March 5, 2012
Nebraska Agriculture Council
Local farmers join with The HSUS to foster better animal welfare and environmental stewardship
Meet the local farmers who make up our Nebraska Agriculture Council, the first in our emerging system of state agriculture councils.
Kevin Fulton grew up working on the family farm in Sherman County, Nebraska, and helping his father in his veterinary practice. He got his start in the livestock business at a very young age, first with pigs and chickens, then soon after with his first heifer at the age of 10. It was then that he started to develop a real passion for farming and raising livestock.
Today, Kevin operates Fulton Farms, a 2,800-acre organic grazing operation, where he produces and markets grass-fed beef and does custom grazing. This diversified livestock farm includes cattle, sheep, goats, poultry, pigs, and horses, along with wheat and hay enterprises. Around the year 2001, he began transitioning the operation away from conventional practices in an effort to increase sustainability and improve the environment. Fulton Farms has hosted numerous individuals and groups from around the world on their unique “eco-ag” tours. In addition, Fulton Farms has an internship program for future farmers who want to learn about organic, grass-based agriculture.
Jim Knopik grew up on a farm near North Star, Nebraska, a village that no longer exists. In 1967, he married Carolyn and they rented their own farm, eventually becoming one of the larger conventional farmers in the area.
After twenty years, they realized they were farming more for large companies, and it wasn't something they would ask their children to do. They downsized, began farming organically, and formed a group called North Star Neighbors which they now manage by marketing and delivering meat raised by their members. Jim actively works with others trying to establish fair and new markets for small farmers.
Jim and Carolyn have four children and eleven grandchildren all living within 30 miles of their home. Family and neighbors are their most important resource.
Doug and Krista Dittman own and operate Branched Oak Farm, a certified organic dairy with an on-farm creamery. The milk from their 30-cow Jersey herd is processed into artisan, farmstead cheese that has won numerous national awards for quality and taste.
Doug has farmed in Nebraska for 20 years. He has a degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Kansas and a Production Agriculture degree from North Central Kansas Vocational Technical School. He also attended the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas. He has worked on farms and ranches across the U.S. and Europe, and has served on the boards of Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society and Cornhusker Bank.
Martin is a Nebraska farmer with 40 years of experience as a sustainable farmer. His sustainable farming practices started with the Center for Rural Affairs Small Farm Energy Project in 1975. The goal of becoming energy self-sufficient prompted him to learn the natural cycles to avoid production costs. Eventually, his entire 385-acre farm was certified organic.
To affect more change, Martin accepted a position with the Center for Rural Affairs Beginning Farmer/Sustainable Agriculture Project in 1993. He acts as a mentor and group organizer with the NE IMPACT Project and other Center for Rural Affairs projects. Martin is currently the manager of an organic information and support project for individuals and agency staff who want to learn more about organic production. He continues to operate his farm and often uses it as a demonstration farm for trying new ideas and techniques for others to observe.
Jon owns and operates Open Sky Farm in Otoe County, Nebraska. Open Sky Farm uses sustainable practices to raise cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens, ducks, and turkeys, as well as fruits and vegetables.
Jon grew up on a family farm where they raised cattle, hogs, corn, and soybeans. He went off to college and moved away, but after a 13-year hiatus, he could no longer ignore his desire to work with the land. He and his wife moved out to an old farmstead in 2011 and have been hard at work ever since. Jon continues to work full-time as a project manager where he oversees the acquisition of land for projects such as wind and solar farms. The only thing more important than his farming is his family, and Jon spends as much time as he can with his beautiful wife, Jamie, and their daughter, Clara.
The council works jointly with the Nebraska Farmers Union, the second oldest agricultural organization in the state, to pursue market opportunities for farmers and ranchers whose agricultural practices adhere to animal welfare standards, as well as facilitate a dialogue with individual farmers, ranchers and the organizations that represent them.