Posted by: FBRuralDevelopment | 04/11/2014

Joining the American Farm Bureau Federation

lisa-hightowerHello! My name is Lisa Hightower and I’m the new director of rural development at the American Farm Bureau Federation. Sabrina Matteson left a four-year legacy of rural development work at the American Farm Bureau Federation and my goal entering into this position is to make sure that the incredible foundation she laid becomes a springboard for our work in the future.

I have a passion to see farmers and their communities thrive. Before coming to the American Farm Bureau Federation, I completed a PhD at Virginia Tech in agricultural education. I also worked with a beginning farmer program called the VT Earthworks Growers Academy that provided training to a range of farmers, including young farmers, second-career farmers, and Somali Bantu refugees. I saw that farming could be an incredible tool to strengthen local communities by providing new jobs, offering more sources of fresh food, and networking people together. I joined the American Farm Bureau Federation family because they share my passion to help farm families be successful and their rural communities thrive.

In the coming week I’m thrilled to be attending the Start2Farm Together Conference in Bloomington, IL. The conference brings together educators from beginning farmer programs from across the country to learn from each other. I’m looking forward to hearing their stories and learning what strategies they’ve used to support farmers in their local communities. I hope to share their success stories in future posts.

To learn more about the Start2Farm Together Conference on April 15-16 in Bloomington, click here.

Posted by: FBRuralDevelopment | 04/04/2014

New Generation of Families Drawn to Rural Communities

By Kyle Perry, Director, Leadership Development, American Farm Bureau Federation

For decades, rural communities across the U.S. have experienced outmigration—young adults graduate from high school and leave their hometowns for new opportunities in larger cities. A recent University of Nebraska study shows that a new group of young adults and their families are reversing this trend and moving to rural communities. According to census data there was a population increase for adults in their 20s and 30s living in rural communities in Nebraska. In fact, for every 100 people 20 to 24 years old living in a rural community in the year 2000, there would be 125 for the same age group in 2010, at that point they would be 30 to 34 years old. These adults are looking to rural communities to live, work, and raise their families.

These young families offer some great benefits to the rural communities where they are living. These adults are often highly educated and bring strong work experiences. They have the tools, resources, and perspectives to make great contributions to their local rural communities.


Photo courtesy of

There is still a lot that is not known about the individuals moving their lives to rural communities. It would probably be best to start by exploring the motivations of this group. I think we should start by having conversations with residents of rural communities, asking why they choose to live there and if they ever moved away, learning what brought them back. If we can better understand why middle-aged people are moving to rural communities we can do a better job of creating infrastructure, opportunities, and marketing that supports and encourages this trend.

Posted by: FBRuralDevelopment | 01/29/2014

Are you an Entrepreneur?

Posted by: FBRuralDevelopment | 01/13/2014

Super Fast Broadband Arrives in Rural Texas

By: Jessica Ditto, Communications Director, Connected Nation

Connected Nation is a leading technology organization committed to bringing affordable high-speed Internet and broadband-enabled resources to all Americans.  AFBF President Bob Stallman serves on the Connected Nation Board of Directors. Farm Bureau and Connected Nation are working together to bridge the digital divide in rural America.

Two communities in rural Texas are joining the elite list of “gigabit cities” in the U.S. Last month, LiveAir Networks began offering ultra-fast 1 Gbps download speeds via their new Fiber to the Home (FTTH) network to residents in Smithville and La Grange, Texas beating out their urban counterpart in neighboring Austin.
“Fiber-based Internet has traditionally been limited to urban areas, such as Verizon’s FIOS, AT&T U-Verse, and Google Fiber. Our rural communities are getting bypassed. It is our hope that by starting our FTTH project in these two core cities in Eastern Central Texas that we kick start a new chapter in these areas’ economic development,” said James W. Breeden, LiveAir’s CEO and founder in LightWave Online.

Smithville is located in Bastrop County, which was designated in November by Connected Texas as the first certified Connected Community in the state. Bastrop County proves that great things can happen when the right folks get together to make technology a priority in local planning.

Our team has been hard at work with partners and providers across the state to expand affordable, high-speed access to more communit ies including those populated primarily by farm and ranch families. The efforts are paying off.


“To be able to offer 1 gigabit service in any area, let alone a rural community, is a big deal. The technology has advanced to where providers can offer faster broadband to our rural areas and we’re partnering with them to make it happen. These investments help drive the economy and will no doubt benefit our state,” said Don Shirley, Executive Director of Connected Texas, in the Austin Statesman.

Broadband is the key to ensuring access to better healthcare, educational opportunities, customer interaction, and much more. The cost of being on the wrong side of the digital divide is too great. Connected Texas is a statewide broadband initiative run by Connected Nation in partnership with the Texas Department of Agriculture with a mission of increasing economic and rural development through broadband expansion.

How can other communities follow? Connected Nation has worked closely with state and local community leaders, broadband providers, and organizations like Farm Bureau, to increase collaboration toward achieving faster and more affordable broadband in homes, schools, and businesses in all areas.

As reported in previous posts, the Connected Community Engagement Program gives community leaders a framework for inventorying broadband assets and developing a plan for increased access, adoption, and use. To learn more visit,



Posted by: FBRuralDevelopment | 12/20/2013

A Message from AFBF President Bob Stallman

There are many principles that build the foundation of an organization, especially one that endures for 90-plus years.  The Farm Bureau mission is to be the unified national voice of agriculture, working through our grassroots organization to enhance and strengthen the lives of rural Americans and to build strong, prosperous agricultural communities.  In January 2008 we homed in on a very positive personality to accomplish specific projects and rural focused outreach, and AFBF acquired the talents and the passion of Sabrina Matteson as our director of rural affairs.

Sabrina ProfileSabrina and her husband Gary relocated from New Hampshire.  They had experienced rural community life, and together they have an unmatched passion to build rural communities nationwide.  Sabrina’s efforts and dedication were tireless as she forged alliances and increased understanding of a broad and diverse audience while assisting county and state Farm Bureaus to create and implement initiatives and projects in their local communities.

So it is with mixed emotion that I become the first guest writer on this blog and share with the broader community the news that Sabrina has been battling metastatic breast cancer for several years and entered palliative care just after Thanksgiving.  The Mattesons have created a website to allow others to follow and post comments,, and we encourage you to visit the site.  I have been moved in reading many posts and tributes.

Rarely have I had the privilege of meeting anyone as dedicated, passionate, enthusiastic and competent in their chosen work.  Former USDA Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan also commented in a post “…(Sabrina) your persistent and effective advocacy has really changed hearts and minds… have truly made the world a better place.”

We are reminded at this time of year about what’s really important—our faith, our health and spending time with our loved ones. That reminder is especially meaningful to the Farm Bureau family this year as one of our own is so close in our thoughts and hearts.  We will continue to build on the solid foundation that Sabrina has helped to build to strengthen rural America and agriculture.

To help us continue this important work and move forward in our efforts to serve rural communities, we are posting the position for a director of rural development.  Strong rural communities and a successful agriculture economy are at the heart of our work, and we will work to hire someone with a similar dedication, drive and passion.  I am very excited about the outcomes we will continue to achieve.

Good tidings to all,

Bob Stallman, President
American Farm Bureau Federation

Posted by: FBRuralDevelopment | 12/05/2013

Nebraska Farm Family Welcomes Military Veteran to their Operation

Veterans Living the (Farming) Dream
By Sabrina Matteson

When Dustin Ladenburger climbs up into his tractor seat these days he finds he cannot reach the pedals. That is because Dustin’s new hired man is 6’8” and Dustin is, well, not quite that tall. Other than that, Kevin Comer is a perfect fit for the job at Ladenburger Farms, caring for cattle, fixing equipment and caring for crops and pastures.

Kevin and Jessica Comer

Kevin and Jessica Comer

Kevin is a military veteran who did not come from a farming background but he knew it was a life he wanted. After completing eight years of service in the Army Reserves, he was working a construction job in the Denver area. He recognized right away that city life and being away from his family all day was not conducive to a healthy lifestyle. Kevin’s wife, Jessica, was from the country and both of them had dreams of farming, if they could only make it happen. In order to network with farmers, Kevin and Jessica joined their county Farm Bureau Young Farmers & Ranchers group.

Kevin was working at the Farm Bureau booth at the Denver Stock Show when Dustin happened to visit. The two got to talking and Dustin shared his contact information. A week later, Kevin got in touch with Dustin to say that he and Jessica were interested in making a commitment to farm—moving from Colorado to Nebraska, learning how to handle cattle, adapting his equipment maintenance skills from military vehicles to farm equipment, and beginning to make a life in farming that fit their dreams.

Dustin, Dan and Nick Ladenburger with Kevin Comer

Dustin, Dan and Nick Ladenburger with Kevin Comer

“There are so many skills that transition from military service to farming,” said Kevin about his new career. “Paying attention to detail, building physical strength, being in good shape, having a great work ethic, and rising early and working long days are just a few. I think it is critical to have the personal drive to work a full day without a boss around to motivate you. Also, everybody in the military has emergency medical training which is great experience to have on the farm.”

Jessica struggled to find work in Stratton, Neb., a town of only 300 people. But now she is working part-time and expecting their first child in April.

Dustin is happy to share the workload with one more person on the farm. In 2012, he finished serving on the national AFBF YF&R Committee, which took him out of town a lot.

Dustin and his brother, Nick, are fourth-generation farmers with their dad, Dan. They have 400 head of Angus cattle, lots of pastures and fences, dryland wheat (grown without irrigation water) and corn. And in Dustin’s spare time he teaches, which he can do more frequently now that there is another trusted hand on the farm with them.

This new resource guide provides Farm Bureaus with a simple framework to assist returning veterans interested in staking their futures on agriculture.

This new resource guide provides Farm Bureaus with a simple framework to assist returning veterans interested in staking their futures on agriculture.

“Kevin is learning a lot about agriculture and about the way we do things on our farm,” said Dustin. “There is never a shortage of jobs to do, from handling cattle to digging fence posts to welding. Kevin fits right into our farm because he is not afraid to do the hard work. He listens well, follows directions and is willing to learn.”

Dustin is very happy to be able to help Kevin and Jessica fulfill their dream of becoming farmers. It is a life Dustin loves and can understand how others would want to have the same dream. It just fits, even though Dustin sometimes cannot reach the pedals.

Click  or to learn more about Dustin’s farm.

The Farm Bureau Resource Guide to Assist Veterans in Agriculture is a free resource for county and state Farm Bureaus with information about training beginning farmers, making equipment available to veteran farmers and how to help find farm ownership or employment opportunities for members of the military transitioning into the civilian workforce.

Download a 60-second audio version of this column at

This is AFBF’s December 4, 2013 FOCUS ON AGRICULTURE column.

Posted by: FBRuralDevelopment | 11/27/2013

USDA: 2014 Value-Added Producer Grant Funding

Grants extend production season for farmers

Click here to learn more about the 2014 National Value Add Ag Confeence

Click here to learn more about the 2014 National Value Add Ag Confeence

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced this week the availability of nearly $10.5 million in U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grants to help agricultural producers enter into value-added activities designed to give them a competitive business edge.

Grant applications are due by Feb. 24, 2014. More information about how to apply is available on page 70260 of the November 25 Federal Register, or by contacting any USDA Rural Development state office.

The funding is being made available through the Value-Added Producer Grant program. Grants are available to help agricultural producers create new products, expand marketing opportunities, support further processing of existing products or goods, or to develop specialty and niche products. They may be used for working capital and planning activities. The maximum working capital grant is $200,000; the maximum planning grant is $75,000.

1490608jk1053[1]Eligible applicants include independent producers, farmer and rancher cooperatives, and agricultural producer groups. Funding priority is given to socially disadvantaged and beginning farmers or ranchers, and to small- to medium-size family farms, or farmer/rancher cooperatives.

“U.S. agriculture is connected to one in 12 American jobs, and value-added products from homegrown sources are one important way that agriculture generates economic growth,” Vilsack said. “Supporting producers and businesses to create value-added products strengthens rural economies, helps fuel innovation, and strengthens marketing opportunities for producers – especially at the local and regional level.”

The Value-Added Producer Grant program is one of many USDA programs that support the development of strong local and regional food systems as part of the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative. Launched in 2009, the initiative strengthens ties between agricultural producers and their local communities, helping meet growing consumer demand and creating opportunities for small business development. Initiatives like this create new income opportunities for farmers, generate wealth that will stay in rural communities, and increase access to healthy, local foods in underserved communities. All of these actions boost local economies.

Today’s announcement comes as more than 1,400 communities nationwide gear up to support Small Business Saturday, a day dedicated to championing small businesses on one of the busiest shopping weekends of the year. This year’s Small Business Saturday is Nov. 30.

Additional examples of how VAPGs assist local and regional food producers are available on the USDA Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass, which is searchable by zip code and key word.

Posted by: FBRuralDevelopment | 11/25/2013

New Resource Guide Assists Veterans in Agriculture

FB Vet guidefinal2013coverFarm Bureau Resource Guide to Assist Veterans in Agriculture

WASHINGTON, D.C., November 25, 2013—A new resource guide developed by Farm Bureau and the Farmer Veteran Coalition Partnership is now available.

Farm Bureau and the FVC are working together to train beginning farmers, make equipment available to veteran farmers and help find farm ownership or employment opportunities for members of the military transitioning into the civilian workforce.

“Through this partnership, I am optimistic returning veterans will learn how to continue their service to our country by helping feed its citizens, nourish its land and make its rural communities more viable through the many entrepreneurial opportunities agriculture has to offer,” said American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman.

The resource guide provides Farm Bureaus with a simple framework outlining the many ways that are available to participate in the new partnership and assist returning veterans interested in staking their futures on agriculture and rural America.

“We’re working to cultivate a new generation of farmers and food leaders, in addition to developing viable employment and meaningful careers through the  collaboration of the farming and military communities,” said Michael O’Gorman, executive director of the FVC.

“We believe that veterans possess the unique skills and character needed to strengthen rural communities and create sustainable food systems for all,” O’Gorman continued. “We believe that food production offers purpose and opportunity, as well as physical and psychological benefits.”

Service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have become the latest group of veterans in need of employment and who, by some measures, may be the most likely young people to enter agriculture and other rural-based businesses. Only 17 percent of the U.S. population calls rural communities home, yet 44 percent of military recruits come from rural America.

The FVC is an organization aimed at mobilizing veterans to enter agriculture and help feed American while rebuilding rural communities. Learn more at

Posted by: FBRuralDevelopment | 11/22/2013

Lee County Farm Bureau (AL) Ag Fair!

2013-06-08 10.59.34

Lee County Farm Bureau brings local food and farm activities to their neighbors

Lee County was one of 24 county Farm Bureaus nationwide recently recognized by the American Farm Bureau Federation for innovative program ideas in this year’s County Activities of Excellence Awards program

Planting plants with those attending fair. This booth was manned by our Farm-City Committee. One of the positives of the fair was all the groups who worked together to make the event possible.

Planting plants with those attending fair. This booth was manned by our Farm-City Committee. One of the positives of the fair was all the groups who worked together to make the event possible.

In recent years Lee County (AL) Farm Bureau was primarily viewed as an insurance organization. Membership and support had decreased, and the county board felt there was a real need to educate others about our purpose, community activities, and the positive influence Farm Bureau has on the community.

The objectives of a project were to create a positive image and perception of Farm Bureau to the community, to share  an awareness of Farm Bureau benefits available (soil testing, forage tests, political advocacy, discounts from various businesses, scholarships for local college students and support of youth organizations), provide a connection between consumers and local agricultural producers and provide an opportunity for consumers to purchase local farm produce. They also wanted to provide exposure to various aspects of local commodity agriculture, including the equipment needed for planting and harvest and present it in an educational and fun way.

The main focus of the day was to instill a positive view of agriculture and Lee County Farm Bureau in the minds of all who attended. Locally grown produce and crafts were sold, and they featured livestock exhibits, farm equipment, and a petting zoo. Entertainment was provided for all ages, including a pedal tractor race for the little ones. Everyone was served a free barbecue lunch.  Attendees experienced a full day of fun while learning about local farms and the Farm Bureau.

The 45-plus volunteers prepared for an attendance of 1,500 to see the 35 different exhibits, but, to our surprise, we had over 4,000 participants, almost triple our expected attendance. We ran out of food, and vendors sold out of produce.

Pedal tractor races for the children. Young Farmers and Ranchers provided manpower for this event.

Pedal tractor races for the children. Young Farmers and Ranchers provided manpower for this event.

People continued to arrive and enjoy the exhibits and displays. I heard an attendee say, “We did not come for the food, but for the children to see the animals and participate in the fun.” The comments they received for the next several weeks were extremely positive for providing fun activities for young and old, with pedal-tractor races being a highlight of the day. The local newspaper gave them front page coverage with a fantastic article.

Here is how they did it: “Prior to the event, we saturated the area with advertising using newspapers, radio, television, flyers and posters. Personal letters of invitation were written to dignitaries. Members distributed flyers to daycare centers, schools, civic clubs, etc., and we hung posters in local businesses. Each attendee received a pamphlet specific to our county, featuring photos of local farmers, youth and other county residents and focused on the benefits of Farm Bureau.  Vendors (free barbecue lunch, farmers with produce, livestock, plants for sale, etc.) set up around the perimeter with entertainment, farm equipment, and our Farm Bureau disaster trailer in the center.

A variety of fresh produce was for sale by vendors, as well as locally grown plants.

A variety of fresh produce was for sale by vendors, as well as locally grown plants.

“An effort was made to involve as many agricultural people as possible. FFA and 4-H were in charge of livestock exhibits; Farm Bureau members cooked Boston butts; and 4-Hers chopped meat and served lunch. Members rode an ATV around the fair, distributed water, and helped take purchased produce to vehicles. Exhibits included Farm-City and Farm Bureau Women’s Committees, which provided educational material and hands-on activities for children and adults. Our Young Farmers Committee hosted the pedal-tractor racing for children, and it was one of our most popular events.

IMG_8958“As far as any of our Farm Bureau board members can recollect, an activity of this significance and scope has not been executed in our county or state by Farm Bureau.  We tailored all distributed literature to our county, showing local producers and other benefits of Farm Bureau. We know this is now being considered by other counties to promote their Farm Bureaus. Our active involvement in promoting Farm Bureau benefits to encourage others to join was also unique. We had not only Farm Bureau members working, but civic clubs, Chambers of Commerce and others to make this day a success. Our Farm Bureau worked diligently on this project, and we saw a growth in pride, communication, and friendship to build on for our next event.”

Posted by: FBRuralDevelopment | 11/12/2013

Wealth Creation and Rural Livelihoods news updates

Every Sunday evening, I receive an email from the Wealth Creation and Rural Livelihoods team. is a website of resources open to all but you must register on the site to read the posts.  This is an interactive site that allows for dialogue and resource sharing.  Please join us!  Here is this week’s update:

Rural Wealth Creation logo


  • With about 300 participants, substantive content and discussion, and Secretary Vilsack’s keynote address, the Rooting Wealth that Sticks forum in Little Rock, Arkansas on October 30th was a tremendous success! It elevated wealth building work to a new level of conversation. Fortunately for those of you unable to attend, the conversations continue! Check out the WCRL postings here and here. Please add your voice. Also visit for presentations, videos and stories from the forum.
  • Wait, there’s more! This week’s WCRL webinar – Thursday, November 14th, 1-2 pm ET – will feature one of the stories from the forum. Molly Hemstreet, Sara Chester and Mary Snow will present Rethreading a Textile Heritage: One Stitch at a Time. Click here to register and here for a short story about this great work.
  • Check out the next CommunityMatters conference call – Let’s Play! Creating Fun Places – on November 14th, 4-5 pm ET. Learn more here.

That’s all for this week! Keep an eye on for more resources and opportunities in the coming weeks.

Older Posts »



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 248 other followers

%d bloggers like this: