Introducing Truck Farm Omaha – an edible education project

While traveling across the country for their documentary film about urban agriculture, Growing Cities, Dan and Andrew came across Truck Farms from Portland, OR to Washington, D.C.  From the first sight, they knew they wanted to start a Truck Farm in their hometown of Omaha, NE.  

Truck Farm Omaha logoTruck Farm Omaha is an edible education project focused on teaching area youth how-to grow food in the city and to recognize the environmental, social, and health benefits involved in urban farming. Currently, TFO is the only education program offering food and sustainable agriculture education for youth in the area.

With some local funding including the Mayor of Omaha, Jim Suttle, Dan and Andrew were able to bring Chelsea into the project to purchase and plant Truck Farm Omaha. Watch a video of the initial construction here.

Truck Farm Omaha taps into the potential of urban youth by engaging them in growing food and paving the way for a new generation of healthy eaters, educated consumers and sustainable farmers.  The project impact students by bringing the mobile mini-farm directly into the classroom. TFO makes food production more accessible to inner-city youth and introduces them to sustainable farming, healthy foods, and plant science in a fun and hands-on way.

Kids learning with Truck Farm OmahaBy showing youth that caring for and consuming fruits and vegetables is not only healthy, but also delicious and enjoyable, the team hopes to address the childhood health epidemic at its source. Older students are at an age when they understand choice.  They may be able to walk home from school alone and stop at the convenient store for a candy bar.  TFO wants them to feel empowered to make healthier food choices and incorporate these choices into a healthy lifestyle.  The group’s long-term goal is to be a part of developing a healthier, happier and more sustainable future for our community.  *  Facebook: Truck Farm Omaha  * @truckfarmomaha

Introducing Johnson Hill Farm of Ceresco Nebraska.

 Johnson Hill farm 1Eric and Gina Lanik live outside of Ceresco Nebraska on the original homestead of Eric’s Great, Great grandparents Otto and Hulda Johnson and have owned the land continuously since 1892.  Today they grow their pastured chicken, natural beef, pastured pork, grass fed lamb, free range eggs and veggies the same way they did then, without chemicals, pesticides, antibiotics, or hormones and we are striving toward holistic management, closed herds and complete sustainability. 

Their journey started in 2002 when Eric and Gina acquired the farm and went to work cleaning it up.  They got a few goats and started a CSA garden, the goats proved difficult to keep in as goat normally are so they moved to sheep and a couple of calves to butcher for themselves and family. Their original goal was to help their two children grow up with farming values of nurturing, hard work, a sense of independence and ownership as well as a tie to the land and community.  They produced their own good quality food and enough extra to pay for their trouble. People liked the beef so much more than they could get in the store that they started expanding slowly adding chickens then pigs and dropping the vegetable CSA.  They found that their passion was in livestock in every aspect from breeding to finishing.

Johnson Hill Farm’s pastured pork is a purebred heritage breed hog called Hereford, it is called that due to its red white markings which are similar to the cow of the same name.  It is a recovering breed and Johnson Hill is proud to be stewards of this old breed that was developed in Nebraska and Iowa.  It is a moderate framed pig that finishes with just the right amount fat for what they think is the tastiest pork you will ever eat.  This is the perfect pig for their pasture based system. They are hardier and more docile and are the most raved about item on the farm.  “Even our butcher bought a bred gilt from us because he liked the way they cut so much, we think that was the ultimate vote of confidence.”

Johnson Hill farm 2Their Beef is a composite of Scottish Highlander and Belted Galloway. They are using these breeds to develop their base herd, then will add a Irish Black bull to proceed with the genetic base.  They focus on moderate frame, easy calving, early maturity, easy fleshing, and longevity.  While the farm still currently uses grain to finish for 90 days, these cattle are the kind that finish excellent on grass. Eric has attended several seminars on rotational and high stock density grazing and is focused on improving grazing lands and increasing carrying capacity, because as one of his favorite authors Wendell Berry says, it’s not about what you can take from the land but how much can it produce dependably for an indefinite time.

The Lanik’s raise broilers in the Salatin method, in tractors with daily moves on grass and fresh air.  They still have heritage Blue Swedish ducks for self-consumption, and heritage chickens for eggs but have stopped selling eggs and vegetables to the public. Johnson Hill Farm will offer meat shares in a CSA model for 2013 to include beef, pork, chicken, and lamb.  Their goal is to offer concerned families an affordable opportunity to buy local meats that are raised with care and with sustainable practices, all the while supporting their farm family. You can contact them through their website at, email  or find them on Facebook.

Introducing Firefly Meadows of Fairfield, NE

Firefly profile pic 1Mike and Rita Brhel’s just over five acres might be small in size but it’s big in dreams. Firefly Meadows features a farm-fresh chicken and duck egg business, a pasture-based sheep operation, and a vegetable garden with spring, summer, and fall plantings. There are plans to add meat goats, pigeons, and an orchard.

Both Mike and Rita grew up on farms – Mike on a diversified livestock and crop operation southwest of Lincoln, NE, and Rita on a sheep ranch south of Hastings, NE. Mike was involved in FFA. Rita was also active in 4-H and FFA, expanding the ranch’s enterprises to poultry and beef cattle. Mike and Rita met in college at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where they both earned Bachelor of Science degrees in the agricultural sciences. While in college, Rita completed a two-year internship with the North Central Region SARE program, where she was introduced to sustainable agriculture. After graduating, Mike and Rita moved to Northeast Nebraska where they became involved in the Northeast Nebraska RC&D Council’s rural development efforts. Rita worked as a farm journalist, further studying differences between conventional and sustainable farming methods. When the couple began having children, they decided to move back to South Central Nebraska. It took eight years for Mike and Rita to find the property on the edge of Fairfield, NE, but only days to decide to buy it. They moved in on Halloween of 2009.

Firefly profile pic 2The property was fitted for horses, so it took some work to convert fencing and facilities for small livestock. Mike and Rita started with a small flock of sheep, laying hens, and a few dairy goats. The goat herd was sold to ease pressure on the droughty pastures. The pasture is managed with a rotational grazing system. The goal is to graze livestock year-round with minimal grain and purchased hay. The hens and ducks are free range and fed vegetable scraps from the kitchen. In addition to eggs, the poultry provide excellent bug control. Mike’s passion is in gardening where he uses organic principles and grows heritage varieties.

Firefly profile pic 3The goal is for the farm to pay for itself in food as well as provide a country lifestyle for the family. Mike works off-farm building houses. Rita works mostly from home as a parenting magazine editor and part-time at a local clinic as a breastfeeding counselor, allowing her to watch the farm during the day and be a stay-at-home mom to their three kids.

Mike and Rita are passionate about their sustainable lifestyle. Rita serves on the Board of Directors for the Nebraska Sustainable Agricultural Society and helps with the organization’s bimonthly newsletter. They have extended their sustainable philosophy from farming into other areas of life through such practices as Attachment Parenting, frugal living, and eating whole foods.

The name of the farm, Firefly Meadows, comes from the early summertime evenings when millions of fireflies light up the grass pasture – it is the most brilliant display of fireflies from the back porch swing.

Introducing Open Sky Farm of Unadilla, NE

Jon and Jamie Yoachim live on a 160 acre, off-grid, diversified farm near Unadilla, NE that they call Open Sky Farm. Although not certified organic, Open Sky Farm uses organic practices as part of their holistic management in an effort to raise food in a manner that nourishes those eating it and the land from which it came. All while providing a happy, healthy environment for the plants and animals to grow.

Open Sky Farm 1It all started in 2010 when Jon and Jamie were watching different food documentaries and started to become more interested (and disgusted) in how the “food” they were eating was raised/made. This spurred lots of reading and online research and quickly turned into a passion. This lead to a diversified ag tour around Southeastern Nebraska which brought it all to life. Seeing such stewardship in action really confirmed in their minds that this was something that they could do and should do. After that there was no turning back, they set out to make their dream a reality. Their goal was a simple one: raise healthy foods while being good stewards of the land, but they had no idea what that would lead to! Within a month they had found a farm to rent through the Center for Rural Affair’s Land Link Program. Without the Land Link program, they never would have found their incredibly supportive landlord and none of this would have been possible. They then enrolled in the Farm Beginnings Course offered by the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society and SARE. It was invaluable for them as it taught them many things and helped connect them with many amazing people. One of those amazing people was the late Terry Gompert who helped them with many things, including helping them to find their cattle. They were considering a grass-fed dairy but weren’t sure so he helped them find dual-purpose shorthorns that had the potential to become great milking animals or beef animals. They bought the cattle in late February 2011 and then moved out a couple weeks later. And that is how Open Sky Farm was born.

Open Sky Farm logoKeep in mind that this farm hadn’t been lived in for a couple years and had endured it’s fair share of neglect over the years. The 99 year old farmhouse had definitely seen better days but it fit right in with the rest of the farm. But what Jon and Jamie lacked in resources they made up for in determination.

So they began fixing up the farm, buying animals and learning how to take care of them. Jon and Jamie are quick to admit that farming is one of the most difficult “occupations” they have ever encountered. A person has to know so much about so many different things that the learning curve is incredibly steep. But they also like to point out that it is also one of the most rewarding.

Over the course of the first year, they built many fences, worked on the house and worked on various farm equipment and buildings. In addition to the cattle, they also started raising hogs, sheep, chickens, ducks and turkeys of many different heritage varieties.

As was mentioned in the beginning, the farm is also off-grid. Their power came from a 1kW wind turbine and a gas generator, until they installed 1.2kW of solar panels to help supplement the power. Like the experience as a whole, they say that living off-grid has been challenging but rewarding. Trying to live off-grid AND run a farm is much harder than just living off-grid.

And if all that wasn’t enough, they were blessed with a child in December 2011, which meant that Jamie was pregnant the first nine months of being on the farm. Jamie and Jon also both have “off-farm” jobs. Although, Jon is able to work remotely from home and Jamie has cut back in hours to take care of their daughter.

Open Sky Farm 2They are already working hard to keep up with demand and are very grateful to be in that situation.  Word of mouth has been their best method of getting their name out; however, they also have a blog, Facebook page and website. They also just started selling at the Old Cheney Road Farmers’ Market this year and are loving it.

With their first year under their belts, Jon and Jamie look back with pride and bewilderment at what they’ve experienced in the first year of Open Sky Farm and look forward to what’s ahead.

Introducing Big Muddy Farm of Omaha, NE

Big Muddy Urban Farm is a small-scale farm located within the city limits of Omaha, Nebraska. In Winter 2011 we met, formed our collective, wrote and signed our Partnership Agreement and started Big Muddy Urban Farm. For our first season we are offering a 25-member CSA program, selling at three local farmer’s markets, hosting free workshops at our growing sites, experimenting with value added products, and building relationships with a few local restaurants.

Big Muddy at the marketWe are a collectively run farm providing naturally grown vegetables and herbs to our community. Our collective is comprised of seven young urbanites, passionate about cultivating food, working collectively and collaboratively, and sharing our skills with others. As important as growing delicious produce in the city is to us, working with others on this project in a horizontal method is also equally important. Decisions at and about Big Muddy Urban Farm are decided cooperatively and in good faith by all members of the collective. Members are defined by those that demonstrate a willingness to participate in collective meetings, volunteer on the farm, and engage in events hosted by Big Muddy Urban Farm.

Big Muddy logoOur main goal is to create a new source of naturally-grown produce and herbs in Omaha, and encourage others to grow their own food by offering a lot of opportunities for skill building and volunteers. By sharing knowledge we strengthen our communities and give each other a sense of our own collective power. We highly value creative people and creative ideas. Growing food in an urban setting requires a lot of creativity and flexibility. We are constantly adapting our methods and harvesting input from others.

While we are not a “certified organic” operation everything we grow is done by using organic methods. We begin with non-GMO and organic seed, care for our crops without the use of pesticides or other chemicals, and implement soil and land-nurturing methods.

Moreover, food security is very important issue to address, especially in urban settings where many people are food insecure or struggling with their health and well-being due to foods that are detrimental to their health. We think small-scale urban farming operations are a very important piece of the food security puzzle. As things continue to change (climate, economies, etc.) we will need to rely more on food grown closer to home, or even at home. We are trying to help by growing intensively in small spaces, taking good care of our soil and land, and selling our produce to our surrounding community. We also want to encourage and inspire others to grow and produce their own!

Big Muddy signFarming in an urban area allows us to interact a lot with our community, and relationships are very important to us. We want people to feel empowered while being a part of our CSA, volunteering with us, learning new skills at a workshop, and then potentially starting their own projects (maybe a backyard garden, maybe building a chicken coop… keeping bees…). Food is a great way to bring people together. Even more, we think it is really important to collaborate with and partner with groups in our community. This season we’re partnering with the Gifford Park Teen Market Garden, the Gifford Park Community Garden, No More Empty Pots, Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society, Big Garden Project and many, many more groups and individuals. Thank you for your continued support!