Category Archives: Producers

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.

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!


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.

Who is Affected by the Proposed FSMA Rules?

Everyone who eats ‘locally’.

Food safety matters because everybody eats – and everybody has a role in keeping food safe from farm to the table. Done right, these new rules can help make our food safer; done wrong, they run the risk of putting farmers out of business, limit consumer choice, and increase the use of chemicals rather than natural fertilizers, among other problems.

But before the rules are finalized, the FDA NEEDS TO HEAR FROM YOU!  The second comment period closes December 15, 2014. In large part due to National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s (NSAC) comments last year, the FDA announced that it would reexamine several critical areas of the Food Safety Moderization Act (FSMA) proposed rules that have major potential impacts for sustainable farming, as covered in the Produce Safety Rule and the Preventive Controls Rule.

We are now in a second public comment period, focused on the ‘re-proposal’ – like a second draft – of key sections of the rules this year for further public comment. The areas they are re-proposing will still require significant public input to shape an outcome that is supportive of sustainable agriculture.

The first comment period closed November 15, 2013. Now it’s time for you to speak up.  How?  Just follow this easy step-by-step process (and short video) How to Submit Comments to send your heartfelt message to the FDA.  The second comment period closes December 15, 2014.

The Nebraska Food Cooperative needs EVERYONE…every local food consumer and every producer of local food…to speak up and submit a comment within the next THREE WEEKS.

So when your family, friends, and you are enjoying your Thanksgiving feast, spread the word about the urgency to comment on these new food safety regulations.

With the right approach, we will be able to help ensure good food safety practices without placing an unfair burden on family farmers. For a safe and sustainable future, FSMA must allow farmers to use sustainable farming practices, allow local food and farms to grow and thrive, and treat family farms fairly.


Are You Affected?:

If you operate a business that grows and sells fresh produce – and/or processes, packs, manufactures, or holds food –  your business may be affected by the proposed FSMA rules. Some businesses may not be affected at all, some may be affected by one rule, and some may be affected by both rules.

IMPORTANT: These proposed rules are not yet final, which means they are not yet law. To learn about the FSMA timeline, read NSAC’s FSMA Overview and Background.

The information included below is intended to help individuals gain a better understanding of whether or not their business operation may be impacted by the proposed rules. Farmers and business owners nationwide are reporting confusion in determining if they might be impacted by these rules. If you are uncertain, you are not alone! One major concern about these draft rules is that they are complex and confusing.


  • Do you grow, harvest, pack, or hold (store) fruits or vegetables?
    If yes, you may be affected by the Produce Rule.
  • Do you process, manufacture, pack, or hold (store) human food?
    If yes, you may be affected by the Preventive Controls Rule.
  • Do you BOTH grow, harvest, pack, or hold (store) fruits or vegetables AND process, manufacture, pack, or hold (store) human food?
    If yes, you may be affected by BOTH the Produce Rule and the Preventive Controls Rule.

Download the “Am I Affected?” flowchart to help determine if your farm or business may be subject to the proposed Produce or Preventive Controls Rules!


If you’re a consumer, these rules could, over the long term, impact the kind of food you are able to find and purchase in your community.  The proposed rules may also increase the costs of purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables. Ultimately, we want to ensure a safe and affordable food supply, strong on-farm conservation of natural resources, and thriving family farms and small value-added farm and food businesses. That translates into fresh, healthy food for communities across the country, from the farmers’ market to the grocery store to the school cafeteria! As a concerned consumer, you absolutely have a say in these proposed rules and should speak out!  The second comment period closes December 15, 2014.

Please note: These rules DO NOT affect home gardeners who grow food for personal consumption – but as a concerned eater, you can still comment!

Additional Resources:

  • Webinar about the impact of FSMA regulations on food hubs, CSAs, and aggregation
  • Webinar on FSMA: Impacts on Farmers, Producers, and States


Source: National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)

IMPORTANT Calendar Changes!

In order to accommodate deliveries for Thanksgiving and Christmas, we have skipped an order week in October.

Current Order Cycle:  September 21-28
Delivery Days: October 2-3

Week Skipped Here

Order Cycle: October 12-19
Delivery Days: October 23-24

IMPORTANT: We are giving our volunteers and staff a Christmas and New Year’s break. So there will be ONLY ONE order cycle in December.   So, PLAN AHEAD for the holidays!

See the new Autumn Calendar or the Home page for upcoming dates.  Print the Autumn Calendar for easy reference!

Life, Brightness, and Cheer

sunflowerSunflower Acres. Acres upon acres of sunflowers are what greeted NFC producer Dianne Thompson when she purchased her land all those years ago. Representing life, brightness, and cheer, sunflowers enticed Thompson to develop a natural skin care line that uses only natural ingredients.


DCFC2971.JPGStarting with natural, handcrafted soaps and shampoos made with pure rain water, Thompson insisted on using only non-toxic ingredients based on recipes made ‘the old way’.


DCFC2936.JPGInitially expanding her skin care line to include natural deodorants, moisturizers, body butters, cleaners, and detergents, Thompson is always on the look out for products that serve multiple purposes. For example, her insect repellant can be used to not only repel insects but to clean vinyl floors, countertops, as an air freshener, or even as a spicy body spray!


Exploring new ways to innovate natural products is a passion that Thompson lives and breathes. Thanks to her, NFC members have all sorts of products that bring life, brightness, and cheer into their homes.

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.

A Primer on Grass-fed vs Corn-fed Beef

A lot of people today, horrified by how animals are treated in factory farms and feedlots, and wanting to lower their ecological footprint, are looking for healthier alternatives. As a result, there is a decided trend toward pasture-raised animals.  One former vegetarian, San Francisco Chronicle columnist Mark Morford, says he now eats meat, but only “grassfed and organic and sustainable as possible, reverentially and deeply gratefully, and in small amounts.”

Sales of grassfed and organic beef are rising rapidly.  Ten years ago, there were only about 50 grassfed cattle operations left in the U.S.  Now there are thousands.

How much difference does it make?  Is grassfed really better?  If so, in what ways, and how much?

If you read on, you’ll see why I’ve concluded that grassfed is indeed better.  But then, almost anything would be.  Putting beef cattle in feedlots and feeding them grain may actually be one of the dumbest ideas in the history of western civilization.

Cattle (like sheep, deer and other grazing animals) are endowed with the ability to convert grasses, which we humans cannot digest, into flesh that we are able to digest. They can do this because unlike humans, who possess only one stomach, they are ruminants, which is to say that they possess a rumen, a 45 or so gallon fermentation tank in which resident bacteria convert cellulose into protein and fats.

In today’s feedlots, however, cows fed corn and other grains are eating food that humans can eat, and they are quite inefficiently converting it into meat.  Since it takes anywhere from 7 to 16 pounds of grain to make a pound of feedlot beef, we actually get far less food out than we put in.  It’s a protein factory in reverse.

And we do this on a massive scale, while nearly a billion people on our planet do not have enough to eat.

Feedlot Reality

How has a system that is so wasteful come to be?  Feedlots and other CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) are not the inevitable product of agricultural progress, nor are they the result of market forces.  They are instead the result of public policies that massively favor large-scale feedlots to the detriment of family farms.

From 1997 to 2005, for example, taxpayer-subsidized grain prices saved feedlots and other CAFOs about $35 billion.  This subsidy is so large that it reduced the price CAFOs pay for animal feed to a tiny fraction of what it would otherwise have been.  Cattle operations that raise animals exclusively on pasture land, however, derive no benefit from the subsidy.

Federal policies also give CAFOs billions of dollars to address their pollution problems, which arise because they confine so many animals, often tens of thousands, in a small area.  Small farmers raising cattle on pasture do not have this problem in the first place.  If feedlots and other CAFOs were required to pay the price of handling the animal waste in an environmentally health manner, if they were made to pay to prevent or to clean up the pollution they create, they wouldn’t be dominating the U.S. meat industry the way they are today.  But instead we have had farm policies that require the taxpayers to foot the bill.  Such policies have made feedlots and other CAFOs feasible, but only by fleecing the public.

Traditionally, all beef was grassfed beef, but we’ve turned that completely upside down.  Now, thanks to our misguided policies, our beef supply is almost all feedlot beef.

Thanks to government subsidies, it’s cheaper, and it’s also faster.  Seventy-five years ago, steers were slaughtered at the age of four- or five-years-old. Today’s steers, however, grow so fast on the grain they are fed that they can be butchered much younger, typically when they are only 14 or 16 months.

All beef cattle spend the first few months of their lives on pasture or rangeland, where they graze on forage crops such as grass or alfalfa.  But then nearly all are fattened, or as the industry likes to call it “finished,” in feedlots where they eat grain.  You can’t take a beef calf from a birth weight of 80 pounds to 1,200 pounds in a little more than a year on grass.  That kind of unnaturally fast weight gain takes enormous quantities of corn, soy-based protein supplements, antibiotics and other drugs, including growth hormones.

Under current farm policies, switching a cow from grass to corn makes economic sense, but it is still profoundly disturbing to the animal’s digestive system.  It can actually kill a steer if not done gradually and if the animal is not continually fed antibiotics.

Author (and small-scale cattleman) Michael Pollan describes what happens to cows when they are taken off of pastures and put into feedlots and fed corn:

“Perhaps the most serious thing that can go wrong with a ruminant on corn is feedlot bloat. The rumen is always producing copious amounts of gas, which is normally expelled by belching during rumination. But when the diet contains too much starch and too little roughage, rumination all but stops, and a layer of foamy slime that can trap gas forms in the rumen. The rumen inflates like a balloon, pressing against the animal’s lungs. Unless action is promptly taken to relieve the pressure (usually by forcing a hose down the animal’s esophagus), the cow suffocates.

“A corn diet can also give a cow acidosis. Unlike our own highly acidic stomachs, the normal pH of a rumen is neutral. Corn makes it unnaturally acidic, however, causing a kind of bovine heartburn, which in some cases can kill the animal but usually just makes it sick. Acidotic animals go off their feed, pant and salivate excessively, paw at their bellies and eat dirt. The condition can lead to diarrhea, ulcers, bloat, liver disease and a general weakening of the immune system that leaves the animal vulnerable to everything from pneumonia to feedlot polio.”

Putting beef cattle in feedlots and giving them corn is not only unnatural and dangerous for the cows. It also has profound medical consequences for us, and this is true whether or not we eat their flesh. Feedlot beef as we know it today would be impossible if it weren’t for the routine and continual feeding of antibiotics to these animals. This leads directly and inexorably to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. These new “superbugs” are increasingly rendering our antibiotics ineffective for treating disease in humans.

Further, it is the commercial meat industry’s practice of keeping cattle in feedlots and feeding them grain that is responsible for the heightened prevalence of deadly E. coli 0157:H7 bacteria. When cattle are grainfed, their intestinal tracts become far more acidic, which favors the growth of pathogenic E. coli bacteria that can kill people who eat undercooked hamburger.

It’s not widely known, but E. coli 0157:H7 has only recently appeared on the scene.  It was first identified in the 1980s, but now this pathogen can be found in the intestines of almost all feedlot cattle in the U.S.  Even less widely recognized is that the practice of feeding corn and other grains to cattle has created the perfect conditions for forms of E. Coli and other microbes to come into being that can, and do, kill us.

Prior to the advent of feedlots, the microbes that resided in the intestines of cows were adapted to a neutral-pH environment.  As a result, if they got into meat, it didn’t usually cause much of a problem because the microbes perished in the acidic environment of the human stomach.  But the digestive tract of the modern feedlot animal has changed.  It is now nearly as acidic as our own.  In this new, manmade environment, strains of E. coli and other pathogens have developed that can survive our stomach acids, and go on to kill us.  As Michael Pollan puts it, “by acidifying a cow’s gut with corn, we have broken down one of our food chain’s barriers to infections.”

Which is more nutritious?

Many of us think of “corn-fed” beef as nutritionally superior, but it isn’t. A cornfed cow does develop well-marbled flesh, but this is simply saturated fat that can’t be trimmed off. Grassfed meat, on the other hand, is lower both in overall fat and in artery-clogging saturated fat. A sirloin steak from a grainfed feedlot steer has more than double the total fat of a similar cut from a grassfed steer. In its less-than-infinite wisdom, however, the USDA continues to grade beef in a way that rewards marbling with intra-muscular fat.

Grassfed beef not only is lower in overall fat and in saturated fat, but it has the added advantage of providing more omega-3 fats. These crucial healthy fats are most plentiful in flaxseeds and fish, and are also found in walnuts, soybeans and in meat from animals that have grazed on omega-3 rich grass. When cattle are taken off grass, though, and shipped to a feedlot to be fattened on grain, they immediately begin losing the omega-3s they have stored in their tissues.  A grassfed steak typically has about twice as many omega-3s as a grainfed steak.

In addition to being higher in healthy omega-3s, meat from pastured cattle is also up to four times higher in vitamin E than meat from feedlot cattle, and much higher in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a nutrient associated with lower cancer risk.

What about the environment?

As well as its nutritional advantages, there are also environmental benefits to grassfed beef. According to David Pimentel, a Cornell ecologist who specializes in agriculture and energy, the corn we feed our feedlot cattle accounts for a staggering amount of fossil fuel energy. Growing the corn used to feed livestock takes vast quantities of chemical fertilizer, which in turn takes vast quantities of oil. Because of this dependence on petroleum, Pimentel says, a typical steer will in effect consume 284 gallons of oil in his lifetime. Comments Michael Pollan,

“We have succeeded in industrializing the beef calf, transforming what was once a solar-powered ruminant into the very last thing we need: another fossil-fuel machine.”

In addition to consuming less energy, grassfed beef has another environmental advantage — it is far less polluting. The animals’ wastes drop onto the land, becoming nutrients for the next cycle of crops. In feedlots and other forms of factory farming, however, the animals’ wastes build up in enormous quantities, becoming a staggering source of water and air pollution.

Less misery on the menu?

From a humanitarian perspective, there is yet another advantage to pastured animal products. The animals themselves are not forced to live in confinement. The cruelties of modern factory farming are so severe that you don’t have to be a vegetarian or an animal rights activist to find the conditions to be intolerable, and a violation of the human-animal bond. Pastured livestock are not forced to endure the miseries of factory farming. They are not cooped up in cages barely larger than their own bodies, or packed together like sardines for months on end standing knee deep in their own manure.

Grassfed or organic?

It’s important to remember that organic is not the same as grassfed. Natural food stores often sell organic beef and dairy products that are hormone- and antibiotic- free.  These products come from animals who were fed organically grown grain, but who typically still spent most of their lives (or in the case of dairy cows perhaps their whole lives) in feedlots.  The sad reality is that almost all the organic beef and organic dairy products sold in the U.S. today comes from feedlots.

Just as organic does not mean grass-fed, grass-fed does not mean organic. Pastured animals sometimes graze on land that has been treated with synthetic fertilizers and even doused with herbicides. Unless the meat label specifically says it is both grassfed and organic, it isn’t.

 Editor’s Note: This article lays out the reasons why is it even more important to Know Your Farmer and their herd management practices.

Excerpt from John Robbins, The Food Revolution Network

Grow Year-Round in Nebraska

Never Ending HarvestWORKSHOP — Would you like to grow produce year round to supply not only your family but expand into new markets, like schools, restaurants, retail stores, farmers’ markets, and NFC customers?

Being held in Nebraska for the first time, this Fall, Winter, Spring Produce Workshop teaches a greenhouse method that doesn’t necessarily require auxilliary heating!  Presented by Roger and Beth Matson, founders of Never Ending Harvest, this family owned and operated, sustainable farming business is a long-time grower of winter produce in Iowa.

The workshop will be held on Wednesday, April 23 from 1:00-4:00 PM in Hastings, Nebraska. It includes three hours of detailed group instruction, plus the winter greenhouse set of three DVDs. Cost is $85.00.

Greenhouse in winter
Winter vegetable production

Register no later than Saturday, April 19 — limited seating available — by mailing payment and contact information (name, email, address, and phone) to:

NFC General Manager
45150 State Hwy. 52
Belgrade, NE 68623

For questions, contact Caryl Guisinger, NFC General Manager:
308.357.1000 (home)

This workshop is co-sponsored by the Nebraska Food Cooperative and Buy Fresh / Buy Local Nebraska.



Farms grass-fed beef barely keeping up with demand

Originally published in the Grand Island Independent on Sunday, March 30, 2014. Story by Ellen Campbell.

Luke and Lori Jacobsen in pasture with cattle
Independent / Matt Dixon Luke and Lori Jacobsen pose for a portrait with some of their grass-fed cattle in a pasture on their farm near Marquette. The Jacobsens’ beef products have been sold all over the United States and can be found online at

MARQUETTE — Many people believe grass-fed cattle produce a tough, stringy product, and that good beef comes only from corn-fed animals.

Luke Jacobsen, who farms near Marquette, is proving that, given the right conditions, the opposite is true.

His wife Lori, who is a first-grade teacher, helps with their beef business, especially the marketing. They live on the L&L Jacobsen Farm, where they raised their three children. The kids live away from home now, but assist on the farm when they are visiting.

“I come from a long line of beef producers,” said Jacobsen. “My great-grandfather Peter Jacobsen immigrated to the United States from Denmark in 1868. He came to Nebraska in 1872 and settled in the Marquette area in 1892. He was a cattle farmer, and sold his animals at the Omaha Stockyards.

Old photo of stockyard
Courtesy photo Peter Jacobsen, great-grandfather of Marquette farmer Luke Jacobsen, sold his cattle at the Omaha Stockyards. Photo was taken in the late 1800s or very early 1900s.

“At that time, there was a special market in England for fattened beef. The cattle were loaded onto rail cars at Marquette for the trip, and the cattlemen could ride along in the caboose.”

Then there were the next two generations.

“My grandfather, Christian, was born in 1884 and also raised cattle, as did my father Elmer (1919-2008).” Luke Jacobsen said. “I began farming in 1978 and have been involved with cattle since that time. I planted the first ‘finishing’ pasture in 2004 and began selling grass-fed beef in 2007 through the Nebraska Food Co-op. This cooperative is focused on local foods, and has a delivery point in Grand Island.”

Jacobsen said he became interested in grass-fed cattle from the health standpoint. Grass — not corn — is the natural diet for ruminants like cattle, and the meat from these cattle provides three times more omega-3 than those that are grain-fed, twice the amount of beta carotene, less saturated fat and fewer calories per serving. The Jacobsens use no antibiotics or synthetic hormones in their cattle.

“I took a trip to Argentina in January of 2003,” he said. “They grow excellent beef there on the Pampas plains, and I was with a group that wanted to counter the corn-fed theory. We learned that Argentine cattle genetics are different from ours, producing animals with a smaller frame. Also, with abundant rainfall, the pastures have a high moisture content, and the grazing is rotated.

“All of these contribute to a more tender, tastier beef. When we get away from all the grain and artificial additives, and decide to return to nature, we can have that.”

“We feel our flavor is superior to corn-fed beef. And one reason is that the animals are older before begin butchered. In earlier times, cattle were not sold until they were about 2 years old and had time for their meat to develop more taste. Then, when the push was on to get fat cattle to the market as soon as possible, to increase sales volume, the producers began feeding corn and giving supplements so that they attained the desired weight at a younger age.”


cattle at Jacobsen's farm
Independent / Matt Dixon These cows, and many others raised by Luke and Lori Jacobsen on their farm in Marquette, are raised on a pure grass diet.

Back home, Jacobsen began his experimentation with a small part of his 80-acre home place, and now uses all of the property. He has divided the pasture land into a number of different paddocks, and rotates the cattle through, giving each plot a 30-day rest period before another herd comes in. In addition, the pasture is irrigated to emulate the wet Argentinian Pampas.

He has also focused on genetics for cattle that are smaller-framed than the typical beef animal.

“We feel our flavor is superior to corn-fed beef,” he said. “And one reason is that the animals are older before being butchered. In earlier times, cattle were not sold until they were about 2 years old and had time for their meat to develop more taste.

“Then, when the push was on to get fat cattle to the market as soon as possible to increase sales volume, the producers began feeding corn and giving supplements so that they attained the desired weight at a younger age,” Luke Jacobsen added. “We sell our grass-fed cattle when they are more mature, and we get great feedback from customers.”

arm roast in package
Independent / Matt Dixon Grass-fed beef arm roast is one of the beef products sold by Luke and Lori Jacobsen.

The Jacobsens’ brand label is Range West Grass-Fed Beef. They established a website to provide general information, details on ordering including a price list, a chart of beef cuts, health benefits and a section for customer comments. A sampling of the comments:

  • Richard B. of Toronto: “Fantastic meat! Your flat-iron steaks are better than some rib-eyes I’ve had.”
  • Ken C. of Omaha, on a filet cookoff: “We compared your fillets against a competitor’s prime tenderloin at a large dinner party. Every single person preferred your steaks.”
  • Ellie S. of Lincoln: “Thank you. Your ground beef is sooo good!”

Luke Jacobsen recommends a book — “Steaks,” by Mark Schatzker — as an excellent source of information about the benefits of feeding cattle on grass. The Range West website has a link to a video of an interview with the author. In this interview, Schatzker mentioned Range West, and it brought numerous inquiries and orders to the Jacobsens.

cattle in pasture
Independent / Matt Dixon Pictured are some of the grass-fed cattle raised by Luke and Lori Jacobsen on L&L Jacobsen Farm near Marquette.

The Jacobsens have customers all over the United States, as well as a wide constituency of people in Asia, Europe and Africa who don’t like the American corn-fed beef.

“One of our problems is keeping up with the demand,” said Jacobsen. “We’re a small operation and can turn out only a certain amount of beef at a time.

“A frequently asked question is ‘Why can’t I find grass-fed beef in grocery stores?’ The answer is that American food production is geared for high volumes of basically wholesome, inexpensive food with little regard for nutritional differences. Feeding grain is the fastest way to fatten animals and has been the least costly. But our customers are concerned about availability, not price.

National Food Entrepreneur Program Seminar

Food From ThoughtThe University of Nebraska Food Processing Center is offering a one-day seminar for all individuals interested in exploring the idea of starting a food manufacturing business.  Interested individuals are encouraged to attend the “Recipe to Reality” seminar, which will be offered on May 16, 2014.  Pre-registration is required and space is limited.  Registration deadline is May 2, 2014. Contact Jill Gifford at 402-472-2819 or for an information packet.

(This is a public notice. The event described is not sponsored by the Nebraska Food Cooperative)

Free Producer Training for Farm-to-School Initiative

Sponsored in part by the Loup Basin RC&D
Sponsored in part by the Loup Basin RC&D

Many schools in Nebraska are now buying local fruits and vegetables for their school food programs. Farmers can learn how to participate in these growing “farm to school’ initiatives in a series of free training sessions offered in the Loup Basin RC & D area in February and March.

“Farmers can access an increasing market for fresh produce while providing healthy food to children in their community,” said Wyatt Fraas, lead trainer for the project. “At these sessions, farmers will learn what schools are looking for and how to assure them that their crops are clean and safe.”

Six Loup Basin area communities will host the two-part series of workshops. In the first round of sessions, “The Business of Selling to Schools”, farmers will learn how to sell foods to local schools, including business basics and marketing, regulations, and production practices.

In the second of the two-part series, “Farmers are Food Handlers, too”, farmers will learn ways to use and document a “safe food handling plan” that satisfies concerns of school and retail food buyers and also reduces risk of food contamination on the farm.

Training sessions are sponsored by the Loup Basin Resource Conservation and Development Council of Burwell and by the Center for Rural Affairs. Funding for the project is provided in part by USDA Rural Development.

Trainings will be held in the following six locations in February and March:

Ord, Volunteer Fire Hall, 1628 M St. from 1-4 pm on February 25 and March 4

Loup City, Community Center, 803 O. St. from 1-4 pm on February 26 and March 5

Spalding, Clear Creek Organic Farms, 82228 499th Ave. from 1-4 pm on February 27 and March 6

St. Paul, Miletta Vista Winery, 1732 Highway 281 from 1-4 pm on March 11 and March 18

Burwell, Sandstone Grill, 416 Grand Ave. from 1-4 pm, March 12 and March 19

Broken Bow, Custer Public Power, 625 E. South E St. from 1-4 pm, March 13 and 20

Visit for more information, or contact Sarah Smith, Center for Rural Affairs Farm to School Coordinator at 307.321.9766 or, or Janet Sanders, Executive Director of Loup Basin RC&D at 308.346.3393 or