NeFU Receives Grants From Environmental Trust & DEQ

For Immediate Release

Contact:  John Hansen 402-476-8815


Lincoln, NE – April 16, 2015 –Nebraska Farmers Union (NeFU) announced today that it will receive two grants for their “Food Waste Reduction through Vermicomposting and Composting” project.

The Nebraska Environmental Trust Board announced funding of $169,046.00 for the project at its meeting on April 2, 2015 in Lincoln. The project is one of the 113 projects receiving $19,491,958 in grant awards from the Nebraska Environmental Trust this year. Of these, 56 were new applications and 57 are carry-over projects.

The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality awarded NeFU $26,850 for the same project through its Nebraska Waste Reduction and Recycling Incentive Act.

The funding will support efforts by NeFU to create a vermicomposting system to re-direct the waste stream from Lincoln Public School’s cafeterias and other sources of waste that would otherwise be sent to the landfill.  This project will utilize onsite worm bins and pre-composting to transform the food and other wastes into soil building, high value worm castings.  This project will also work to incorporate animal compost from the Lincoln Children’s Zoo to utilize even more waste product that would otherwise be destined for landfills. The first year of this project will evaluate the reactions of worms with foodstuffs available, creating working plans and manuals all while incorporating education for students. The project will expand to additional schools and other waste sources as soon as feasible.  The grant partners for this project to date are Lincoln Public Schools, Community Crops, and the Lincoln Children’s Zoo.  Additional partners will be added as the project capacity expands.

The Nebraska Legislature created the Nebraska Environmental Trust in 1992. Using revenue from the Nebraska Lottery, the Trust has provided over $233 million in grants to over 1,700 projects across the state. Anyone – citizens, organizations, communities, farmers and businesses – can apply for funding to protect habitat, improve water quality and establish recycling programs in Nebraska. The Nebraska Environmental Trust works to preserve, protect and restore our natural resources for future generations.

NeFU President John Hansen said, “These funds will help our project coordinator Jeremiah Picard and our organization turn an unwanted and expensive landfill commodity into a soil building product that will benefit specialty crop growers of food for human consumption, gardeners, and crop producers while also helping research and educational efforts.”

Nebraska Farmers Union is a general farm organization with 5,671 farm and ranch family members dedicated to protecting and enhancing the economic well-being and quality of life for family farmers and ranchers, and their rural communities.  Since 1913, Nebraska Farmers Union has helped organize over 445 cooperatives.

Local Control Prevails on LB106

For Immediate Release                                                        

Contact:  John Hansen 402-476-8815

April 2, 2015


Lincoln, NE.  Nebraska Farmers Union (NeFU) hailed the successful first round legislative efforts that gutted LB106, the Priority Bill of Sen. Dan Watermeier as a clear victory for local control.  The amendment adopted struck all the original language and replaced it with the authority for the Nebraska Department of Agriculture to develop a completely voluntary livestock siting matrix.   “LB106 in its original form was a clear assault on local control in its efforts to impose a mandatory state controlled matrix that would have shifted the ultimate authority for local decision making to the state level.  The Legislature wisely derailed that anti-local control effort.  All the “shalls” are gone,” said John Hansen, NeFU President.  “This was a major victory for local control.”


Hansen praised the combined efforts of their organizational partners including the Center for Rural Affairs, Nebraska Sierra Club, Nebraska Women Involved in Farm Economics, and Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska.  He also praised the efforts of local government officials, including county commissioners and planning and zoning leaders despite NACO support for the Bill.  Hansen also noted that in addition to Farmers Union, Center for Rural Affairs, Nebraska Sierra Club members and many others who worked hard to call their State Senators to oppose LB106, he thanked all the rural residents who helped defeat LB106 in its original form, including many county Farm Bureau organizations.  He also praised the many rural State Senators who worked so hard to amend and defeat LB106 that lead to the massive overhaul it received.


“For our organization, we understand that when it comes to local planning and zoning decisions, it is the local officials who best know the natural resources and the desires of the local people as they chart the course of their county.  Local people, unlike state officials, are more likely to make the right zoning decision for the local community.  And, if a mistake is made, they have a vested interest to fix it because they actually live with the consequences of their decisions.  The thrust of LB106 was to replace local control with state control and a one size fits all state grid system called a matrix,” said Hansen.  “That would have been a terrible mistake for our local communities and our livestock operations who need to live and work together.”


“While we do our best to work together with the organizations that represent rural interests, we were in strong conflict and disagreement with the Nebraska Farm Bureau, Nebraska Cattlemen, Nebraska Association of County Officials, Nebraska Pork Producers Association, Nebraska State Dairy Association, and Smithfield, the Chinese government owned pork producing and processing company.  Fortunately, the folks back home in the country supported our position and made this big win for local control possible,” concluded Hansen. “The grassroots ruled on this issue.”

Roundup of the NFU 113th Anniversary Convention in Wichita

NeFU President Re-elected NFU Treasurer and 21 Nebraskans Attend National Farmers Union 113th Anniversary Convention in Wichita, Kansas

For Immediate Release

Contact:  John Hansen 402-476-8815 Office or 402-580-8815 Cell


Lincoln, NE – Nebraska Farmers Union President John Hansen was re-elected National Farmers Union (NFU) Treasurer by the NFU Board of Directors at the 113th Annual National Farmers Union Convention held March 14-17 in Wichita, Kansas at the Hyatt Regency hotel.

21 NeFU members attended the NFU Convention.  NeFU President John Hansen said:  “It was a great facility, excellent speakers and program, and was well attended.  It is always a positive when Farmers Union members participate in their grassroots driven organization.”

The NFU Convention delegates from Nebraska were:  Dennis Buse, West Point; Graham Christensen, Lyons; Ben Gotschall, Raymond: Carol Schooley, Grand Island; and NeFU President John Hansen.

Other members attending were Stan & Judy Brown, Ron Meyer, Jeremiah Picard, and Mark Kavan, Lincoln; Martin & Linda Kleinschmit, Hartington; Mike & Roberta Sarchett, Minatare; Vern Jantzen, Plymouth; Gus Von Roenn, Omaha; John & Mardelle Goeller, Pilger; Terry Kirby, Central City; Jeff Downing, Elkhorn, and Tracy Zink of Indianola who participated in the NFU Beginning Farmer Institute.

NFU convention highlights included a keynote address from United States Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy and Dr. Temple Grandin, whose movie was shown Sunday afternoon.

In addition to updating NFU’s policy, the delegates adopted 6 Special Orders of Business:

Full text of the adopted policy manual will be available soon at

The 2016 National Farmers Union Convention will be held at the Radisson Blu hotel in Minneapolis, MN March 5-8, 2016.  The Radisson Blu is directly attached to the Mall of America.

Nebraska Farmers Union is a general farm organization with 5,700 farm and ranch family members dedicated to protecting and enhancing the economic well-being and quality of life for family farmers and ranchers, and their rural communities.  Since 1913, Nebraska Farmers Union has helped organize over 445 cooperatives.

8th Annual NE Wind and Solar Con Announced

8th Annual Nebraska Wind and Solar Conference Announced

For Immediate Release: March 24, 2015

For More Information Contact:  Nicole McDermott (402) 637-4455 (Media Inquiries); Paula Steenson (402) 346-3950 (Registration and Sponsorship Inquiries); John Hansen, Co-Chair (402) 476-8815; Dan McGuire, Co-Chair (402) 489-1346; Adam Herink, Co-Chair 402-637-4845

Lincoln, NE- The eighth annual Nebraska Wind and Solar Conference and Exhibition is planned for November 4-5 2015 in Omaha, Nebraska at the Hilton Omaha.

“We are excited to bring this convention to the City of Omaha for the first time,” said Adam Herink, Conference Co-Chair. “The renewable energy industry continues to grow, innovate and create new opportunities and applications for all producers and users of electricity. This year’s wind and solar conference will continue to share those ideas with the industry and the general public.”

“We anticipate over 400 attendees to take part in this eighth annual Nebraska Wind and Solar Conference as it will include top quality, nationally known and respected industry experts and speakers with timely presentations related to Nebraska’s growing opportunities in both the wind and solar industries,” said Dan McGuire, Conference Co-Chair. “I urge potential exhibitors to sign up early to make sure they are included.”

“This annual conference is considered by many to be one of the best in the United States,” said John Hansen, Conference Co-Chair. “Since 2008, farmers and ranchers, state agencies, public power utilities, developers and higher education professionals have come together to share the latest information and ideas to help advance the wind and solar industry of Nebraska.  We keep the costs of participation down so it is affordable to all the interested stakeholders.”

Registration information is available at the conference website , and rooms will be $122 per night, which includes free parking. Those not staying at the hotel will receive a reduced daily parking rate of $5.

For hotel reservations, contact Hilton Omaha, 1001 Cass Street, Omaha, NE  at (402) 998-3400 or

To view last year’s presentations, go to

NeFU rips Korea free-trade pact

NeFU rips Korea free-trade pact, says it has harmed U.S. economy


The Nebraska Farmers Union joined with trade activists Monday to oppose a free-trade pact with Korea that the group says has hurt the U.S. economy.

John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union, said on a conference call hosted by Public Citizen Global Trade Watch that exports to South Korea have fallen and imports from South Korea have increased since the United States and the Asian nation agreed to a free-trade pact in 2012.

Public Citizen said the free-trade pact is the model for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free-trade agreement the U.S. is negotiating with 11 Asian and South American countries.

“We are not having a fair opportunity to be able to sell our products into other economies, but we have the welcome mat out to competition coming into our economy,” Hansen said.

The call also featured commentary by others who said they were harmed by Korean free-trade, including an Alabama steelworker and a Connecticut business owner.

In each case the complaint was that the U.S. had lowered tariffs and trade barriers with South Korea but hasn’t promoted cross-ocean commerce. Nebraska beef exports to South Korea, for example, have fallen 5 percent in the past three years, Public Citizen said on the call. Overall, the deal has cost 85,000 U.S. jobs, the group says.

Though Korean leaders lifted a five-year ban on U.S. beef imports in 2008, some consumers have continued to have health concerns over the potential for mad cow disease and the use of growth additives in cattle feed.

Hansen said U.S. trade policy concentrates too much on the potential volume of trade without considering its profitability.

If a business proposed such an equation, its “banker would say ‘Go for counseling,’ ” Hansen quipped.

Nebraska Farmers Union Completes Series of Specialty Crops Producer Trainings

For Immediate Release

Contact: Jeremiah Picard

402-476-8815 Office

402-570-3746 Cell


Nebraska Farmers Union Completes Series of Specialty Crops Producer Trainings

Lincoln, NE – Nebraska Farmers Union has completed its series of five one day producer trainings held in Grand Island, Norfolk, Lincoln, and Omaha.  The trainings were geared toward specialty crops including vegetables, fruits and nuts.  There was a wide range of expert presenters covering good agricultural practices, insurance coverage, financial management, market development, employee management, and wholesale success.

The first two trainings focused on Good Agriculture Practices (GAPs), food safety and development of farm safety plans for their operations. These safety plans pave the way for compliance with the new regulations from the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act.  NeFU partnered with UNL Extensions to provide these in-depth trainings. The following trainings focused on Employees, Insurance, Meeting with Buyers and Financing from the FSA. One full day was spent on Holistic Financial Management teaching the nuts and bolts of running the farm to produce a profit. Participants were provided work books and other materials to use on their farms.

For the final session, participants from all four locations came to Lincoln atSoutheast Community College’s auditorium to hear renowned grower Atina Diffley. They were served food catered by local producers Prairie Plate, run by Renee and Jerry Cornett.

Jeremiah Picard, NeFU Outreach Director who organized the workshops said, “This series of trainings focused on small to medium specialty crop producers to increase their skills so they can take full advantage of future economic and growth opportunities for their businesses. These types of targeted trainings are designed to help insure that our local food and specialty crop producers continue to grow and thrive as they gear up to meet the increasing consumer demand for locally grown foods.  We hope to continue additional trainings in the future. ”

One attendee had this to say about the workshops: “This class is invaluable to us as farmers – very helpful in clearing up confusing issues around food safety and processing vegetables. Thank you!”

NeFU President John Hansen said “The workshops were designed to increase the economic viability of the participants by providing them with the tools necessary to reach new profitable markets including schools, restaurants, grocery stores and other wholesale markets. Thanks to the funding of USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service, Local Food Promotion Program, we hopefully helped grow the capacity of our local food producers to help them meet the growing needs of food consumers.”


Nebraska Farmers Union is a general farm organization with 5,700 farm and ranch family members dedicated to protecting and enhancing the economic well-being and quality of life for family farmers and ranchers, and their rural communities.  Since 1913, Nebraska Farmers Union has helped organize over 445 cooperatives.


During 4-hour hearing, backers, foes debate eminent domain bill

During 4-hour hearing, backers, foes debate bill that would remove eminent domain authority for future oil pipelines

By Joe Duggan / World-Herald Bureau | Posted: Wednesday, March 11, 2015 9:00 pm


LINCOLN — If not for a Canadian company’s power to condemn private land in Nebraska, the Keystone XL pipeline would stand almost no chance of being built.

So opponents of the project stood firmly behind a bill heard in the Nebraska Legislature Wednesday that would take away eminent domain authority for future major oil pipelines.

Meanwhile, a representative from TransCanada Corp. urged members of the Judiciary Committee to kill the bill. The committee took no immediate action on the proposal.

During the four-hour public hearing, 30 people testified for Legislative Bill 473, introduced by Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha. Many expressed bitter disappointment in a 2012 law that gave eminent domain power to TransCanada, which they said the company has used as a threat to obtain land easements.

Jeanne Crumly, who owns property near the community of Page in northeast Nebraska, said she can understand using eminent domain for projects that benefit the public. For example, she and her husband have sold some of their farmland for a highway project.

“What we do not understand is the taking of private land for corporate profits,” she said.

Andrew Craig, land manager for the Keystone project in Nebraska, said the company strives to reach voluntary agreements with landowners. It has done so with 90 percent of the more than 500 landowners who own property along the 250-mile pipeline route in Nebraska.

He argued the pipeline provides a public benefit because it connects Canadian oil supplies to markets in the United States and helps lessen the reliance on overseas imports. That’s a point disputed by opponents, who say the oil, once refined, will be exported.

Passing Chambers’ bill into law, Craig said, would allow a single landowner to potentially block an entire oil pipeline. Plus, “it would establish a precedent that could be extended to other projects that expand and replace” aging equipment, such as rail, natural gas and electrical lines, he added.

For most of the past 80 years, state law imposed no restrictions on oil pipeline companies when it came to condemning land. TransCanada used eminent domain authority to build its first Keystone pipeline, which, since 2010, has carried up to 580,000 barrels of heavy crude oil daily through the state.

But pipeline regulations changed in response to controversy over the Keystone XL project, a 36-inch diameter line that would transport up to 830,000 barrels daily. In November 2011, the Legislature passed the Major Oil Pipeline Siting Act during a special session called for the purpose of moving the project route away from the ecologically fragile Nebraska Sand Hills.

The 2011 law required builders of major oil pipelines to obtain route approval from the Nebraska Public Service Commission before they could use eminent domain against landowners.

During the 2012 legislative session, at the request of TransCanada, the Legislature passed another law that allowed the company to avoid the PSC. The 2012 law required a review by state environmental regulators, after which the governor could approve the route and give eminent domain authority to the company.

That law has ignited three years of litigation now destined to go before the Nebraska Supreme Court a second time. Landowners who oppose the pipeline say the 2012 law unconstitutionally gave the governor the authority to grant eminent domain power.

Keystone XL, first proposed in 2008, would carry bitumen mined from Canada’s oil sands region to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast. The southern leg of the project, from Oklahoma to Texas, is already operational.

For the northern route, the company has obtained rights-of-way in Montana and South Dakota, although South Dakota regulators are currently conducting an updated review.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department has yet to recommend whether the project should receive a permit to cross the border between the two nations. President Barack Obama, who will make the final decision on the permit, recently vetoed a Senate bill that would have approved the pipeline without such a permit.

Contact the writer: 402-473-9587,

Stand in opposition to corporate ownership of packers

These are the three bills mentioned in the article:

LB 176 – Lifts a prohibition on Nebraska pork processors from owning hogs. It leaves in place a packer ban on cattle operations.

LB 175 – Provides extra economic incentives for designated livestock friendly counties to attract livestock operations such as dairies, hog feeders, and cattle feedlots.

LB 106 – Standardizes the county siting process for farm operations by designing a statewide matrix for scoring permit proposals. Also establishes a state board that would review, and could approve, permits rejected by county boards.

The Nebraska Farmers Union is opposed to all three of these bills and we have testified against them. LB176 and LB106 have made it out of committee and they should come up for floor debate sometime in the upcoming weeks. When we know, we’ll let you know so that you can connect your state senator to voice your opposition to these disconcerting bills.


Debating corporate ownership in the hog industry

by Grant Gerlock, NET News/Harvest Public Media

March 10, 2015 – 6:44am

Nebraska is one of the last states to still prohibit meatpackers from owning livestock. Some lawmakers would like to allow it in the pork industry to help boost the rural economy. Opponents say it puts too much power in the hands of packing companies.

In the top pork producing states, many farmers are under contract with giant meatpackers like Tyson or Smithfield Foods. The packers actually own the pigs and pay the farmers to raise them. Nebraska outlawed that kind of deal in the late 90s, but now lawmakers may reconsider.

Hog farmer Terry O’Neel wants Nebraska to allow corporations to own pigs. When he looks at the scope of the pork industry, he sees Nebraska losing ground to other states that allow it. Especially Iowa, Nebraska’s neighbor and the top pork state in the nation.

On a frigid afternoon, the winter wind cut across O’Neel’s farm near Friend in eastern Nebraska. But his pigs didn’t feel the chill. They were tucked away in heated steel barns across the yard from his home.

“We just weaned approximately 500-head of pigs today and they’re in a facility that’s about 85 degrees,” said O’Neel as we ducked into his farm office to get out of the cold. “Just like being in the Caribbean.”

O’Neel started out in the hog business in the mid-1980s, feeding 40 pigs on dirt lots. But when the industry changed O’Neel’s farm changed with it. He started building the long, steel barns you see dotting the landscape. Each can feed hundreds or thousands of animals. Now with 7,000 hogs on his farm, he still considers himself small compared to some of the hog feeders in Iowa.

Both Nebraska and Iowa have lost thousands of hog farms in the last 20 years, but Iowa has added millions of animals at the same time. That’s come with some environmental challenges, but what bothers O’Neel is a lot of Iowa’s pigs are processed in Nebraska packing plants.

“We’re missing out on that opportunity,” O’Neel said. “I’ve seen what’s happened in Iowa. I’m seeing what’s happening in South Dakota. It seems like we’re becoming an island.”

He calls Nebraska an island because the state prohibits meat companies from owning livestock. Iowa and other Midwestern states also used to ban corporate farming to protect family-owned operations. But after a slew of court challenges, Nebraska’s packer ban is one of the only laws still standing.

In states like Iowa, Minnesota, and North Carolina, much of the hog industry now involves farmers who have contracts to feed pigs owned by meatpacking companies like Cargill or Tyson. Nebraska does not allow meatpacking companies that slaughter hogs in the state to also own livestock. State Senator Ken Schilz of Ogallala, Neb. says that policy is getting in the way of rural growth.

“(Nebraska has) been in population decline for the last 50 years,” Schilz said. “So we’d better start doing some things to entice people to come back.”

Schilz introduced a bill which would lift the packer ban on livestock ownership, but only for hogs, not cattle. It’s a slightly different version from a bill he introduced last year. And it’s part of a package of proposals aimed at growing Nebraska’s livestock industry. Another bill would standardize the county zoning process, while also creating a state board that could review rejected siting permits for livestock facilities. A third bill would create economic incentives for counties to attract livestock operations.

The idea behind allowing farmers to contract with pork processors is to provide another source of income for farm families who may not have enough land to bring a son or daughter back in the business. Schilz says with packer contracts, more young farmers could get loans to build hog barns.

Critics say that would mean giving up control over the most valuable part of the farm, the livestock. Traci Bruckner of the Center for Rural Affairs says Nebraska’s ban on packer ownership prevents meat companies from dominating the pork industry the way they do the chicken industry. She says consumers might not notice, but you can see the results in farm country.

“We think farmers should own livestock in the state, not packers,” Bruckner said. “If vertical integration was the answer rural America would be a paradise, and it’s not.”

Instead of more hog buildings on fewer farms, Bruckner and others want to see more farms adding smaller numbers of pigs. Bruckner says promoting packer-owned livestock would make that harder for farmers like Ryan Schieffer.

Schieffer sells a few hundred hogs each year from his farm near Crofton in northeast Nebraska. But his operation is a throwback, considering where the hog industry is today. The animals wander in and out of open sheds that have been around for decades. He feeds them by filling and carrying buckets by hand.

“I see that old barn with rusted tin on top but it still shelters those girls just fine,” Schieffer said as he carried two buckets into a hog pen.

Until recently, Schieffer was still trying to sell his animals to big packers for commodity prices. But that traditional cash market barely exists today.

“It’s gotten to the point where that’s not working anymore,” Schieffer said. “It worked in my dad’s generation, but no it doesn’t fly now.”

That’s why, last year, Schieffer and his wife Jessica started raising red wattle hogs, a heritage breed. Now, they sell meat directly to individuals and restaurants as High Land Hills Farm. He says it’s working, but it’s a different business.

“You can do a lot with a little if you want to raise them this way, but, it’s not just ‘take these to Tyson, or Smithfield.’ You have to find your own markets. That’s where it gets tricky,” Schieffer said.

And that’s really what’s happening as the pork industry becomes more concentrated. Small and mid-sized producers are forced to either get bigger, get out, or get into a niche market.

Taking away Nebraska’s packer ban would give farmers another way to grab a share of the pork industry. But the concern is whether that could actually leave hog farmers with fewer ways to compete in the long run.

NeFU Sponsors College Students Attendance to College Conference on Cooperatives


For Immediate Release

Contact:  Jeremiah Picard

402-476-8815 Office

402-570-3746 Cell


Lincoln, NE – 19 agricultural students and their professors from 3 different Nebraska Colleges traveled to Minneapolis, Minnesota February 19-22 to learn about cooperatives under the guidance of Nebraska Farmers Union.  The participating colleges included Northeast Community College at Norfolk, Southeast Community College at Beatrice, and Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture at Curtis.  The College Conference on Cooperatives brought more than 150 attendees from 25 states and Puerto Rico.

The Cooperative Conference participants learned how cooperative businesses are adapting to changing environments and heard from cooperative experts from across the nation on why member-owned businesses are thriving in industries ranging from senior housing to healthcare. They also toured the CHS (Cenex Harvest States) Headquarters, housing coops, food coops, and the Mill City Flour Museum. “This is an opportunity for the cooperative community to teach young people about cooperative business principles and to show them that there are great careers in these dynamic, ethical and community-minded businesses,” said NFU President Roger Johnson.

Students heard from cooperative leaders, farmers and government experts who explained current challenges they face. Presenters ranged from members, directors, employees and managers of traditional and value-added agricultural cooperatives to representatives of housing and worker-owned co-ops, as well as consumer cooperatives such as REI outdoor goods and natural foods co-ops. These professionals offered insights on cooperative development here and abroad.

The conference evaluations revealed that 48% of the students in attendance were from farms or ranches, 17% were rural, 21% were from small towns, and the remaining 14% were urban. Picard said, “The College Cooperative Conference helps make more students aware career options and tools that can be used to create the economic opportunities needed to help our rural youth stay in their communities.   We are pleased to partner with these Nebraska colleges to help send Nebraska kids to this Conference.”

The annual College Cooperative Conference is co-sponsored by the CHS Foundation in cooperation with the National Farmers Union Foundation.  Nebraska Farmers Union was awarded a grant from the CHS Foundation to help defray the attendance costs for the Nebraska participants.

Bills could help Nebraska community gardens, seed libraries

Bills could help Nebraska community gardens, seed libraries


The Nebraska local food movement, championed as a bridge between the state’s agricultural and urban sectors, needs to be promoted and protected from overregulation, community gardeners told senators Tuesday.

A legislative committee heard public testimony on a bill by Sen. Burke Harr of Omaha that would allow cities, states and counties to designate vacant city land for community gardens.

“This is an opportunity for city people to start getting engaged in the food production process so they begin to get an appreciation of how complicated agriculture is,” said Nebraskans for Peace state coordinator Tim Rinne. “This is our opportunity to start pulling our weight in the food production system.”

Community gardens currently sit on private property, primarily land owned by churches. The bill designates a task force to explore ways to repurpose open lots such as public-school grounds or right of ways purchased by the Nebraska Department of Roads.

Advocates, such as the Douglas County Nebraska Farmers Union and Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation, said they promote community gardens making agriculture and whole-food nutrition accessible to low-income families.

The bill would also exempt free seed exchanges, or seed libraries, from regulations that apply to commercial seed operations. Seed libraries have gained attention as an informal mechanism for sharing seeds among gardeners.

Elizabeth Goodman, who coordinates three different branches of seed libraries in Omaha, said they promote seeds adapted to the community soil and conditions, which is important to the nutrition and longevity of the produce.

David Mixdorf of South Sioux City, said seed libraries work just like book libraries. People can check out seeds and return them at the end of the growing season.

As the exchanges have gained national popularity, members have begun to worry that state agriculture departments will interfere. The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture effectively shut down a 10-year-old seed library in June of last year by enforcing the commercial requirement that seeds be labeled and tested in 400-seed batches. Harr’s bill would exclude seed libraries from regulations in the Nebraska Seed Law.

The committee also heard testimony on a measure by Sen. Rick Kolowski of Omaha that would allow for potentially non-hazardous foods such as fresh produce, baked goods and jams to be prepared in personal kitchens and sold on a small scale. Such products already are legal to sell at farmers markets.

Phillip Seng, who owns gluten-free baking business P.S. It’s Gluten Free LLC, said he has a loyal customer base at farmers markets for six months of the year, but does not have the funds to build a commercial gluten-free kitchen to legally distribute his product during the off season.

Kathy Siefken, executive director of the Nebraska Grocery Industry Association, testified against the bill, saying consumers should know if their food is being prepared on surfaces where dogs, kids or diapers had previously been.

The committee took no action on the bills.