landfill, create a natural soil-enhancing product that can be used in community and school gardens, and give students a chance to learn about the benefits of composting.

Picard, who has been raising worms in his basement for years, recently received a $26,850 recycling grant from the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality and has applied for a $169,046 grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust. A decision is expected in April.

“We have a site (for the composting operation) potentially scoped. It’s just barely outside the city limits, but we haven’t gotten the grant, yet,” he said. Picard, 39, said he doesn’t want to disclose the location because the project is just in its infancy, and he is waiting to hear from the Trust.

His intention is to build a large greenhouse-type structure for the composting operation and worm farm. Food scraps would be transported in small trucks to the site and ground up by machinery. During the process, air would be “forced” through the waste to increase oxygen and microbial activity. “The forced air will be heated and that also will heat the structure,” Picard said.

He plans to use red wigglers, which are considered the best worms for vermiculture operations because they live well in close, highly populated conditions and don’t burrow.

The vermiculture process creates worm castings, a prized natural fertilizer that helps plants use nutrients already present in the soil. Worm castings are the undigested material, soil and bacteria excreted by a worm after it eats the food scraps.

The Nebraska Farmers Union is partnering with Lincoln Public Schools, Community Crops and the Lincoln Children’s Zoo on the project. Food scraps will be obtained from Culler Middle School initially. Other middle schools could be added in the future.

Brittney Albin, interim recycling coordinator at LPS, said the vermiculture project is a great learning opportunity for students and will complement the district’s existing recycling program. “Composting gives them more hands-on experience. They can see how their waste is going to be turned into a useful product rather than going into a landfill,” Albin said.

Culler Middle School, 5201 Vine St., averages about 11,600 pounds of refuse per month, Albin said, but she doesn’t know how much of that waste comes from the cafeteria specifically.

“However, food waste does make up a large portion of the school waste, so we would expect the vermicomposting program to make a big dent in that number,” Albin said.

Picard is still working out some of the logistics of the project — like transportation and permits — but he hopes to create a “model” from the Culler experience that can be duplicated in other cities.

The greenhouse will include a 40-foot-long by 5-foot-wide bin, capable of housing about 1 million worms. Picard believes the facility could process between 250 and 375 pounds of food waste per day. He plans to start with about 100,000 worms, which under the right conditions, will reproduce rapidly.

Picard plans to follow the example set by Prairieland Dairy in southern Lancaster County and have students at Culler separate food scraps from paper products. The dairy is using food waste from three public schools in Lincoln, and combining it with cow manure to make compost suitable for farming and gardening.

Initially, the Nebraska Farmers Union plans to give the compost to area farmers, schools and community gardens. Picard said the goal is to have enough of the vermicompost to begin fall field trials. Eventually, the organization would like to sell the product, and possibly red wigglers, too.

Monsanto’s Shareholders Meeting

Full Account of Monsanto Shareholder Meeting Jan 30, 2015

[Editor’s note] Zen Honeycutt, Founder of Moms Across America and an unstoppable mom, spoke to Monsanto’s Shareholders at their headquarters in St. Louis on January 30.


The sounds of the boisterous rally crowd faded behind me in the distance as I walked toward building A of Monsanto Headquarters in St. Louis Missouri for the shareholder meeting.  The security stationed on the perimeter of the property, without a word between us, relayed my pending arrival to the headquarters, “Ms. Honeycutt approaching building A”.  The staff inside also knew me by name and greeted me cordially. After a thorough security check and receiving my “Shareowner” sticker, I was escorted to a conference room where Lisa from SumofUs was also sitting. Why I was being sequestered in a room instead of being brought to the conference room?   As if reading my mind, the security person explained that the conference room wasn’t ready yet. Still I thought it odd that I was not able to be in a hallway or near other shareholders.

Several minutes later, a woman walked in and said “I am Zen’s host”, looking right at me. I soon learned that “handler” would have been a better term for her. The staff were prepared. Around 12:50, we were joined by a few other shareholders, (apparently the room really was not ready).  There was another “host” for Lisa who made sure to steer the conversation cheerily to where people are from.

My host was a Mom of a 14 and 10 year old boys, a 19 year employee and a “Monsanto brat”. Her father worked at Monsanto for 35 years.  At 1:00 we were escorted to the conference room and along the way she made a concerted effort to engage in conversation. As we passed the cafeteria however, I stopped the chit chat about our son’s sports and asked her if the cafeteria serves organic food. She seemed to expect the question and immediately answered, “Only if no other source is available. For instance sometimes the only mixed greens or spinach available is organic. Otherwise it is all conventional, and when Sweet Corn is in season we have GMO Sweet Corn and it is fabulous.” As much as I wanted to, I did not comment.

We had entered the shareholder meeting room. It was a huge room with a small stage at front, columns along the edges, media along the sides and refreshments in the back. Approximately 800 people were in the room and when it came time to start, every seat was filled.  I was brought to the middle of the room where there was a wide aisle. I chose to sit directly in line with Hugh Grant’s chair on the stage and behind the microphone. I was assuming she would leave me there with Lisa but no, she sat down beside me, and as she did so, my hopes of leaving my phone on and turning on the recording or video disappeared. We had received a notice as we drove in explaining exactly what would be allowed and not allowed in the room and that recording, including with our cell phones, was forbidden. I was reminded again before the meeting and again as the meeting started. So as much as I wanted to share this experience with our supporters, I chose not to invite a lawsuit or further trouble. Later, with great disappointment, I turned my phone off when requested and I could sense my handler relax beside me.

As we waited, Dan a pediatrician, introduced himself to me. He shared he has left comments on my Facebook page and we had a lively exchange about how glyphosate being a chelator is not of concern to him. He even insisted that glyphosate does not harm us because we don’t have a shikimate pathway. I replied, “but our gut bacteria does, and without our gut bacteria we don’t have an immune system” He said something about having plenty of gut bacteria… and then said we had to agree to disagree. Another gentleman, who ended up being the only other person on stage with Hugh Grant, introduced himself. I noticed that these men were curious and seemed to be looking for some sort of fear from me. I would not comply. I was clear and glad to be there.

Before the meeting began my host let me know that Hugh Grant would likely come introduce himself to me. He did.  I stood and automatically reached my hand out to shake the hand of the CEO of the “Most Evil Company in the World” and said “Nice to meet you, ” with a small smile.  The look in my eye however said something completely different. My eyes said, “I am not afraid of you. I am here to do business and you will listen to me. Bring it on.”

I felt a shift of energy in the room and I sensed many of the eyes in the room were watching us. They knew who I was and they were wondering what we were saying This is how it feels, I thought, when two generals meet in the center of field and talk before battle.

He was slightly taller than I, staunch stature, not very good skin (a clear sign of compromised health) and of calm but commanding presence. He said, “Thank you for coming, we are glad you are here.” The look in his eye was very distant and cool, almost nonexistent, but I read his gaze as, “I am putting up with you.”

I said  “I am glad to be here, and I am thankful for the opportunity, especially to John Harrington. “ He said “You know after all these years I have never met Mr. Harrington.”

“Interesting.”  I thought…. enough of the small talk. I will not be charmed by your heavy Scottish accent.

I said, “You know Mr. Grant, I look forward to the future where Monsanto moves in a new direction, one that does not involve toxic chemicals and hurting our children.”  He said something like “Well, we will take strides to move forward and it will always be based on science. And I think we have done a good job in engaging in conversation. ”

Ha! I thought, you mean your TV commercials about having a conversation that invaded my living room and made me want to punch the TV?

I looked him straight in the eye and said firmly, “We have science to show that Monsanto’s products are hurting our children, sound science. If you are wrong, think about the consequences, they are huge.”

He said “And if you are wrong you are scaring an awful lot of people.”

I responded “And the consequences for them are that they are eating organic, like food used to be. There was nothing wrong with how food used to be.”

Then I lowered my voice just a bit and looked deeper into his eyes. “You know it takes a big man to make such a big and powerful company but it takes and even bigger man to acknowledge when it is not working and change direction. “

He looked taken aback for the tiniest moment.  I said, “I implore you, mothers implore you to change direction.” He shifted his eyes away from me. “We appreciate you being here” and he nodded at his assistant who was beckoning him away.

Many will call me naïve for thinking that speaking with him will change anything. Many might be outright angered. But I was raised by a mother who chooses to see the good in everything. Now I am not saying there is good in Hugh Grant, but there is a desire to appear good. He is extremely brilliant and strategic and he knows it does not look good to appear to not care about doing good. So if one can speak to him on the level of finding a way to appear to be doing good, he will be interested. In fact people can be compelled to do good simply because it looks bad to not do good and they never have to actually be interested in doing good. So, if you follow me, please know that I intended to appeal to the concept of goodness being done. I do not expect Hugh Grant to be good. I do expect him to do what is right for the sake of the future of his company and their profits. I planned to share with the shareholders a myriad of ways in which Monsanto’s products were hurting children and people and therefore were not a method of business which should continue.  The goodness in the shareholders will pressure Monsanto to change ways. I am sure of this in my bones.

 The meeting started at 1:30 with the expected video about how great Monsanto is. “Working with farmers to provide sustainable agriculture, helping to nourish an ever growing world…” it took everything I had not to stand up and yell “YOU LIE!”

As I listened to Hugh Grant introduce several farmers from the Midwest that they had flown in for a visit, I wished I could talk to each and everyone of them personally and share what I know. Then I realized I would be able to. This was an opportunity to speak directly to some of the largest farmers in the country, not just shareholders, and my excitement increased ten fold.  I could not believe I had actually made it in the room and was going to speak. I was so grateful to John Harrington!

Before I spoke there was other business to attend to. They re elected the same board of directors, they discussed electing Deloitte and Touche as their accounting firm and someone talked about how great Monsanto was doing, then it was time to address the referendums.  Lisa from SumOfUs got up and asked a question about conflict of interest. Hugh Grant is on the board of PG&E and members of PG&E are on the committee that helps to decide his salary. Surely this is a conflict of interest? He replied that the salaries are recommended by a  third party of professionals and so no there was no conflict. Next, a ninety something year old woman with stark white hair and a red suit spoke on behalf of a referendum to disclose Monsanto’s lobbying efforts. I admired her commitment. There were no comments after she spoke and Hugh Grant advised the shareholders to vote no because “we are leaders of transparency in the field.” I imagined a chorus of laughter from our supporters. He told them which page to turn to vote and they did.

I was next. Hugh Grant introduced me. This is it, I thought. I went to the microphone took a breath and began:

“My name is Zen Honeycutt and I am representing John Harrington of Harrington Investments.  We are asking for shareholder support for Item No. 5, Shareowner Proxy Access—an essential mechanism for accountability supported by institutional investors and the SEC.

 As the founder of Moms Across America, I speak on behalf of millions of mothers.

 1 out of 2 children in America today have a chronic illness such as asthma, allergies, autism, autoimmune disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes. All of these conditions and more can be directly linked to GMOs and Glyphosate–to Monsanto’s products.

I am here to say on behalf of struggling parents, STOP POISONING our children!  Glyphosate—a patented antibiotic—has been detected in the air, water, food, our children’s urine, our breast milk, Fruit Loops and in nutrients fed to children with cancer, at levels THOUSANDS of times higher than what has been shown to destroy GUT BACTERIA—where 70% of the immune system lies.

Shareholder’s must know that: Without proper gut bacteria our bodies cannot make Tryptophan, Melatonin or Serotonin. Serotonin regulates insulin—and therefore diabetes, which is on course to bankrupt US Healthcare in 13 years.

Without serotonin and melatonin, our bodies cannot prevent insomnia, depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. 57.7 million American have mental illness today.

When the gut bacteria is destroyed, food particles and pathogens escape through the intestines, causing allergies and autoimmune diseases.  Allergy ER visits have increased 265% since GMOs.

Glyphosate is a:

DNA mutagen and cell disintegrator allowing toxins into the brain,

A chelator, causing mineral deficiency and the inability to fight cancer,

An endocrine disruptor, causing infertility, sterility, miscarriages and birth defects.

I am submitting hundreds of testimonials from mothers describing what Monsanto products are doing to their children and showing our children get better when they get off GMOs and glyphosate.

I submit studies and papers today showing how glyphosate impacts the gut brain connection, leading to Parkinson’s, Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Alzheimer’s, Celiac’s and Autism and more.  Based on our current diagnosis, we can expect that in 20 years, 50% of our children born will get autism.

I understand no one wants to believe this is true, but has anyone on this Board seen and read the newest studies and reports?

What if the very investments shareholders are making to BUILD a foundation of security for our children and grandchildren are the same investments which are DESTROYING their future? What if instead of creating health and prosperity, you are causing ECONOMIC RUIN?

What if instead trying to help feed millions of people with GMOs, you are in fact hurting GENERATIONS TO COME?

Mothers say, STOP IT. STOP IT NOW.

 You can make a difference that will alter the future of YOUR family and OUR Country. Access and vote a pediatrician onto this board.  Have the courage to create a new future for Monsanto and America. Thank you.”

As I turned to sit I looked around. I felt all eyes on me. I felt my face looked serious and maybe slightly angry, slightly emotional.  I was aware that other presenters might be able to look cool and detached. I was not. I was in it full throttle. I am passionate. I will allow my concern and commitment to show. I think it is one of my greatest strengths. I love my kids and I want all kids to be able to be well. My emotion fuels me.

Hugh Grant said exactly what I thought he would say, that the issues I raised were not actually pertaining to the Shareholder Access Proxy and that the shareholders would be advised to turn to the proxy description and vote according to the topic of the referendum. He said that he would address my concerns later in the Q&A. He advised the shareholders to vote no, because basically things are fine as they are, everyone voted and we moved on. I did not expect it to pass. Tracy from Harrington Investment had shared that it had support and it had a chance of passing, but I have to admit I didn’t expect that it would pass at all. My body was buzzing with energy as I wondered what I would ask next. I knew this was my one chance to cover some topics that I had not covered in the previous three minutes.

Lisa from SumOfUs got up and made her presentation about separating the position of CEO and Chairman of the Board as two separate people, not one, not Hugh Grant as both.  It was of course totally rational and clearly should be adopted. Hugh Grant advised the shareholders not pass the referendum, because basically things are fine as they are. The shareholders voted.

Next an employee shared about how great Monsanto is doing. He and Hugh Grant repeatedly mentioned their commitment to feed people and I knew that I needed to address that in the form of a question.

I had not prepared questions because my husband said I had a habit of over preparing. “Be in the moment” he said. “Your preparation for that part should be to not prepare. Listen to what is being said and ask questions based on what needs to be put in.”

Before Q&A however it was time to hear the results of the vote.

Hugh Grant read the results of the referendums…the accounting referendum passed with 97% yes, the lobbying one only had 24% yes and did not pass. Then… the Shareholder Access Proxy got a 53% yes and therefore passed. I felt an actual pat on my back and I turned and saw smiling faces. The shareholders had passed it! And they were smiling at me. Amazing! Astounding. I felt myself choke up and tears welled up in my eyes. I put my face in my hands and took a deep breath. I was overwhelmed with emotion.  I did not hear the results of the Chairman/CEO referendum, but it did not pass. I looked at Lisa and she said “Great Job.” I knew the credit primarily belonged to  the investment group, John Harrington and especially Tracy Geraghty’s work.  She made sure it was approved by the SEC and investment institutions  To be a small part of the process, to be able to feel like I made a difference, was pure joy in the face of great adversity.

Then it was Q&A time. I rose to my feet as soon as he invited people to come to the microphone. I was nervous. I didn’t know exactly what I would say and I didn’t have a plan for the whole three minutes, but I had to bring up the “feeding the world” issue.

So I asked, from what I can remember, “You have said many times that you are committed to feeding the world. It is a noble cause, I understand that. But there are wonderful farmers like Will Allen in Wisconsin who grows 1 million pounds of food on three acres every year, through Aquaponics, ( fish and veggies) both a protein and vegetables. Without toxic chemicals and without hurting the soil. If Monsanto is truly committed to feeding the world, why aren’t you supporting programs like this?

He responded, basically that Monsanto is implementing all kinds of methods and that they are continually innovating etc. He said that they are also not the only agriculture company, that there are many other systems and we need all of them. He mentioned the soil and their newest research is in microbes in the soil and their benefits. I was aware that they bought a company in 2013 called Novozymes, which focus on soil microbes. This was bad, and I felt it in my gut. Here is a corporation that had damaged the soil with their toxic chemicals and they were now going to try to profit from repairing it. I had heard this was true and wanted to hear it from him.  So I asked him “Are you planning on patenting microbes in the soil?”

Without actually saying yes, he basically described that yes, they were researching the soil microbes and how they can alter them to enhance the performance of the soil to benefit the farmers. My head was spinning. I remember him saying something about how many companies have patented the bacteria for instance, in yogurt, that it was quite common and widely accepted. I was so mad I didn’t have an immediate question or comment and he rambled on about my previous comments during the proxy statement about children. He declared that Roundup has been used for 40 years and there is not one linked to harm. I interrupted and said “That’s what they said about DDT and PCB’s” He looked at me firmly, obviously annoyed. I had broken the rule stated on the agenda not to interrupt. He continued without commenting on my comment. He talked about Germany and how they have continually conducted reviews and reapproved glyphosate for 40 years. He claimed over and over again that Roundup was safe.

I said, “Actually the EPA does not have one single safety study showing the safety of Roundup. Not one. It only has 40 year old studies of glyphosate, not of ALL of the chemical ingredients showing harm.”

He interjected that I had jumped topics and that we were addressing the children and that other people needed to ask questions. I could come back and ask another question after we gave them a turn. I was frustrated, there was so much more I could say about the Seralini study that did test for Roundup and showed sex hormone changes, liver and kidney damage at 0.1ppb of Roundup, the fact that all the studies were done by Monsanto, there were no studies funded by  independent  sources…I silently (and I hope not too obviously) fumed as I sat down. I want to remain in the room and not get hauled off by security, so I contained myself.

The next person at the podium was so obviously a plant I wanted to laugh out loud. He rambled on and on about how Monsanto has saved him money and time and all the benefits has helped his family tremendously. He sounded flat, like a robot. It didn’t sound authentic at all. He got a huge round of applause though, and the next person did basically the same thing.  A Jesuit from South America complemented Monsanto for the benefits they brought but also stated that the spraying of Roundup has had a huge detrimental impact to their farmers. Could they “please stop the aerial spraying over the farms? And thank you for the good work.“  There were so many thoughts buzzing around in my head, I do not remember if Hugh Grant responded to him or not.

Lisa from Sum of us got up and addressed the Shareholder Access Proxy that had passed. She pointed out that it was an advisory, not a compulsory proxy and asked if Monsanto planned on actually implementing it. Hugh Grant looked extra thoughtful for a moment and then the baloney rolled off his tongue.  He rambled on about how they are always engaged in discussion and increasing the dialogue between shareholders and the board. He said that of course he expected to see Lisa back next year and by then he expected that there would be some modifications. This was brilliant that she asked that question because he was suddenly being held accountable for whether or not he was going to acknowledge the majority vote of the shareholders.

I was in line again. Then it was my turn. I chose to focus on the studies this time. I said, “I want to address the studies you mentioned early showing safety, but first I want to share with you why I personally am here. I have three sons, 12, 9 and 6 and they all have food allergies and my husband and I never did. Two have life threatening nut allergies and one son we almost lost twice, I held his hand in the hospital and prayed to God for his life. But when we went organic his allergies went from a 19 down to a .2.  He no longer has life threatening allergies.”

I addressed the shareholders and looked into their eyes.

“And my other son at 8 years old, had  a rash around his mouth, a sudden onset of autism symptoms, his grades dropped from A’s to D’s, he was hitting and had erratic behavior.  I got him tested and he had c.diff, fungus, clostridia, leaky gut, 19 different food intolerances and gut dysbiosis. These are all things cows have when they are exposed to glyphosate. I got him tested for glyphosate and he had 8.7 ppb in his urine, 8 x higher than was found in anyone in Europe. So we went all organic to avoid glyphosate and within 6 weeks, we tested him again and his levels of glyphosate were undetectable. His autism symptoms were also gone and he has not had a single autism symptom since. And I am not the only one, we have hundreds of testimonials. We see our kids get better from autism, allergies, asthma, autoimmune disorders.” Then I turned back to Hugh Grant.

“I want to address the EPA studies now. You mentioned there are studies going back for 40 years. Well, I have seen those studies and they don’t all show safety. For instance, one study on oysters, showed that after 4 days the oysters were closed and not feeding. Well, what happened on the fifth day? And closed and not feeding…isn’t that akin to a coma? How is that supposed to prove safety?”


I turn back to look at the shareholders. I am making eye contact and addressing them personally. I want them to get my authenticity. I want them to get that I am not just an angry mother. I am an informed citizen.

“Another study showed that white shrimp died after 4 days at levels that were below what is allowed on our food. A study out this past week showed that glyphosate does not biodegrade as the company once claimed. In fact, it remains viable in dark salt water for 351 days. What is in our womb? Dark salty water. How big is a six week old fetus? The size of a shrimp.” I paused.


I saw the gears turning in their heads, I saw faces change with the realization that I might be saying something relevant. I shared how the pig study in Denmark by Ib Pedersen with 3000 pigs clearly showed how when pigs were fed glyphosate sprayed grains their miscarriages increased to 30%, when they did not eat glyphosate, miscarriages went down to 3%, then back up to 30% with glyphosate sprayed grains…at levels BELOW what we eat on our food. I said that we currently have the highest rate of infertility and sterility in recorded history, 30%.


I turned to Hugh Grant and said “You cannot ignore this. With the widespread contamination of our water, urine, breast milk, Fruit Loops and feeding tube liquid, you must be responsible for ways to cut back exposure to our children. Roundup use increased in 2013 by 73%. Why? Because it’s not working. Farmers are using more to kill the same weeds! Some farmers get it though, one for instance, Amish Farmer John Kempf, said that at his farmers conference of 150 farmers, two years ago when asked if they use Roundup, every single one raised their hands. This year only eight did. They understand that Roundup is not working for their soil. It’s destroys the microbes. Can you not see the correlation between destroying the microbes in the soil and the good bacteria in the gut? Without healthy soil we don’t have healthy plants or gut bacteria or healthy people. In addition, the use of Roundup has increased because of the encouragement to spray Roundup as a drying agent at harvest!”

It was flowing out of my mouth almost without thought. I have spoken so many times about this topic that it was automatic. I was passionately making my case. I felt unstoppable.

“Wheat, peas, dry beans/legumes, sugar and more crops are reportedly being sprayed with glyphosate upon harvest to speed up harvest. So it’s not being sprayed just on GMOs. Unless you are eating organic you are likely exposing yourself and your children to levels of glyphosate far above what has been shown to destroy gut bacteria. So considering the widespread contamination, would you at least advise farmers to stop spraying Roundup as a drying agent?”

To my best recollection he said something about how Roundup has the function of being useful in wet areas where fungus or pathogens grow in the crops when they are damp. But then I heard him say that Roundup is recommended to be used as a weed killer on crops before harvest.

Interesting. “So Roundup is NOT recommended as a drying agent to be sprayed before harvest?”

“As legal would say, the question has been answered. Roundup is recommended be used as a weed killer on crops before harvest.”

I wanted him to say it. “So Roundup is NOT recommended as a drying agent?” I asked again.

He replied that this was the third time we had addressed this and that it was time to move on to the next person who had a question. He said I could of course come back in line after others had a turn. I sat down and two more people got in line.

Apparently a nun got up and spoke about the reduction of water and thanks Monsanto. I don’t remember. I do remember when a pediatrician who is an employee of Monsanto, Dan, the pediatrician who introduced himself to me, got up to speak. He declared all his credentials and how he reviews the studies and knows full well how glyphosate works. He sees not one shred of evidence that glyphosate is harmful. He was emphatic and somewhat angry and I couldn’t help but think, completely brainwashed and or extremely well paid. It is impossible to read the studies I have read and not see harm from glyphosate! Birth defects, miscarriages, tumors, sex hormone changes, allergies, etc… I could go on and on. I was incredulous that this doctor was saying what he was saying, really stupendous.  I was compelled and I stood up and got back in line. This time some people chuckled in the crowd. There she goes again they probably thought…and it would not be the first time. I have been told “There goes Zen again about the parades…you’re too pushy…” and it is that very same quality in me that had me stand again.. I could not let the moms struggling with health issues down. I could not let this doctor alter the minds of the shareholders and reassure them to continue to support this toxic farming. I could not let this opportunity go without giving it everything I had.

“Of course, I would not expect a pediatrician who works for Monsanto to say that Monsanto’s products are harmful,” I said when I was once again in front of the microphone. Several people laughed. I could tell they appreciated my willingness to say what needed to be said.  “The fact is, however, that even the American Academy of Pediatrics has stated that pesticide exposure is harmful to children and that children should avoid pesticides.”

I don’t remember what else I said that that turn at the microphone. I do remember that a farmer got up between one of my turns and he was practically shaking and crying. He was very upset. He said “I cannot sit here and be attacked while Ms. Honeycutt says that wheat is being sprayed with Roundup as a drying agent. I am the Director of the Wheat Growers association in Texas and I assure you that wheat is NOT being sprayed with Roundup as a drying agent. And as far as labor goes…I cannot find labor. If you want to come work on my farm I will give you my card and you can come work on my farm.” He got a round of laughter and some applause. He continued to talk about how many people cannot afford organic, and how they need food on the table. He handed me his card and I was glad to take it. I was especially glad that he was upset that someone would suggest that Roundup is being sprayed as a drying agent…he must see that as an undesirable practice …I wonder why?

Another farmer got up and after discussing how useful Roundup has been how he feeds 6000 families with his corn crops,…and then said “but the thing is, if not Roundup what then?” My heart leapt with joy! They were wondering what else they could use! They were starting the inquiry! My mission had been accomplished.

Another pediatrician employee of Monsanto got up, a mother, and claimed that all of the studies she saw showed safety. She was very stern and very clear and decided right then and there that she was the one who needed to get my binder. I got my host’s attention silently and pointed to my binder and to the doctor and my host nodded in consent.

Another woman emphatically declared that “ I want people to know there are good people here in this company and with your leadership Hugh Grant we have been able to provide for our families. There are GOOD people here.” It was interesting that now the people getting up to speak at the microphone were almost all essentially speaking to me.

I got up again. “No one is saying that there aren’t good people here.” I replied. “And there are people who love people who are sick in this room too. I bet if I asked you all to raise your hands if you know someone who has autism, allergies asthma, autoimmune disease and cancer, every single person’s hand would go up. These are people you love. I am imploring Monsanto to go in a new direction. You have the resources. I am asking you, the shareholders, to challenge the Board to go in a new direction. Why not? We need waste management and for the oceans to be cleaned up. We need solar and wind power, areas that do not contaminate our children and pollute the planet. I ask you to try going organic and see for yourselves how you feel. Go all organic for three weeks at least, add raw organic sauerkraut every day to your diet to restore your gut bacteria. See how you feel…”

I turned to the front,  “You too Mr, Grant, I invite you to try it. You know, all food used to be organic. We have faith in our farmers to farm as has been done for thousands of years to farm without toxic chemicals. Farmers are ingenious. We are asking you farmers to use your ingenuity. I want to thank everyone for your time and just ask you to please try it, go organic and see how you feel and take Monsanto in a new direction.

I knew it was time for me to sit down. It was after 3:00 pm. I had stated my case. Although I could have talked for hours it was time. Hugh Grant thanks everyone very graciously as he should, for attending, especially emphatically thanking the people who got up to ask Questions, all of us. He said we have had a very lively afternoon and that it was the first time ever that employees got up to speak.

We watched not one, but two commercials for Monsanto at the end. I shook my head with disgust when I saw the second commercial. They actually said “Food is Love” stealing the line from the Prop 37 ad which connected food to our families and nurturing them.

Before leaving the meeting room, my host asked me if I wanted to  give the binder of studies to the pediatrician mom. I said yes. Before we got to her, a serious looking, heavy set woman with black hair stepped in between my host and the pediatrician, obviously trying to circumvent communication. My host explained that we were giving her the studies and the woman in black hair pointed out that she probably would not be able to hold it, so my host should probably hang on to it. I sensed the woman with black hair intensely wanted me out of the room. I stayed, looked the doctor in the eye and asked her to please study the report from Cordoba and birth defects. She said that she specialized in teratogenic effects and so this would be of great interest to her. The way she said it was like a display. It was acting.  My host steered me out of the room and on my way out several people caught my eye and smiled. I was acutely aware of being herded. I told my host I needed to use the restroom. In the restroom a woman immediately stopped me and said quietly, “Thank you for your courage. There are many, many, of us that are with you. Thank you so much for doing what you are doing.” I couldn’t help it. I started crying from joy. The intensity of the day overflowed. It felt so good to hear someone say that, for her to look me in the eye and to know it makes a difference. I thank her repeatedly and hugged her and she left.

Before I left I requested the card of my host so I could follow up and she instructed a security guard in not so many words to keep an eye on me. I realized they didn’t want me running off into their offices and seeing evidence of God knows what. I actually considered it for a moment when the security guard turned away, but decided not to get arrested today. I wanted to go tell the supporters what happened. I felt like I was going to burst. I asked my host before I left, would the shareholders be able to see these studies? “I don’t know what will happen to these studies.” she answered honestly….neither did I. For all we know they are sitting on shelf gathering dust or in an incinerator. I worked for days assembling that binder, testimonials and images. A mom supporter Nanette worked for a week gathering the studies, and the scientists have worked for life times on the work in the binder. Lives have been lost while those studies were being researched. Children have died from cancer in Cordoba and here in the US. mother have lost babies.  People exposing the truth have been beaten, threatened and they have lost their jobs. I have lost a life growing inside me and I have feared for the life of my eldest son from a nut allergy. I have faced my greatest loss and worst fear. Nothing will deter me. I had done my job of speaking up for the moms, who cannot be fired, and who will not stop, who will not give up, because the love for our children will never end.

Excerpt from the book  “Unstoppable Love” by Zen Honeycutt to be released in 2015

Scientific studies can be found at www.momsacrossamerica.com/data

All scientific studies are noted on this press release:


 Wall Street Journal coverage


 Zen and Alexis discuss the outcome minutes after the meeting.


A Tribute to a Beautiful NFC Producer – Barb David

Barb David, Oak Ridge Hydroponic Farms producer, passed away on Valentine’s Day, 2015.

Barb gives a demo.

A loving and giving soul, Barb touched many, many lives over the years. So it was fitting that she shared her last day with her family and friends on such a heartfelt day.

Barb joined NFC the summer of 2014, only one year after she started her hydroponic greenhouse. Her son, Ryan – as well as a few community members and students from Ord – work the fast-growing business alongside Barb.

Often dedicating hours upon hours of her time sharing her start-up perspective, Barb was welcomed as a speaker to many different groups that desired to incorporate healthier choices into their meals.

BibbLettuce1Frequently donating to various organizations, most recently, Barb donated two cases of lettuce to the NSAS Healthy Farms 2015 Conference.

As a producer of beautiful Bibb lettuce, Barb will be remembered for offering healthy, nutritious salad greens to schools, restaurants, hospitals, and homes across Nebraska.

We will miss your beautiful spirit, Barb.

Please keep Barb, her family, and friends in your heart and prayers.

Visitation: Tuesday, February 17,2015, 5-7 pm
Celebration of Life: Wed, February 18, 2015, 11:00 First United Methodist Church, Ord

Oak Ridge Hydroponics:

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NFC is Growing!

Happy 2015!

The Nebraska Food Cooperative is stepping up to meet Nebraska’s ‘local food’ demand. From retail customers to wholesale accounts from Omaha to Ogallala, NFC is meeting the year-round challenge of providing statewide access to healthy, wholesome Nebraska ‘local’ products.

We want to start 2015 off with a big bang!  For each new retail or wholesale customer you refer to and who purchases from NFC by the end of January (two cycles), you will receive 5% off your first February cycle purchases (February 4-8 order cycle) for each referral, up to four new members. Just ask the new member to complete the Membership Application and reference your name in the ‘referral’ box at the bottom of the form. (You must be a current NFC member, as of 1/1/15, to receive the discount.)

Receive 5% off your first March cycle purchases for one new producer referral (producer must be actively selling on NFC by the end of February).

Be part of the healthy local food movement by spreading the word!


Junk Food Kills More Than Wars, Famine, Genocide

by Jan Wellman
Published on Honey Colony, August 31, 2014

According to a new study from the School of Medical Sciences at Australia’s University of New South Wales, junk food can alter behavior by causing lasting changes in the brain’s reward circuiting, an alteration that triggers obesity.

Although the UNSW study was conducted on rats, the conclusions are likely applicable to humans because all mammals share similarities in the orbitofrontal cortex, which is involved in sensing and evaluating the pleasurable aspects of food. (Notice that we also see more overweight pets these days, too.)

Over time, animals (including humans) have evolved a simple mechanism that protects us from overeating: As we eat a particular food, the pleasure we get from eating it and the desire to eat more diminishes relative to other, uneaten foods. This phenomenon, called “sensory-specific satiety” reinforces the natural inclination to seek out a variety of foods, which promotes a healthy, balanced diet.

With junk food, this “shut-off valve” doesn’t work.

Nutrient-poor junk food, termed the “Cafeteria Diet” in this study, contains fatty acids that are not only associated with mitochondrial dysfunction, weight gain, and tissue inflammation, but also increased activity in the areas of the brain that process motivational control and reward behavior.

In the study, one group of rats were fed standard chow; the other, a diet of cookies, cakes, biscuits, and other junk food, for two weeks. They were then subjected to “Pavlovian conditioning tests” — in this case, a sound cue that informed the rats of the next serving.

Rats on a healthy diet that had already eaten ignored the sound cue, while the rats on junk food continued to the next serving even after being satiated. The junk-food rats lost the natural preference for novelty, an effect that lasted even after the rats returned to a normal diet.

In other words, eating junk food programs your brain to eat more junk.

“As the global obesity epidemic intensifies, advertisements may have a greater effect on people who are overweight and make snacks like chocolate bars harder to resist,” said Dr. Amy Reichelt, lead author of the UNSW study.

“It’s like you’ve just had ice cream for lunch, yet you still go and eat more when you hear the ice cream van come by,” said professor Margaret Morris, another UNSW team member.

The rats on a junk food diet had lost their natural preference for healthy foods, the team added.

Junk Food Mortality by the Numbers

The problem with junk food isn’t just that consuming it begets unnatural overeating; it’s also packed with unhealthful fats, toxic chemicals, hormones, mystery pharmaceuticals, fillers, and gross “natural flavors” like beaver-butt juice. Considering that eating all this garbage is practically like swilling Drano, junk food might be the most efficient depopulation strategy ever devised.

Obesity rates have doubled since 1980. In 2008, 500 million people were clinically obese, with body-mass indices greater than 30, while 1.4 billion were clinically overweight, with BMIs greater than 25. The United States is the epicenter of this crisis, as currently, two out of every three Americans are clinically overweight or obese.

According to the Historical Atlas of the 20th Century, 203 million people died last century from war and oppression; this figure includes everyone who died as both military and collateral civilian casualties from conflicts, genocide, politicide (i.e., the extermination of people who share a political belief), mass murders, and famines. That’s an average of 2 million deaths per annum.

Now consider that the World Health Organization estimates that at least 2.8 million people currently die annually from conditions strongly linked to overweight and obesity, such as coronary heart disease, ischemia (brain stroke), and diabetes.

In other words, fat kills 40 percent more people than wars, famine, dictators, murderers, and politicians put together. So, in effect, even Hitler wasn’t as efficient at committing crimes against humanity as the ole Colonel of KFC fame. The difference is, that jovial southerner in the Kentucky bow tie and his engineered-to-please chicken trick you into asking – and paying – for your own demise.

Or if you still think there’s nothing wrong with the “Cafeteria Diet,” listen to Jim Morrison, who believed that “fat is beautiful.” Jim died at the young age of 27.


Growing Food, Growing Community

Growing Food, Growing Community: the Example of the Hawley Hamlet talk was given by Tim Rinne at a local TEDx event, produced independently of the TED Conferences. Since 2010, Tim and his wife have gone from a measly little tomato patch to six tenths of an acre (the equivalent of roughly 65 yards of a football field). They have planted over 50 fruit and nut trees and two dozen berry beds, set up two chicken coops and two beehives, and now have 20 neighbors actively participating in what they call their hamlet.

They are growing food in the “Hawley Hamlet.” But equally important, they’re growing community. And that’s a good thing. Because given the risks climate change and extreme weather are posing to our environment, we’re going to need all the food and community the city can produce.

Tim is a native son of Nebraska, born in Beatrice, raised in Gering in the Panhandle and for the past 37 years, he has lived in Lincoln. An English Major and UNL alum, Tim has spent most of his adult life involved in Nebraska politics, doing everything from serving as a VISTA volunteer to running local campaigns to his present post as State Coordinator for Nebraskans for Peace (a position he has held for over 20 years).

TEDx Lincoln, December 1, 2014, and published on YouTube.

Inside Back Alley Bakery

Long-time NFC producers, John and Charlotte Hamburger of Hastings, Nebraska, are featured in this NSAS video as candidates for NSAS’s 2015 Producer’s Choice Chef Awards.

Congratulations, John, Charlotte, and the rest of the Back Alley Bakery staff!

(Click on picture to play video.)

NFC’s Annual Banquet/Membership Meeting

Fontenelle Forest Nature Center


The interdependence of man with nature is what allows NFC to bring bountiful harvests to its membership. So this year, NFC is bringing to its members ‘connections’: between local foodies, between local ingredients and our plate, between nature and producers, between Nebraska and the wider world, and between NFC successes and its volunteers.

Banquet Registration Form (Registration Deadline: August 31)

What better way to share stories and connect with fellow members than over a fine, locally sourced meal? And beforehand, if you take in an exploratory walk on the Fontenelle Forest trails (hiking fee waived), you’ll be sharing even more ‘finds’!

Local food, you say? Absolutely!  Opening its doors on Valentine’s Day 2014, Lawrence (a French chef) and Renee (a Nebraska native) brought casual French cuisine to Lincoln.  The Normandy uses only the freshest, local ingredients in their superb dishes – fresh from the farmers’ market and Nebraska producers. You are definitely in for a treat with this master chef’s creations!

Tim Rinne, our keynote speaker, will connect the dots between how our steadily warming climate, with its extreme weather and a higher incidence of disease and pests, is making it increasingly difficult for growers to bring in a harvest.

Since NFC opened its doors in 2006, volunteers have continued to serve as the backbone to the success of Nebraska’s year-round, on-line farmers’ market.  One special volunteer will receive ‘The Golden Plate’ award.  Granted, a very hard decision to choose just one recipient for NFC’s top award, all volunteers will be recognized for their valued (and tireless) contributions.

To wrap up the evening, NFC will hold its annual membership meeting.  Any NFC member may attend the meeting, but only voting members may vote on resolutions. (Voting members may elect to only attend the meeting….see the Banquet Registration Form, please.)

Sunday, September 14
Fontenelle Forest Nature Center, Bellevue

Banquet Schedule
4:30      Cash Bar (serving wine and local beer)
5:00      Dinner (catered by The Normandy)
6:00      Keynote Speech (featuring Tim Rinne)
6:45      ‘The Golden Plate Award’  &  Appreciation for NFC Volunteers
7:00      Membership Meeting

Questions?  Contact Caryl for assistance.

Board Update & Large Order Discount

From the NFC Board:

The NFC board of directors last met on May 27, 2014. Among other business, there was some great discussion about pricing and deliveries.

Members are always welcome to attend board meetings (scheduled every other month) and are encouraged to become involved as advisory board members. If you are interested in directly supporting your coop in this capacity, contact Caryl Guisinger, the general manager at gm@nebraskafood.org.


Large Order Discount: $600+:

Among other decisions from the May board meeting, orders over a $600 value will receive a 10% discount. We hope to roll out some additional savings in the future, but this is our way to start making your food bills more affordable.

Little-known fact: Although it has never been advertised, most large orders also receive personal home deliveries by Kevin, our route driver. This has been one of NFC’s best-kept secrets for several years, and now we’re letting the cat out of the bag. There could be some circumstances when a home delivery is not possible, but we haven’t discovered any yet.

NFC Forum List – Your Opinion Matters

youropinionmattersWe are seeking opinions about how NFC members would like to see their Forum List utilized.

The purpose of the Forum is to share relevant NFC news, discussions, and as a means for increasing exposure and participation. However, we also realize that many people like to minimize their e-mail volume.

Currently, all new members are automatically subscribed to the NFC Forum (ie, an Opt-Out forum: members may OPT-OUT of the list at any time).

So, we would like to hear from you for a short TWO QUESTION survey: 1) Do you prefer an: OPT-IN or OPT-OUT forum, and 2)  what topics you would like to see on your forum. Help us improve the forum by sharing your opinion on this SURVEY MONKEY poll by the end of June.

Thank you for your time, interest, and support in improving your NFC experience.

September 14: SAVE the DATE!


It’s time to start planning the Nebraska Food Cooperative’s Annual Membership Meeting and Celebration Dinner.

Mark your calendar now to join us at the beautiful Fontenelle Forest Nature Center in Bellevue late in the afternoon on Sunday, September 14.

Tim Rinne, of the Lincoln’s Hawley Hamlet and Mother Earth News fame, is our keynote speaker who will connect the food security dots. A Silent Auction is being organized as well as a fabulous local food dinner featuring our very own producers.

Watch for more information in upcoming newsletters. If you’d like to join the Organizing Committee, please contact the General Manager at: gm@nebraskafood.org by the end of June.

Prairie Plate: A Sustainable Restaurant

SoupThe first thing I noticed when I walked in the doors of Prairie Plate Restaurant, Waverly’s new farm-to-table restaurant, was the way the light inhabited the room, drawing you to the lake view that lay just beyond the windows.

Renee Cornett, head chef and owner of Prairie Plate, greets me at the door and begins to dive into the history of the land. She and her husband, Jerry Cornett, run Lakehouse Farm, a certified organic farm situated roughly fifty yards from the front door of the restaurant. After they started their farm in 2011, they began renovations on the house down by the lake for the restaurant that would eventually open its doors on April 2, 2014.

While their setup and concept for the restaurant would lead you to believe they had lived a lifetime as farmers, their background tells a more unique story.

Renee grew up in Maryland, graduating from the US Naval Academy with a major in mathematics. She served eleven years in the US Navy, the majority as a naval aviator, before retiring in 2001 and attending culinary school at Metropolitan Community College.

Jerry hails from Omaha. He earned a degree in political science from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and then joined the US Navy. Also a naval aviator, his career spanned twenty-one years, including serving as the defense attaché at the US Embassy in Albania, retiring in 2011 with the rank of commander.

When I ask them how they wound up in the farming and restaurant business, they laugh. This is not the first time someone has asked them this question.

“In some ways it doesn’t matter what you do, everybody eats,” Renee says.

She has cooked all her life—for friends, roommates, and her family, including their two children. As Jerry’s retirement approached, they were looking for the next steps. Their life in the Navy had taken them all over the world, including time spent in northern Italy. It was there that the concept of a farm-to-table restaurant formulated.

“You see concepts like this in Europe, northern Italy, even Albania,” Jerry said, “People would travel out into the country to the farm to have a meal that focused on what they grew there.”

In Italy, this concept is called agriturismo.

For the last five to six years of Jerry’s career, they would gather inspiration from restaurants around the world.

Their seasonal menu changes from week to week, depending on what is growing at that moment. Lakehouse Farm grows sixty to seventy different varieties of vegetables and fruit. The items they don’t have on their farm—primarily meat, dairy, and grains—are purchased from local farmers and suppliers. For instance, on the current week’s menu, they featured beef from Range West Beef in Marquette, pork from Erstwhile Farm in Columbus, cheese from Branched Oak Dairy in Raymond, and grains from The Grain Place in Marquette.

As she talks about the logistics of starting up a local food restaurant, Renee’s background in mathematics begins to show.

“You start doing the math. If you’re going to buy local food to start with, local products, how can you make the math work to make it so you don’t have to charge more than people want to come for? And so you start working through some of that,” she says, “I don’t have to truck it in, I know it’s fresh.”

“We want to showcase the region’s ingredients,” Jerry says

The Cornetts are also committed to running both their farm and restaurant as sustainably as possible.

“If we have choices, as much as possible, we try to pick one that’s lighter on the environment, that fits with the rest of the philosophy of what we’re doing. If we can avoid using a light fixture and use a sky light,” Renee smiles and gestures to the other room, “we did that.”

On their farm they practice sustainable farming by using drip irrigation, covered crops, contour farming, crop rotation, and a transplant system where plants begin in their greenhouse before being transplanted to the ground. Additionally, they also compost the kitchen scraps from the restaurant to mix into their soil.

So what incentive does this restaurant have that draws people up from the city?

“From the farm, through the kitchen, to your table,” Renee recites their restaurant motto, “It’s the connection to the place—food from the place—it’s closer to where it started. It’s going to taste better because of that. All the other things—it’s healthier, the economic impact, and all that—everybody is going to have their own section of that discussion that’s important to them, but the ‘tastes better’ is always important to everybody.”

Jerry took me on a tour of the farm, showed me where the food is grown, walked me around the lake as he told me more about the history of how the farm came to be. The sun was about to set, and I left with plans to return the following evening to sample the menu.

It was an even more beautiful evening when I came back. I had snagged the best table in the house, situated in a small alcove of a bay window on the southeast side of the building. This place is a birder’s paradise. Hundreds of birds swoop down, gliding a feather’s width away from the calm, pristine surface of the lake.

The restaurant’s menu is divided into courses: first course, second course, and dessert. Each course provides several options to choose from. They also offer a variety of wines and beers, as well as French press coffee from Cultiva in Lincoln.

What is most important to note about the food is the fact that no flavor is overpowering in any of the dishes. The combinations of flavors work to each other’s favor, and everything is seasoned and salted to perfection.

The Lakehouse Farm Salad is made up of whatever variety of lettuce is best on any given day. From there, Renee adds vinaigrettes and garnishes that compliment the particular type of lettuce available that day. On this particular day, it was garnished with cheese and sunflower seeds and served with slice of bread.

The asparagus and quark soup is also a specialty first course item. Quark is a soft, spreadable cheese that is most common in Germany and other areas of Europe. Branched Oak Dairy Farm provides the quark, which compliments the asparagus for a very satisfying soup. It is garnished with a slice of bread and a halved asparagus tip.

The wilted spinach and feta salad was my favorite of the ones I tried. The spinach was done perfectly—still slightly crunchy but wilted just enough to add that warm spinach flavor combined with garlic and oil. The feta, also from Branched Oak Dairy Farm, was a perfect compliment.

I tried each of the main courses that were available that evening.

First up were the chard rolls. This was the vegetarian option for the evening and was a wonderful surprise. The chard rolls are filled with brown rice and sweet potato and are served over sorrel sauce with a side of asparagus.

The house hickory smoked brisket was served with a side of grilled polenta and roasted asparagus. The meat was very tender. The smoky flavor of the meat married well with the polenta.

The pork chop with rhubarb sauce was my favorite of the three main course dishes I tried. While I don’t traditionally think of a rhubarb sauce on pork, the semisweet sauce really brought out the best of the pork. The dish came with a side of barley and sweet potato pilaf garnished with chive flowerets that provided a beautiful splash of color and a strikingly wonderful flavor.

Two desserts were offered that evening: a rhubarb tart and a hubbard spice cake.

The rhubarb tart was beautiful in appearance; it looked like it belonged in the window of a pastry store in France rather than in Waverly, Nebraska. It was the perfect balance between tart and sweet—just like rhubarb dishes should be.

The hubbard spice cake was the dessert winner for me. The day before, Renee had shown me all about blue hubbard squash. As I helped her carry them from their storage to the kitchen, she explained how they were versatile, like a pumpkin. They are a pale blue-green on the outside and bright orange on the inside. When I saw this on the menu, I jumped at the chance to try it. It didn’t disappoint—still slightly warm from the oven, it was moist and spiced to perfection.

I left, content with having tried something new. And that’s what the farm-to-table experience is all about.

Jerry says it best.

“It’s an experience. It’s not just the food and it’s not just the place. It’s the food AND the place.”

He’s right about that. Prairie Plate is the place where you can come enjoy the beautiful Nebraska scenery and eat the finest dishes with ingredients grown and raised locally. It’s the taste of Nebraska distilled into the food on your plate.

From the farm, through the kitchen, to your table.

Prairie Plate is open Wednesday through Saturday 5–9 p.m., Sunday 12–5 p.m., from April through mid-November. The menu is constantly changing throughout the season, so check their website for weekly menus. A three-course meal plus coffee will run you around $35–43 but will be worth every penny.

Originally published in the June 2014 issue of Prairie Fire. Story by Sara Sawatski.

Trading salutes for eggs: Local veteran taking part in new ag program

Prairie Pride Poultry - feeding chickens
Lincoln Journal Star / Matt Ryerson Dan Hromas tends to his chickens at Prairie Pride Poultry east of York.

YORK — Dan Hromas reached down and ruffled the rust-colored tail feathers of a chicken.

The Rhode Island Red squatted briefly, then shook and strutted away with a cluck. Hromas smiled and laughed.

“They’re a great dual purpose breed. They’re excellent egg layers, and when they’re done, I can sell them as stewing hens,” the Iraq War veteran said.

After nearly two decades protecting U.S. freedom and interests as a soldier, the former Marine and current member of the Nebraska Army National Guard has found new purpose and resolve through his flock of 600 chickens.

He is among a small but growing group of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans now feeding the nation they served as a member of the armed forces.

Hromas’ York-area farm, Prairie Pride Poultry, is the first in Nebraska and second in the United States to be certified by the new national program Homegrown by Heroes, a marketing initiative that recognizes farmer veterans.


Prairie Pride Poultry - Dan Hromas
Lincoln Journal Star / Matt Ryerson Iraq war veteran Dan Hromas tends to his chickens on land he leases just east of York. Hromas found assistance programs from Nebraska and the Farmer Veteran Coalition to help bring his dream to life.

For Hromas, the birds are both livelihood and therapy.

“Boredom is the most hazardous thing to my health,” said the chicken farmer who returned from a yearlong deployment to Iraq just in time for Christmas 2007 with persistent ringing in his ears and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Before that, Hromas was a graduate student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln studying microbiology on an Army ROTC scholarship. That came to an end when he was activated in advance of his National Guard unit on July 31, 2006, as part of President George W. Bush’s surge of American forces.

When he returned to Nebraska, Hromas got a commercial driver’s license but had difficulty sticking with a job. The one he kept for more than a year was driving a truck for the United Farmer’s Co-op in Utica.

“I can’t put up with a lot of s***,” he said.


Prairie Pride Poultry - watering chickens
Lincoln Journal Star / Matt Ryerson Dan Hromas tends to his chickens.

All soldiers leave the military different than they went in, said Don Sandman, a Vietnam veteran and Veterans’ Service Officer in York County.

“That is just the way it is,” Sandman said. “The military itself is traumatic. You’re in there for one reason and one reason alone. And that is to be prepared to kill mankind.”

Many veterans struggle with hearing problems, depression and the effects of PTSD. The Veterans Administration says 22 of them kill themselves every day.

The military instills a sense of being part of a greater good, part of something bigger than any individual.

That sense of duty and fellowship doesn’t come with punching a clock, said Chet Bennetts of the Farmer Veterans Coalition.

Farming can give veterans a sense of purpose again, he said.

The Farmer Veteran Coalition, which is based in Davis, California, has helped about 2,400 military service members, some still active, get involved in farming nationwide. In Nebraska, there are 35 veterans on the coalition’s radar.

“Being able to work hard and have something to do every day and feel good about it is way better than just punching a clock and getting by,” said Bennetts, who works from Lincoln.

Forty-six percent of U.S. military members hail from rural settings and many will return to them, said Scott Mickelsen, associate dean with the University of Nebraska’s College of Technical Agriculture.

“It can be somewhat soothing for them to work with animals, to work with plants, to work outdoors in a little less stressful situation,” he said.

The work ethic drilled into soldiers transfers well to agriculture, Mickelsen said. The college has developed a program tailored to retired military called Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots, which attracts four to seven veterans a year.


Prairie Pride Poultry - chicken house
Lincoln Journal Star / Matt Ryerson Inside a small chicken coop a Prairie Pride Poultry chicken lays an egg as a rooster is silhouetted in a window at Dan Hromas’ chicken farm east of York.

Hromas liked working for the United Farmers Co-op, but it was just a job. He started thinking about summer trips to visit his grandparents’ farm in North Dakota, looking for the eggs the chickens that ranged free laid in straw bales.

“It was like an Easter egg hunt every day.”

He missed that and wanted his four kids to have the same experience. Plus, he likes to eat eggs, and he likes the idea of being his own boss.

In October 2012, Hromas took his first step toward becoming a farmer and signed up for a Farm Beginnings Nebraska program hosted by the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society. He networked, took more classes, wrote a business plan, applied for grants and joined the York Chamber of Commerce.

On May 31, 2013, he incorporated his business and three months later got his first 300 birds. He sold his first dozen eggs to a man at the local Eagle’s Club. His first commercial account was with Chances R Restaurant in York, which buys his eggs for Sunday brunch.

Today, his hens produce 3,150 eggs a week. He sells them to Grand Central Foods in York, the Hy-Vee in Grand Island and as of last week the Williamsburg Hy-Vee in Lincoln.

Once a month, he sets up a booth at the Old Cheney Road Farmers Market and last Sunday sold out of 62 dozen eggs in three hours.

His eggs cost a little more than the generic white ones at supermarkets, Hromas said, but people are willing to pay it because they know the eggs are fresh and were laid just down the road. He prefers the term “pasture-raised chickens” to the more ambiguous descriptors “cage free” and “free range.”

His main selling points are local, healthy eggs produced by happy chickens. When he has extra eggs, he donates them to local food banks and soup kitchens.

His chickens sleep and lay eggs in coops but spend their days roaming three acres he rents just northeast of York. He likes the peace of the farm and how it keeps him too busy to dwell on the past.

A person can get frustrated and throw a wrench, Hromas said. It’s not so easy to throw a chicken.


Lincoln Journal Star / Matt Ryerson
Lincoln Journal Star / Matt Ryerson Adrian Hromas, 9, helps his dad collect eggs at their chicken farm on a leased plot of land east of York.

Hromas said he doesn’t like using his status as a veteran for personal gain but decided to use the Homegrown by Heroes label to reach out to fellow veterans, to let them know they’re not alone and help is available.

The program was started by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture and recently went national through the work of the Farmer Veteran Coalition with underwriting from the Farm Credit Network, a group of borrower-owned lending institutions.

“I got to thinking if I have that label on the product, people are going to start asking questions,” Hromas said. “That will open the door for me to start talking about the Farmer Veteran Coalition, about agriculture.

“Veterans in general, especially veterans with disabilities, can have a future in agriculture if they want.”

Originally published in the Lincoln Journal Star on Sunday, May 29, 2014. Story by Nicholas Bergin.

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