Diversified Agriculture Still Strong in Southeast Nebraska

Last month I had the opportunity to participate in a Southeast Nebraska Diversified Ag Tour visiting several different types of enterprises in southeast Nebraska in and near Lincoln, NE. I have had the opportunity to participate in these tours for over ten years. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, we were unable to conduct any tours in 2020, but we were able to feature a few virtual on-farm tours of local food producers in the region. It was great having the opportunity to visit local food producers and entrepreneurial businesses face-to-face again, after a couple of years absence. While I have heard of some of these businesses and farms, I had never had the opportunity to visit them. About twenty-five people attended the tour on September 24th.

The tour started in Lincoln. We visited Lotus Gardens in southwest Lincoln. Lotus Garden’s is an aquaponics operation where they grow vegetables in a greenhouse and grow freshwater native fish to Nebraska. It is located in an area called the Root & Hive, who they lease the ground for their business. In 2017, James and Michelle Tolston broke ground on the greenhouse and in 2019 they harvested their first crop.  They grow different types of greens, but also different kinds of tomatoes. Fish raised include bluegill and perch. Produce is marketed through Lone Tree Foods, a local food distributor in southeast Nebraska, local restaurants and to individuals.

We also visited Midwest Natives, which is also located in the Root & Hive complex. Midwest Natives starts perennial grasses, forbs and wild flowers from seed, plants that are native to Nebraska and markets them to customers for planting in either the spring or fall.

We then traveled to DS Family Farm near Malcolm, NE located NW of Lincoln in northwest Lancaster County. DS Family Farm is Doug and Sheila Garrison. They are noted for producing grass-fed beef, but they also are raising and selling pasture poultry. Doug has worked for the NRCS for several years, and has implemented principles to improve the sustainability of their land, by keeping it in CRP, pasture and by rotational grazing the pastures on the farm. They sell their products on-line through the Nebraska Food Coop, direct from the farm or custom order.

After lunch at Tuxedo Park in Crete, featuring local ingredients made by Artisan Mark, a local coffee shop in Crete, we traveled a few blocks to Jurena’s Homegrown. While mushrooms, especially shitake mushrooms are what Jurgena Homegrown is known for, they also market duck and quail eggs and several types of fruit. They usually market their products at the Hay Market Farmers’ Market in Lincoln and the College View Sunday Farmers’ Market in Lincoln. This is a very diversified operation with visions of expanding into producing other types of produce as well.

The final stop of the day was Picnic Hill Orchard, located on the southeast corner of Lincoln, NE at 10500 Yankee Hill Rd. This is a brand-new u-pick orchard that offers several kinds of apples, berries, and other fruits. It is a beautiful facility and location and will be a short drive for people in and around Lincoln to spend a couple of hours picking apples or berries and having fun. They currently make apple donuts, and they are hoping to eventually produce apple cider. You can find more about their hours of operation on Facebook or about them on their website.  It was fun visiting these very diversified enterprises in southeast Nebraska and I wish them all success in the coming years.   Feel free to contact me if you have questions at (402) 274-4755. Hope we will be able to have one or two tours next year in 2022.

Gary Lesoing
Extension Educator
Nemaha County
October 2021