Up on the Farm

Some Nebraskans are bucking the grim corporate reaper.

Martin Kleinschmit steps out the back door of his farmhouse and gently boots a scrawny tabby out of his way. As with all old homesteads, no barrier exists between Kleinschmit's house and his farm, where he was born nearly 60 years ago. I look out and see the accumulation of a hundred years of farming: a grain silo, several weathered barns, a smattering of rusting farm equipment. A few cows stand penned in by barbed wire, but flies, and the odor of livestock, are absent on this unusually cold day in May.

He leads me up the rise behind his house, the tabby noisily following along, and points out the empty silo and aging tractor, grass gone to seed hugging its wheels. Reminders of the old way, he tells me. Kleinschmit, a stocky, soft-spoken man wearing a cap, shows me what he hopes will provide both income and a way to save family farms like his throughout America's heartland, as well as the rural communities supporting them.

A Black Angus bull lifts its head at our approach. To my untrained eye, this large, emblematic animal looks no different from the hundreds of cattle I have seen on my way here. But the fact that he's still munching on Kleinschmit's pasture, at two years of age, bulking up on chemical-free grass instead of fattening on corn in a feedlot, makes him unusual. This organically fed bull will fetch a higher price than feedlot cattle.

Beyond the bull, the Nebraska prairie gently undulates to the horizon, fluorescent green with new spring growth and utterly still in the fading light. The landscape reminds me why pastoral settings evoke a sense of an idyllic past, and this northeast corner of the state, bordered by the Missouri River, is particularly bucolic. Residents of Cedar County, where Kleinschmit's farm is located, consider this region one of Nebraska's most beautiful.

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