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How often have you said, or agreed with someone who said that nobody in the eastern end of our state understands that agriculture runs the engine of Nebraska’s economy? I’ve been guilty of that on occasion, and I’ve been wrong. So would you be, if you’re in that camp.

Last weekend, Bruce and I were invited to a dinner hosted by Humanities Nebraska. When meeting out west, their officers and governing board generally have coffee or a meal with locals who are involved with Humanities. As a member of the Speakers Bureau, I enjoy this gesture of appreciation, and always learn something new. During the social hour last Friday, we chatted with a gentleman from Omaha who acknowledged that ranchers and farmers are the backbone of our state. Despite his urban background, he’s a member of Nebraska Cattlemen, just to show support for the ranching industry. A woman from Lincoln organizes programs for students about where their food comes from, and says that often even youngsters in rural areas don’t associate their hamburger with a cow. She’s doing her best to make folks aware that all of us are connected to the land.

Some folks in the group were apparently seeing western Nebraska for the first time. Our tablemates asked lots of questions about raising cattle, and we were happy to enlighten them about the local beef for schools programs. I mentioned that when visitors come to dinner at one of my sons’ home he often brings two platters of steak to the table, saying, “This platter has grass fed beef, the other is corn fed. Try both and tell me which you prefer.”

That led to a query about how we manage corn fed, since we don’t raise any, so we ended up explaining feed lots. A couple of folks were amazed that both my family and Bruce’s have been on our ranches for a century and more, but we assured them that we are not unique in that way.

Several local people told of boom towns during the potash era, early homesteaders and community leaders. Baled hay and sod houses generated a lot of interest. 

Jackie Wilson, who ranches north of Lakeside, had arranged for the visitors to meet at her place at sunrise, for a tour of the hills, and lessons on harvesting sunshine through cattle, followed by breakfast, courtesy of the Methodist ladies of Lakeside. Everyone seemed excited at the prospect, although somewhat worried by her warning that cell phones wouldn’t work where they were headed, so pay attentions to the directions. “But if you get lost just stop at a ranch house and tell them you’re looking for Wilsons. Everyone knows everyone out here.”

I just hoped they had brought warm jackets in anticipation of chilly Sandhills sunrises.

All of us left that gathering having learned from one another. I left wondering if the cultural distance in our state had been shortened, and determined to open my mind farther and ask more questions next time I find myself among an urban crowd. Let’s all pull the chip off our shoulders and toss it in the fireplace. Let’s find common ground, learn from one another, and stop building fences. There are good people wherever we go.

Meet me here next week and meanwhile, do your best to learn something. Somebody might like it.

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