Jim Richardson, National Geographic photographer and Kansas native, will serve up a vast visual journey: the Neolithic dawn of agriculture, today’s world farmers working in relative anonymity, and the challenges of feeding an ever-more hungry planet through 2050 at Kansas Farmers Union’s (KFU) upcoming annual convention.

Richardson, who has photographed agriculture at home in Kansas and abroad for 20 years, offers both a bird’s eye view of world agriculture — and a face-to-face experience of the people who labor every day to feed us. One major question that will be addressed in his presentation during the Friday night banquet: “With more than 40 percent of the world’s surface already in agricultural production, how do we feed 9 billion people?”

Registration is now open for the convention, which will be hosted at the Four Points by Sheraton hotel on Thursday, December 4-5, 2014. Richardson and other speakers will share their experience and expertise on a range of topics including agricultural advocacy, history, new agricultural practices, farm succession and transition, cooperatives, and more. This year’s convention theme “Thinking Outside the Box” encourages members and attendees to be more open-minded about agriculture as a whole, and to take everything in consideration, especially when discussing the challenges those involved in agriculture will face in the coming years.

During lunch on Friday, Dec. 5, National Farmers Union (NFU) honorary historian Tom Giessel, will share his historical knowledge and findings on the early years of the Farmers Educational Cooperative Union of America, which grew out of the old Farmers’ Alliance organization. The official business of the state’s oldest active general farm organization will take place during the afternoon hours on Thursday, including board of directors and bylaws committee meetings, as well as consideration and adoption of grassroots member-driven policy and bylaws discussions.

That evening, members and guests will tour the Flint Hills Discovery Center, a unique museum that explores the geology, biology and cultural history of the Flint Hills – the last remaining tallgrass prairie in North America. That evening, the group will enjoy a Dutch Treat meal while Giessel discusses Kansas Farmers Union’s early years, and the major role cooperative education played during that time. Since KFU is meeting in Manhattan, the home of the first land grant university in the nation, Giessel will also discuss the relationship Farmers Union had with agricultural colleges, legislation regarding agricultural education, and the equal importance of scientific farming taught by the college and marketing skills and knowledge provided by the organization.

Friday morning starts off with a presentation from Kansas Rural Center’s Cole Cottin entitled “Feeding Kansas – Because Feeding the World Must Include Feeding Ourselves.” In a state that prides itself on “feeding the world,” we currently struggle to adequately feed and nourish ourselves, reports Cottin, lead analyst and author of the newly released report titled Feeding Kansas. After over a year spent in dialogue with hundreds of individuals across Kansas, this report from the Kansas Rural Center identifies seven pressing priorities Kansans can pursue right now to help strengthen the capacity of Kansas farms and farmers to more adequately nourish themselves and their communities. In this session, Cottin will highlight key findings and recommendations from Feeding Kansas, and shares a vision and a roadmap for transforming Kansas’s agricultural and food landscape into a model of well-being and success to sustain future generations.

The morning session continues with “Water for the Future of Kansas” with Chris Wilson and Mark Rude of the Kansas Aqueduct Coalition. It is the belief of the coalition that a properly developed Kansas Aqueduct Project process is a necessary element in securing economic stability and prosperity for the entire state of Kansas. The coalition feels the state of Kansas must act now to prepare for the future so as to avoid a water crisis that is almost certainly on the horizon.

The nuts and bolts to starting a local food co-op and successes and challenges of growing its distribution, marketing, production and leadership capacity will be discussed by Chris Schmidt, Leon Atwell, and Chris Sramek, representatives of the High Plains Food Co-op followed by National Farmers Union’s Chandler Goule, who will provide updates on DC politics.

Larry Mitchell, director of USDA’s Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration, will serve as keynote speaker for Friday’s lunch banquet where he will discuss “Working for Fair and Competitive Markets for Farmers and Livestock Producers Locally and Globally.” GIPSA’s programs directly and significantly impact two key sectors of American agriculture – the livestock and grain markets. Administrator Mitchell will provide insights into these sectors of the agriculture economy.

Family farm advocates Mary Fund, Linda Hessman, Rachel Myslivy, Ed Reznicek, Chandler Goule, and KFU staffers Nick Levendofsky & Mercedes Taylor-Puckett will form a panel to discuss agricultural advocacy on the state level. Participants will learn the importance of being an advocate for family farming, strategies that work, and how to build personal relationships between members and legislators, while promoting a proactive discussion of the issues.
Keynote convention speaker Cody Holmes, Norwood, MO, will discuss how his Rockin’ H Ranch has transitioned from a typical cow/calf ranch to a diversified, mutli-species, Holistic managed, direct marketed, farm model of producing many different food products from T-bones to Lamb Chops, to goat milk ice cream, to Shitake Mushrooms and more. The farm now direct markets most of its production and has developed new skills in marketing, sales, packaging, distribution as well as an entire gamut of improved socially responsible and regenerative farming practices that reflect the interest of an informed consumer. The model can be duplicated on different scales and sizes of operation utilizing techniques such as interns, apprentices, and the Farm Families that live and work on the 1100 acre southern Missouri ranch.

Forrest Buhler, Kansas Agricultural Mediation Services, will cover the transfer of ownership, management and leadership from one generation to another is an important issue for farms, ranches and rural communities across Kansas. This winter, K-State Research & Extension and Kansas Agricultural Mediation Services will offer one-day succession conferences designed to educate and support families as they prepare for the future of the enterprise.

At the evening banquet, KFU President Donn Teske, will present the prestigious Ruth Hirsch Award and discuss his role as the newly-elected National Farmers Union vice president, followed by a report from Jeff Downing with Midwest Regional Agency. A “Year in Review & Looking Forward” presentation will be shared by KFU staff Mary Howell, Nick Levendofsky, and Mercedes Taylor-Puckett. The highlight of the convention will undoubtedly be National Geographic Magazine photographer Jim Richardson’s slideshow presentation entitled “Feeding the Planet: Soil to Sustenance for 9 Billion People.”

The annual KFU Foundation Auction will take place Thursday through Friday evening. To donate an item to the auction, please contact Nick Levendofsky at kfu.nick@gmail.com, call (785) 527-0941, or bring donations to the convention. All funds raised benefit KFU education programs. Jeff Davidson will wrap up the evening’s events with authentic Kansas cowboy music and poetry. Combining a unique blend of songs, historical facts, and pictures, Davidson revisits the history of Kansas and its tremendous influence on the shaping of the U.S. economy, ideology, and heroism.

Room reservations must be made by Thursday, Nov. 26 with Four Points by Sheraton hotel at (785) 539-5311. Please ask for the $75.00 Kansas Farmers Union block of rooms. Register for the convention online by Dec. 1 HERE.