Nebraska Regional Food Systems Initiative Newsletter

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FALL 2021

Welcome Food &
Agriculture Friends.

We’ve all been challenged lately on our response to difficulties, whether it’s through our resilience to the Covid-19 pandemic and the Delta variant or to the Plains thunderstorms that cause damage and localized flooding each year to supply-chain disruption, roiling the economy. It’s easy to be overcome with worry or despair. I’ve often found strength in the words of Winston Churchill, who rallied Allied forces and citizens alike to do their part whether overseas or at home. As Churchill said, “We shall draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival.”

Through suffering, inspiration and survival. As Nebraskans we face a particular challenge in ensuring we have an uninterrupted food supply chain. This can be difficult for a state with one growing season. Where do we turn for inspiration? To bold ideas. One such is the work of Stacy Adams, Horticulture Professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and his research on hydroponics. Adams states that “The extensive drought in California and the multifaceted production challenges associated with labor and distribution of fresh produce during the pandemic, illustrates how fragile our food system is. Hydroponic plant production has long been used in situations where land or water was limited and provides opportunities for meeting our ever-emerging food risks.”

The NERFSI team has begun to use the expertise of Professor Adams and our own John Porter to investigate using hydroponics to take advantage of a 365-day growing season, with the ability to go from start to harvest every four weeks with certain products (see picture). The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Grand Challenges initiative has committed $40 million over four years to invest in strategic, goal-based solutions. As a team we are preparing a proposal for the Grand Challenges grant to lift the bold idea of using hydroponics to tackle the issue of sustainable food and water security for Nebraskans.

Be bold!
Jason & the Nebraska Regional Food Systems Team

Updates From The Team


February 4-5, 2022

Check out the book recommendations from the NERFSI team and the Summit Planning Committee. We are excited to see you at the 2022 Summit!


Novels and More!


Jason Pawlenty

I am originally from upstate New York and settled in Nebraska when my father retired from the Air Force. I received my undergraduate degree in dietetics from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where I focused on building a career in sports nutrition. I went on to earning my Master of Science in nutrition and human performance from Logan University in Missouri. The older I get the more I am drawn towards academia, I love the scope and depth of the conversations I can have with my colleagues and the inspiration I gain from them. Read more about Jason here!

Legislative Updates

USDA Thrifty Food Plan Increases SNAP Benefits

Written by Megan Hamann, Nebraska Appleseed

The Thrifty Food Plan (TFP) is the set of guidelines used to determine the amount of SNAP benefits a household will receive. For the first time in over a decade, these guidelines have been reviewed to account for increasing costs of food and updated nutrition guidelines. The changes to the TFP mean that families across the country will get a 21% increase in monthly SNAP benefits starting this October, 2021.

Compared to the previous TFP, this new plan accounts for the oftentimes higher prices of healthy food items and includes more variety of fruits, vegetables, and proteins so that SNAP recipients can have a balanced diet that aligns with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The goal of this updated plan is to help families access the food they need for a healthier diet.

Increased projected average benefits per household size.

The recent update to SNAP increases benefit levels by 21% overall. Most families will feel a modest boost to their SNAP as this increase comes right after the Covid-19 SNAP 15% increase that ended September 30, 2021. Unlike the 15% increase, this new change to SNAP benefits is permanent. Read more about the recent timeline of changes to SNAP this year.

This SNAP benefits increase is a welcome change to the program that has been long-overdue. It’s a step towards creating a more functional and fair SNAP program that prioritizes individuals and families.

The past year and a half has held many challenges for families and individuals trying to access food. It is encouraging to witness a positive and necessary change to the SNAP program that will help folks access the support they need. If you think you might be eligible for SNAP, now’s a great time to apply!

Contact the Food Bank’s SNAP hotline today at 855-444-5556 to learn more and apply today. If you have received notice of a SNAP overpayment from Nebraska DHHS, you can reach out to the Nebraska Appleseed Community Assistance Line for information about your rights and options.



The Nebraska Cottage Food Law Online training has been available since August, 2020. The class has been completed by over 300 individuals. The pandemic has encouraged more consumers to shop at farmers markets and “eat local,” and this has increased local food sales, including cottage-food sales. A Cottage Food producer can sell their homemade goods all year long, not just seasonally, which is great for producers and local economies! Average sales for an established Cottage Food producer may be around $5000 per Forrager. That correlates to over 1 million dollars of sales being added to Nebraska’s economy! Many producers offer niche items like ethnic and health added foods for consumers with allergies. The Cottage Food Law has stimulated Nebraska’s economy during a period when many food establishments are struggling.

Learn More


It is often said that food brings us together. This is especially true when one looks at how the needs of rural and urban communities coalesce around food and farming. Nebraskan’s need farmers, not just for food, but for that life-giving connection with the land. Farmers need healthy communities, not just for markets, but for services and supplies, health care, schools and all that makes for a full life for a modern family.

So it was a significant step forward for University of Nebraska President Ted Carter to demonstrate his support for communities across the state in 2019, by calling for Rural Prosperity Nebraska to become one of five areas of focused excellence in the University system and it is appropriate that the Nebraska Regional Food Systems Initiative (NERFSI) team is included as a focus area within Rural Prosperity Nebraska. Rural Prosperity Nebraska was formed by bringing together the work of the former Community Vitality Initiative and Rural Futures Institutes. Taken together with a growing team and increased resources this becomes a robust effort to support vibrant rural communities.

If you are reading this newsletter you probably already have an idea of what the Regional Food Systems team is about. Here is a quick snapshot of the other areas of work that are included and what they may offer to your community:
  • Community Engagement: We connect you to resources to engage community members, refine dreams into goals, and give everyone an equal opportunity to succeed.
  • People Attraction: We help strengthen your community’s welcoming culture to better recruit and retain newcomers, as people are what make a community thrive.
  • Community Development Leadership: We help your community leaders identify your local assets and support them in leveraging those assets for community betterment.
  • Community Economic Development: We tailor our work to your community aspirations, helping your businesses thrive to create long-term growth and improvement.
  • Placemaking: We involve your community in creating quality places where people want to live, work, play, shop, learn and visit.
Find more information on the Rural Prosperity Nebraska website and use the contact information there to get in touch. We’re here to serve your community.


October is national Farm to School Month and Nebraska Extension once again celebrated by participating in the annual Crunch off event. Each year, Nebraska Dept of Education, Nebraska Extension, and our partners team up to bring awareness to the importance of the school food service program and to help get more locally produced foods into school cafeterias.

Farm to school programs support students by teaching them about farming, agriculture and gardening, while supporting local producers who sell products to school cafeterias. As the largest restaurant chain in the state, Nebraska’s school cafeterias annually spend more than $65 million on food. Despite our agricultural production output here in Nebraska, more than 90% of the food served in our school cafeterias is imported from outside the state.

Farm to school efforts underway across the state encourage and support schools to find producers in their area to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, beef and other animal products, and milk, cheese and a variety of other dairy products.

Nebraska’s food service workers at schools across the state work hard every day to bring healthy food to our students. Each year, the USDA, the National Farm to School Network and others celebrate everything farm to school related during October, to raise awareness of the benefits of local foods in cafeterias and agricultural education in the classroom.

Once again, Nebraska farm to school partners will be participating in the Mountain Plains Crunch Off competition. In celebration of Farm to School Month, States throughout the Mountain Plains Region (CO, MT, MO, KS, NE, ND, SD, WY) are competing to see which State can get the most “crunches” into a local apple, or other local produce, per capita.

Crunch Off participants -- including students, teachers, farmers, parents, community members, and local food enthusiasts -bite into local produce together (virtually or in-person) to celebrate the wonderful fruits and vegetables grown in the Mountain Plains Region. In 2020, our region had a collective 154,222 “crunches” during the month of October, with almost 80,000 of those coming from Nebraska!

To learn more about Extension’s farm to school efforts and get connected, visit:

Promotion & Resources

News From Joslyn Institute For Sustainable Communities

The Joslyn Institute for Sustainable Communities focuses on the built environment to promote sustainable development. Click Here to read their Fall 2021 Newsletter.




Each year Buy Fresh Buy Local publishes a Food Guide to help Nebraskans source locally grown and raised goods.

Click here to access the local Food guide for 2021!


Market Garden Presentation

Urban Agriculture Extension Educator recently presented “Backyard Garden to Market Garden” as part of the GROBigRed Virtual Learning Series. In the session, John talked about things to consider when transitioning from home gardening to growing produce for market and for starting a small business. Some topics include understanding local market potential, growing high value crops to make the best use of small production areas, different market opportunities, income and tax considerations, and more. You can watch the session here.

Tell Me Something Good!


Congratulations to John Porter on winning the 2021 Food Day Champion award!

Urban Agriculture Extension Educator John Porter recently won the Food Day Omaha “Food Day Champion” award. Food Day is a national movement to promote the importance of local foods and create connections within the local food system. The Food Day Omaha awards, nominated by a committee of food system leaders and voted on by the public, recognize leaders and contributors to the local food system in a number of areas. In addition to Mr. Porter’s award as “Food Day Champion”, the Food Day Omaha team also recognized a number of others involved in local food in the Omaha metro. You can read about the awards here. You can also read about how Nebraska Extension in Douglas-Sarpy Counties responded to the COVID-19 pandemic to help with local foods and food access here.

The 2021 awardees are:

Congratulations to Ben Jewell, Natalie Sehi, Jordan Luxa, Erin Kampbell and the Farm to School team for winning the Extension Team award for Relevance!

Learn more about the numerous projects that Extension and our partners are leading to enhance farm to school programming in Nebraska here.

Congratulations to Ted Hibbeler for receiving the Excellence in Extension award for his work in Diversity, Equality and Inclusion!

See more about the awards at
Ted's award can be found 7 minutes into the video.

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