Jul 17, 2011

Small Farmer Commentary: Of Goodbyes & Meeting New Challenges

by Mary Fund

I start with an apology for this issue being so late. We have skipped April and May, and shot straight into the summer issue. But as you read in this issue, KRC has big staff changes underway, which contributed to that tardiness. Then came the news of board member Bob Mulch's passing (See below post.) So is it any wonder we are a bit slow with this issue?

Dan Nagengast, Executive Director for twenty years, has moved on to pursue a family business opportunity. April and May were busy with trying to download Dan's brain, not to mention his computer files and physically sorting and moving his records and boxes of KRC history, and working with the board to set up the search process for his successor.

I was appointed Acting Director, which means I am wearing multiple hats, and the editor hat ended up thrown into the corner. But the call for applicants is out, the review process is underway, and we hope to interview and hire Dan's successor by sometime this fall.

Other staff changes include Jason Schmidt, Field Organizer leaving the end of March to farm fulltime. We've hired Lyle Kohlmeier to replace Jason (see page 13), and hired 3 chapter coordinators as we launched the Our Local Food Project this spring.

Mercedes Taylor-Puckett has taken on Dan's local/regional food project responsibilities. Diane Dysart has upped her vigilance in all things related to budgets and reports. Field staff continue working with farmers and organizing workshops and tours, and have smoothly absorbed additional needs, such as helping plan the 2011 Sustainable Agriculture Conference.

So, with this newsletter, KRC is back on track with its obligations. For the remainder of the year, we plan to issue several smaller, more timely issues as we move through the first phase of transition. Wish us luck!

KRC has had only three Executive Directors in its lifetime, so when we choose these individuals, we choose them carefully. And when the board chose Dan twenty years ago, they did well.

Dan took over just before KRC's fortunes took off. Under his leadership we received a multi- year Kellogg Foundation grant which set up the Heartland Network clusters around the state-- a program that greatly expanded KRC's reach into the varied nature of Kansas agriculture. Many of these clusters still exist today-- in varied forms-- as grazing clusters or marketing groups, and for several years they were the nucleus of our Heartland Round-up, an annual sustainable agriculture conference that brought together like-minded farmers, ranchers and consumers from across the state to learn and to share stories of success and failure, to cuss and discuss, and to make plans for the future. Members of those clusters and their offshoots are today the foundation of our farm and ranch supporters.

Dan oversaw our growth into whole farm planning and offering help to farmers in implementing sustainable farming practices in our Clean Water Farm Project. He participated in a high tunnel research project with several land grants way back before hoop houses were cool. He plunged into the wind energy debate in Kansas early on, and traveled the state educating county commissioners and community leaders on the pitfalls of private contracts, and the benefits of community wind.

He initiated regular meetings with KSU's research and extension faculty and other personnel (through the Kansas Center for Agricultural Resources and the Environment) to review common projects and questions, and develop new ways to partner with the university.

Dan served as Co-Chair of then Governor Sebelius' Task Force on Rural Kansas, and was instrumental in the development of the Kansas Food Policy Council, a network of state agency, church and non-profit groups analyzing food issues and accessibility in Kansas and making policy and program recommendations to enhance food security of all Kansans.

And in recent years, Dan led the charge to elevate the importance of local/ regional food production, processing and marketing as economic growth for communities and the state.

In short, there have not been many issues affecting farming, food and sustainable resource use in Kansas that Dan has not been involved in. And he has done it all with grace and humor, including the time he and I both thought we would be tarred and feathered by an audience particularly hostile to KRC's views. (In fact, Dan's sense of humor is why I am lobbying hard to list "a keen sense of humor" as an absolute necessity in the job criteria.)

So thanks to Dan, KRC is well placed to continue tackling many of the critical food and farm issues that face us, and the board and staff will miss his daily presence in our work. But we also know that he will still be in Lawrence, working hard at his new business, and continuing to be involved in local and regional food politics. In fact, we have invited Dan to be our keynote speaker at our November 19 Sustainable Agriculture Conference to summarize all he has learned about food and farming in his twenty years at KRC, and to tell us what the next steps in developing a new and improved food system are.

Thanks for the memories, Dan. And we'll meet you down the road.

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