Posts Tagged ‘Nancy Williams’

A systems approach to addressing food insecurity in North Omaha

August 11, 2017 2 comments

Nancy Williams with No More Empty Pots and other players are taking a systems approach to addressing food insecuity in North Omaha.

A systems approach to addressing food insecurity
by Leo Adam Biga

Food insecurity in northeast Omaha is a question of access, education and poverty.

Nancy Williams has designed her nonprofit No More Empty Pots around “equitable access to local, fresh, affordable food” via a holistic approach. It offers the Community Market Basket CSA (community supported agriculture) as well as shared commercial kitchens, a training kitchen and classes. Its Food Hub in Florence is adding a business incubator, community cafe, kids kitchen and rooftop garden.

“We could just do one thing and satisfy a symptom, but we’re trying to address the root cause issue of poverty – of which hunger is a symptom. The food hub concept is a systems approach to not just deal with hunger but to get people trained and hired and to support startup businesses. So we have a multi-pronged approach to supporting local food and supporting people who need access to food and the people providing that food.

“Poverty is not just about food deserts and hunger. it’s about livable wages, adequate education, meaningful connections. It’s about being able to take advantage of the opportunities in front of you. It’s about people engaging. You see, it’s one thing to get people to food because they’re hungry or they don’t have access to it. It’s even something more if they have access to living wage jobs where they can then choose their food.”

Pots is based in North Omaha, she said, in recognition of its “rich cultural heritage of food and community” and concurrent “disparities in health, healthy food access, equity and economics.”

“So, we wanted to make a difference there first, then catalyze a ripple effect in urban, suburban and rural spaces. We believe in the reciprocity of local food.”

An effective food system involves a social contract of public-private players. In Omaha it includes United Way, Together, the Food Bank, Saving Grace Perishable Food Rescue, vendors, producers, schools, churches.

“It’s not a simple thing to talk about food access and deserts,” Williams said. “It’s a whole system of the way we produce food and get food to people, the way people consume it and how we value it. The different ways intersect. It takes all of it. But there needs to be some calibration, hole-plugging and shifting.

“We can get there, but it has to be done collaboratively so we’re not working in silos.”

On the access-education-employment side are community gardens and urban farms like those at City Sprouts, which also offers classes and internships. A farmers market is held there, too. Charles Drew Health Center and Florence Mill also host farmers markets.

Minne Lusa House is a neighborhood engagement-sustainability activator..

Some churches, including Shepherd of the Hills and New Life Presbyterian, provide free monthly community meals. New Life also provides food to participants in its youth summer enrichment program.

“There are food insecure kids that come,” pastor Dwight Williams said. “There is a lot more need than we are able to access.”

Community organizations serving seniors, youth and the homeless have a free meals component to meet food insecurity needs. The Omaha Public Schools provides free and reduced lunches to the majority of its students. Private institutions rely on donations to fill the gap. Local farmer Brian Vencil recently directed a $2,500 donation from the America’s Farmers Grow Communities program to help feed kids at Holy Name School.

Nancy Williams said everything has its place.

“Community gardens make food accessible, help people become more self-sufficient and engage. It’s about community building. You can’t have food without community. At farmers markets customers learn about where the food comes from, talk to growers about production practices and how to use products. It develops relationships. The more food customers get from farmers markets the more likely they’ll continue shopping there and expand their palette, which gives growers the opportunity to grow and sell more and put more money into the local economy.”

Pantries play a role, too.

“On average we have about 600 clients come through our food pantry weekly,” Heart Ministry Center executive director Eric Crawford said. “We’ve been seeing more clients come. We’re on pace to give away more than 3 million pounds of food this year.”

Heart case management services strive to get clients to self-sufficiency.

Project Hope director Lori Lindberg said its pantry serves mostly one-time, emergency needs recipients.

Church of the Resurrection is trying a mobile food pantry starting July 15.

Then there are the aquaponics systems Greg Fripp and his Whispering Roots team build, often with students in schools, that grow vegetables and fish.

“Aquaponics has its place in that next level of production,” Williams said. “There’s education, job training, entrepreneurship. There’s an opportunity to do institutional supply because you can scale it.”

The new Fair Deal Grocery was located on North 24th Street to fill fresh food scarcity in the area.

“Whenever you can put food where people are, it’s better than trying to find transportation or other means of getting people to it,” Williams said.

Fair Deal Village Marketplace manager Terri Sanders said it’s challenging getting people to try it.

“Sometimes it takes more education in some places than others,” Williams said. “If you’ve never been exposed to it, just because it’s plopped down in front of you doesn’t mean you’re going to go to it. You need somebody to help you make that transition. Sometimes you don’t even know you need it until somebody points out the benefits and then you take advantage of it.”

The Creatives Collective works with north side residents on education-advocacy through classes, events and activities, including culture fairs.

Jody-Ann Coore is community engagement coordinator for the Omaha Economic Development Cooperation, which sponsors the Collective.

“Education is a big gap for people,” Coore said. “Residents say it’s something the community needs. They often don’t know how to shop for healthy foods or don’t know some of the foods or don’t know how to cook them so they are tasty and appealing to the palette.”

Partnerships with local organizations help built food literacy. Still, getting residents’ buy-in takes time.

“It’s a neighborhood difficult to engage because they’re so used to being told what to do and not asked how to solve those issues. But we’ve seen progress. Resident committee members are taking part in the planning. We’re working on getting more residents involved. The beautiful thing is that each has personal networks they can tap into, so it’s pretty much radiating out.”

Greg Fripp’s sustainable practices dream is taking shape at Highlander Village on North 30th Street. The world headquarters for his Whispering Roots will include a greenhouse, education center and production center. Steelhead trout and vegetables will be grown there. He partners with farmers markets, Hy-Vee stores and others to get food to market. Roots teaches youth and adults how to build food systems and grow food.

“Highlander’s goal is about community development- engagement, and that’s exactly what Whispering Roots does. We say, ‘we grow, we feed, we educate.’ We need to draw more attention to North Omaha. it’s not that students in underserved communities can’t learn and don’t want to learn, they just need access to support, materials and resources. And then they can compete.”

Fripp said he’s learned “you have to meet people where they are and understand that community in order to deliver them a solution that actually works.”

“You provide solutions tailored for that specific community because every community’s different. Everybody needs food, but the way you implement these techniques, policies or systems needs to fit within that community.”

He sees more inclusivity happening.

“We’re getting more organizations that want to spend time with community and collaborating.”

“I am a fan of any model that works in a community with the community that produces what the community needs in the way the community needs and that values people in that process,” Nancy Williams said. “It’s not going to look the same everywhere and frankly most things shouldn’t look the way they’ve always looked because those things aren’t working.”

Fripp sees a need to bridge a disconnect between policymakers and “people implementing change on the ground.” “When that happens,” he said. “we’re going to see an acceleration of change in terms of how some of this stuff gets delivered. You still have some people who make decisions not really connected to the community.”

“We’ve made progress getting access to lots,” said Fripp, who also does community gardens and urban farms. “That was something that didn’t happen in the past. We put together a team to write new policies to allow people to use city lots to grow food.”

Similarly, he’s seen acceptance of aquaponics grow.

“We’re not as advanced as other cities, but we’re coming along. People are starting to see the power of what we do – from growing food to educating children to engaging public. They’re starting to see it really works
and at whatever scale you want to do it.”


My Joslyn Community Pick is Thomas Hart Benton’s ‘The Hailstorm’ – Read what my fellow guest curators picked and why

August 3, 2015 Leave a comment

My Joslyn Community Pick is Thomas Hart Benton’s ‘The Hailstorm’ – Read what my fellow guest curators picked and why

I am proud to join a diverse group of folks weighing in on our personal favorite artworks at the Joslyn Art Museum. It’s part of what I call a people’s choice art crawl that gives members of the community like me a chance to have a voice in what is, after all, art for the people, by the people. The Joslyn calls the project, Our Museum: Community Picks. My comments and those of the other “guest curators” shared here are part of Round Two of this very cool community engagement endeavor. My comments and the other guest curator comments follow below. As a side note, I personally know and have met and in most cases interviewed at least nine of the guest curators.

Here’s how the Joslyn describes the project:

Our Museum: Community Picks (round two) is an exhibition, of sorts, with the community serving as curator. Joslyn visitors will find a collection of personal reflections, facts, and feelings shared by community members, posted alongside their favorite artworks in the galleries. See “picks” by a diverse group of people — from small business owners, nonprofit leaders, students, artists, educators, and more — each lending a unique voice, bringing a new perspective to a Joslyn treasure. We hope you enjoy the posted comments and that they encourage exploration, thought, and discussion. When you visit, stop by the My Pick station on Strauss Bridge to share a note about your favorite artwork. Or chime in via social media @joslynartmuseum. We want to hear from you!
Community Picks Meet & Greet
Thursday, August 6 @ 5:30 pm
Discover the “round two” gallery reflections and say hello to the contributors! Join us for conversation, light hors d’oeuvres, and cash bar in the Storz Fountain Court. All are welcome to attend this free event.


Susan Baer Collins

Theatre Artist, Non-traditional Student, University of Nebraska at Omaha

My Pick: Frederick Childe Hassam, April Showers, Champs Elysees, Paris, 1888, Gallery 9

Why It Moves Me: “Like the American Impressionist Childe Hassam, I am a huge Francophile – I just want to jump into this picture! I’m always drawn to this painting of a rainy day in Paris with crowded carriages, white horses, and bustling black umbrellas. I can’t help but project myself onto the young woman in the foreground with the bright red flower on her hat. She reminds me of the young woman with the parasol and the monkey in George Seurat’s painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, which is also one of my favorites. I love seeing the detail of the closer figures while the trees and other objects blur in the rainy mist and the reflective puddles.”

Kacie Baum

Science Outreach Programs Coordinator/NE SciFest Coordinator, University of Nebraska Medical Center

My Pick: Paul Cornoyer, Paris Street Scene, 1898, Gallery 9

Why It Moves Me: “This piece instantly takes me back to walking the Paris streets with my mom a few years ago. In one quiet moment I stopped and looked down an old brick alley and saw an older gentleman walking with a coat, cane and hat. It took me back to the images of Paris years ago. When I view this painting and that man walking down the street, I’m taken back to that moment and feel like I’m there in the painting.”

Leo Biga

Author, Journalist & Blogger

My Pick: Thomas Hart Benton, The Hailstorm, 1940, Gallery 10

Why It Moves Me: “Benton’s rolling, roiling work dynamically renders nature quaking in storm. A lightning bolt splits into two arcs, like prongs of a pitchfork or branches of a divining rod. Clouds press heavily, ominously, darkly. The sky erupts in electric, icy bombast. Tree, farmers, donkey, dugout sway in the charged air and furious wind. Man’s pursuits so puny against vast, powerful forces. Yet Benton roots these figures resolutely on the land, of the land, weather be damned. A swirl of determined life goes on. His visceral imagery makes me feel the windswept rain, hail, dirt and hear the clap of thunder, the bray of donkey, the curses and prayers of men. This iconic American landscape straddles modernism, regionalism and folk. It goes straight from Benton’s heart, gut and mind into my individual and our collective consciousness. It never fails to arrest my attention or to fill my senses.”

Gregory S. Bucher

Professor, Creighton University

My Pick: Jennifer Steinkamp, Judy Crook, 2, 2012, Gallery 17

Why It Moves Me: “I love the energy of the twisting tree, the evolving palette of colors as the seasonal cycle progresses, and the drama of the blooming flowers and turning leaves. I can never leave the room without watching the entire loop several times.”

Bruce Carpenter

Architect, HDR

My Pick: Sol Lewitt, Seven-Part Variations on Two Different Kinds of Cubes, 1967-69, Gallery 14

Why It Moves Me: “The simplicity is a creative expression of math or more specifically geometry. There is an obvious sense of architecture in a pure form that I find intriguing. When you experience other installations or images from this series, it becomes playful in the various combinations. Moving from a strict geometric presentation to a playful experience in the variations, I believe demonstrates the brilliance evident in the creativity.”

Clayton Chapman

Chef & Owner, The Grey Plume

My Pick: William Robinson Leigh, A Double Crosser, Gallery 9

Why It Moves Me: “For me this painting represents not only the timeless struggle between man and beast but also conveys the insatiable will of Spirit. The evolution between horse and human is undeniably one of the oldest and most important relationships as it changed human existence forever. In countless ways, man has always been dependent upon the animals’ power. Revered by some but sadly exploited by many. We are mystified and driven by the idea of controlling or restraining something that is wild. Whether chasing an animal or chasing a dream/idea, it is all reflective of this innate desire and need. The opposing colors of the dark horse and light rider is one way this struggle is reflected. The tenacious, wild spirit of the horse and the determined but humbled spirit of the rider is portrayed by the rider’s defeat to the ground. Looking closely, one notices a slight smile on the defeated rider’s face. Perhaps, a smile of gratitude and awe. A reminder to me of the honorable balance we must constantly strive to maintain between man and beast, man and planet, need and abundance, ambition and satisfaction. “

Christina Clark

Professor, Creighton University

My Pick: Jean Vignaud, Abelard and Heloise Surprised by the Abbot Fulbert,1819, Gallery 2

Why It Moves Me: “I like this painting for the story it represents and the way it is represented. Abelard and Heloise are famous star-crossed lovers whose emotional, eloquent letters survive. Vignaud evokes paintings of another famous pair of lovers, Dante’s Paolo and Francesca surprised by her husband Gianciotto, through the pose, the color red, and the books nearby. It feels as if I have opened a door in the wall opposite the abbot, and we have both come upon the shocking scene together.”

Sen. Tanya Cook

Senator, Nebraska State Legislature

My Pick: Edwin Lord Weeks, Indian Barbers, Saharanpore, ca. 1895, Gallery 8

Why It Moves Me: “The image of an Indian bazaar evokes a multi-sensory response. I imagine the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes you might find all up and down those aisles and alleyways. I also appreciate what the painting has to say about culture and community: the bazaar was hugely important in both meeting everyday needs and in forging human relationships.”

Oscar Duran

Community Builder, Habitat for Humanity of Omaha

My Pick: Jules Breton, The Weeders, 1860, Gallery 4

Why It Moves Me: “This piece moves me because it reminds me of my youth and when I first began formalizing the kind of person I would grow up to be. I come from strong rural roots and recall many seasons clearing the fields in preparation for a healthy harvest. Where I grew up, this job was one of the first jobs given to children because it helped us realize the most important tools in our lives, our bodies and our attitude.”

Annika Ellefson

Student Artist

My Pick: Jackson Pollock, Galaxy, 1947, Gallery 16

Why It Moves Me: “When I was little my dad used to take me to Joslyn and whenever I saw Galaxy I would freak out — I would run through the galleries screaming POLLOCK POLLOCK POLLOCK in my tiny little five-year-old voice. It was one of the only times when I wasn’t told to be be quiet because I shared the interest with my dad. For me, Galaxy was a real introduction to art.”

Marian Fey

Executive Director, Nebraska Cultural Endowment

My Pick: Frank Tenney Johnson, Night on the Oregon Trail, 1930, Gallery 9

Why It Moves Me: “As though actually outside on a very dark night, it takes a moment to adjust to the shadows and deep colors in this painting. The details of the wagon and barren landscape become clearer as does the light from the camp fire peeking around the side of the wagon. In thinking about how lonely and isolated travelers might have felt on the trail, I find the camp fire to be a sign of comfort and security.”

Claudia Garcia

Associate Professor of Spanish, University of Nebraska at Omaha

My Pick: Henri Matisse, Head of a Woman, 1917, Gallery 5

Why It Moves Me: “I feel drawn by this painting because of its strength and its contrasting colors. This woman is not pretty but strong. The green background is in stark contrast with her very white face. You can see she has put on make-up, the red lipstick and the red blotches on her cheeks, but it feels more like a way of asserting who she is (saying ‘this is me’), than seducing. She isn’t even smiling- this woman is not trying to please anybody. Woman is viewed as a challenge in this painting, and the colors express that: her white face, her short brown hair on top, the different shades in the background, moving from lighter to darker green and from darker to lighter ocher tones on the right. All the colors look artificial. We’re reminded this is a representation and not reality itself, but at the same time there is strength here that speaks of an inner truth. I like the fact that it is a male artist who captured this force. The intensity of the woman’s gaze parallels the artist’s intuition and insight.”

Mace A. Hack

Nebraska Director, The Nature Conservancy

My Pick: George Catlin, Buffalo Hunt, ca. 1932-35, Gallery 7

Why It Moves Me: “If this scene didn’t happen in Nebraska’s Sandhills, it sure could have. It makes the gallery’s other buffalo hunt paintings seem like bucolic picnics. Fur-clad hunters and bison struggle up one snowy hill, predator and prey as one, facing the same challenge of living in this harsh environment. Yet we’re the ones with bigger brains, hence the snow shoes, long spears, and slim advantage. Could I ever do this? I am in awe of these tough, smart people who preceded us.”

Brook Hudson

Omaha Fashion Week

My Pick: Stuart Davis, American Painting, 1932-51, Gallery 10

Why It Moves Me: “We loved American Painting by Stuart Davis first because it attracted our nine-month old daughter with its bright colors and bold shapes. In doing further research, we appreciated it even more because of its celebration of the New York City skyline, which is very much a part of our life in the fashion world. It truly reminds us of the hustle and bustle of the iconic fashion capital and gets us excited to share the experience of traveling to that city with our daughter in the future. It is also quite meaningful that Davis had a transatlantic inspiration early in his career, as we are a transatlantic family! Nick is a UK native and I am a Nebraskan, living together in Omaha. Now we have our own little masterpiece in Charlotte, who represents our European and American cultural influences, much like this painting.”

Tarna Kidder

Construction Services and Special Projects Manager, Kiewit Building Group Inc

My Pick: Karl Bodmer, Remarkable Elevations on the Banks of the Missouri, 1833, Gallery 7

Why It Moves Me: “I love all of Karl Bodmer’s work. Not only are they beautiful pieces of art in their own right, but they are also amazing for their historical perspective documenting some of the first sights of the American West. I especially enjoy the watercolor landscapes with their muted tones and haziness, because even today these are the vistas in Nebraska and South Dakota that are so breathtaking.”

Valery Killscrow Copeland

Native American Advocate, Lincoln Public Schools

My Pick: Edith Claymore, Dewey Valise, ca. 1900, Gallery 7

Why It Moves Me: “I love Joslyn Art Museum because it is filled with many extraordinary works of art by famous and not-so-famous-artists. One skilled artist you may have never heard of is Edith Claymore, from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. The Nakota artist beaded this fantastic Woodland design bag. It’s unique because the Hunkpapa Sioux typically used geometric designs in their art in the late 1800s and early 1900s. This piece is priceless because of its unique design and the detailed combination of Lazy Stitch and Applique beadwork. The bag is made with precision skill that takes decades of practice to accomplish. I appreciate the talents of the artist and I understand the complex design process to make such an exquisite piece, because I’m also a Native American Beading Artist. Lela Washtay Woksu! Very Good Beadwork!”

Chris Kircher

Vice President, Corporate Affairs and President, ConAgra Foods Foundation

My Pick: Rembrandt van Rijn, Portrait of Dirck van Os, ca. 1658, Gallery 3

Why It Moves Me: “This portrait moves me both from an historic and an artistic perspective. It’s a snapshot in time, capturing not just the detail and look of the period, but also the feeling and emotion of the subject himself. The artist’s dramatic use of light and shadows is particularly impressive. I believe Rembrandt would agree that painstaking restoration efforts have brought this painting back to its original intent, and he’d be proud to know that it’s found an ideal home here in Omaha.”

Melinda Kozel

Manager of the Kaneko UNO Creativity Library

My Pick: Jackson Pollock, Galaxy, 1947, Gallery 16

Why It Moves Me: “There is something that happens to you when you look at a Jackson Pollock painting. You start out by finding a spot to start looking and your eyes will then follow a drip line of paint into a pool. Then a splatter nearby steals your attention and you follow that instead. This painting which seems to be about nothing – with no focal point, figure or composition – is actually about you, the paint, and your time together.”

Jan Lund

Retired Adjunct Assistant Professor, French, Creighton University

My Pick: Camille Pissarro, Haymakers, Evening, Eragny, 1893, Gallery 5

Why It Moves Me: “It makes me very happy that Joslyn has this painting by Camille Pissarro. It gives me an utterly joyous feeling, bathed as it is in an idealized glow of light, health and abundance. Pissarro is one of the lesser known but most important of the Impressionist painters. His profound knowledge of social philosophy informs much of his art, and far exceeded that of any other significant painter of the period. Pissarro’s influence on his fellow Impressionists is probably still underestimated today. Ahead of his time, and a primary developer of the Impressionist style, we see in this painting his experimentation with the techniques that would lead Seurat, Signac, and others to Pointillism.”

Estelle M.

Student, Joslyn Art Camp

My Pick: Dale Chihuly, Chihuly: Inside & Out, 2000, Strauss Bridge

Why It Moves Me: “Abstract art always inspires me to create my own art so I think this piece is really an amazing and inspirational sculpture.”

Linda S. Meigs

Artist, Preservationist & Mill-Lady (Founder & Director of the historic Florence Mill)

My Pick: N. C. Wyeth, Untitled, 1919, Gallery 7

Why It Moves Me: “My compass for travel usually faces West. I love the stories, personalities and its isolated, overpowering nature. I enjoy serendipity, surprise and the intersection of art and history. N. C. Wyeth’s painting both delights and haunts me. I am amazed at how contemporary it looks for having been created around World War I. His use of color, dramatic lights, darks, and loose painterly strokes are quite modern. Strong diagonals create a composition of action. One can almost hear the new-fangled engine roar, tires spin and the startled shouts and whinnies. This painting also speaks to me of a narrative… a shift in history. The artist’s subject and technique can be seen as a metaphor for the dramatic cultural, social, and industrial changes taking place after World War I. It speaks of a clash of culture, lifestyle and the end of an era. This work moves me on several levels. Though designed for advertising, the painting is beautiful and exciting. Yet its message is poignant. N. C. Wyeth masterfully controlled contrasts… both visually and thematically.”

Shaun Murphy


My Pick: Jennifer Steinkamp, Judy Crook, 2, 2012, Gallery 17

Why It Moves Me: “It’s a really unique piece; before visiting Joslyn I’d never seen anything like it. It almost feels like it’s responding to my motion. I love how the wind blows, the seasons change, and the mix of natural and artificial colors. Seeing Judy Crook, 2, leaves me with a real sense of happiness.”

Imani Murray

Student, Central High School

My Pick: Artist unknown (East Indian, 18th century), Ganesha, 18th century, Balcony

Why It Moves Me: “I love how soft it is both in form and color. I love the composition, all of the small pieces, his face, his trunk, the things he’s holding, come together to create a powerful presence.”

Cathy Nelson

Teacher Leader, OPS

My Pick: Grant Wood, Stone City, Iowa, 1930, Gallery 10

Why It Moves Me: “I love how the artist created a pastoral Iowa scene that is reminiscent of the state’s rural roots, and then… Wait a minute–those aren’t trees and bushes!! Why, I see peas, and broccoli, and watermelons! So clever and creative! I looked at the painting many times before I actually ‘saw’ its composition. It serves as a good lesson to me to look past the obvious…”

Gwendolyn Olney

Associate Counsel, BH Media Group

My Pick: Thomas Moran, The Pearl of Venice, Gallery 8

Why It Moves Me: “I’ve loved this piece since I was a little girl. The lush, deep colors of the boats and water in the foreground draw you into the painting and then fade into the light, whimsical city background. Venice appears both romantic and exotic, and the painting drives my desire to travel.”

Brian Smith

Curator of TEDxOmaha

My Pick: François-Edouard Cibot, Fallen Angels, 1833, Gallery 2

Why It Moves Me: “Unrepentant, powerful, full of muscle and thunder. I’m attracted by the dissonance: the imperfection of the dimensions of the eyes, the ropy arm of the seated angel, the clash of blinding light and suffocating darkness. There is another future to erupt from these two. A personal bonus, the balding angel reminds me of musician Jimmy Flemion, who often performed with strap-on wings.”

Jannette Taylor

Director of Programming, NorthStar Foundation

My Pick: Jean-Léon Gérôme, The Grief of the Pasha, 1882, Gallery 4

Why It Moves Me: “I am moved by this painting because it displays the deep connection we have with other living beings. The fact that he is mourning the loss of an adult tiger, leads me to believe they have had a very long and meaningful relationship. It is a wild animal. I love the color in this painting. The images represent almost every human emotion; love, compassion, grief, loneliness, empathy and acceptance. Pasha is in such dismay over the loss of his friend, you can feel the despair through the image. I think we can all relate to this.”

Roger Weitz

General Director, Opera Omaha

My Pick: Karl Bodmer, Schuh-De-Gá-Che, Ponca Chief, 1833, Gallery 7

Why It Moves Me: “Joslyn is not just a building with paintings on the wall; it is an interactive space for creative expression with the community. I was most recently reminded of this while attending a performance of Prince Max’s Trewly Awful Trip to the Desolat Interior in Joslyn’s Witherspoon Concert Hall, the world premiere of a new play by Ellen Struve in collaboration with the Great Plains Theatre Conference. The moving play prompted me to revisit Joslyn’s Bodmer collection where I was with great art, again, both challenged and rewarded.”

Richard White

Professor of Philosophy, Creighton University

My Pick: Jean Vignaud, Abelard and Heloise Surprised by the Abbot Fulbert,1819, Gallery 2

Why It Moves Me: “Abelard was a brilliant professor and Heloise was his pupil. They fell in love, and the rest is history. But here is the crucial moment that Vignaud captures so well: Heloise’s uncle discovers the couple together and you can tell he isn’t happy! Is it jealousy, or just the hatred of anything that celebrates life? There is so much to think about in this painting! Perhaps it is the conjunction of love and loss that makes us who we are.”

Pam Wiese

VP of Marketing & PR, Nebraska Humane Society

My Pick: Thomas Moran, The Pearl of Venice, 1899, Gallery 8

Why It Moves Me: “I find this painting a very satisfying juxtaposition. It’s very calming at first glance, as the whole bottom third of the canvas depicts an epic expanse of water. But as you step closer you see astonishingly intimate detail of life and activity aboard the boats. The city behind is lit from the side and reflected in the calm water, but the moon is still peeking out (maybe early morning sun?) so it holds all the exciting promise and possibilities of a new day. I can imagine gondoliers gliding across the cool water, the smell of coffee and melodic voices speaking Italian as the city wakes up!”

Thomas Wilkins

Music Director, Omaha Symphony

My Pick: Keith Jacobshagen, All Souls, 1994-95, Gallery 16

Why It Moves Me: “Like a Beethoven Symphony, Jacobshagen’s All Souls humbles me. The coexistence of the sky’s grandeur and the welcoming intimacy of the seemingly by comparison tiny land mass is stunning. It reaffirms for me how delicious a gift it is, to know that though we exist in the midst of something much greater than ourselves, we are everyday invited to be a part of it… whether it’s life altering music or life itself.”

Nancy Williams

Chief Information Officer, Boys and Girls Clubs of the Midlands

My Pick: Alexander Brook, Frogtown Lady, 1939, Gallery 10

Why It Moves Me: “I love it because of the contemplation in her expression. Was it good enough? How can I make it better? Did I really hear that? What else could be done? The acceptance of – it is what it is. There is more. I can get there. We get there. The questions that many women ask and the conclusions that many of us usually get to after contemplation.”

Suzanne Wise

Executive Director, Nebraska Arts Council

My Pick: Jesús Moroles, The Omaha Riverscape 2008-09, Sculpture Garden

Why It Moves Me: “I like the way this installation involves all of your senses. It is magical on a summer evening when you hear and feel the cooling effects of the water and the lights cast interesting shadows. I think you have to spend a bit of time with it, and when you do, lots of interesting ideas emerge, like the fact it’s made of granite, which doesn’t seem remotely like the Georgia Pink granite of the building. It’s a great ‘front door’ to the Museum.”

No More Empty Pots Intent on Ending North Omaha Food Desert

August 13, 2013 2 comments

A food movement is afoot in the U.S. and organizations like No More Empty Pots in Omaha are on the leading edge of efforts to get people to eat healthier by buying fresh, organic and local and growing their own produce in their own gardens or in community gardens.  My story about No More Empty Pots and the women who run it is in the new issue of The Reader (  On this blog you can read my stories about related efforts, including pieces on Minne Lusa House, the documentary Growing Cities, and the marriage between the culinary and horitculture programs at Metropolitan Community College.


Nancy Williams


No More Empty Pots Intent on Ending North Omaha Food Desert

©by Leo Adam Biga

Soon to appear in The Reader (


Addressing the food insecurity problems that nag poverty-stricken northeast Omaha, where access to fresh, organic produce, dairy and bread products is limited, are an array of individuals, organizations, projects and initiatives. Many efforts aim to educate residents on how to grow their own food, cook healthier and eat better. That’s part of the mission of a fairly new nonprofit player in the food mosaic, No More Empty Pots (NMEP).

“I want our community to be healthy, I want people to understand the importance of having healthy, nutritious food, I don’t want this community to not have what everybody else has. I also want us to learn we have a right to know how our food is grown, what is being put in it and how it impacts our body. That’s what drives me,” says NMEP program director Susan Whitfield,

Healthy ingredients are important in that designated food desert area whose residents consume mostly processed, packaged and fast foods and a scarcity of fresh, natural items. Unhealthy eating habits contribute to the disproportionately higher rates of diabetes and heart disease among that community’s African American population.

In a district with high unemployment and spotty education there’s also emphasis by NMEP and others on getting people to achieve economic self-sufficiency through their own food businesses, from urban agriculture and catering ventures to food trucks and small eateries.

Launched in 2010, NMEP is dedicated to supporting existing food systems and creating new ones that reach people where they live and given them tools to help themselves.

There are many moving parts in this landscape of needs and delivery systems but NMEP founder Nancy Williams tries keeping it simple.

“NMEP is a backbone organization in the collective impact process for local food systems development,” she says. “We serve as a conduit when needed and a catalyst when necessary. We are trying to help connect entities and fill gaps. We partner, connect, collaborate, initiate and contribute as needed. We try not to duplicate.

“Our neighbors struggling to survive the effects of poverty deserve to have all of us working together with contributions from everybody to develop and implement strategies that work and gets us to self-sufficiency and economic resiliency.”

Besides her scientific background, Williams draws on her experience growing up in Louisiana. Her family and countless others across America employed communal, sustainable food practices that largely fell by the wayside as people became increasingly dependent on mass production. NMEP is part of a continuum of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and farm to table programs that seek to revive food activities once routinely engaged in.

Referring to her parents Jesse and Nancy Webber, Williams says, “They grew food because cash was short and family labor, plus land, was available. Cash was used for wealth creation – buying property, starting businesses, paying for education, et cetera. Their parents and other family members had bought land and property doing the same thing, so they did what they knew, improving what they could for us as they learned better. Nobody was rich but education was a priority and having your own stuff was important.”

WillIams worked the communal gardens her family planted, helping harvest a bounty shared with friends and neighbors. She applied her experience to 4H projects, once winning a national competition. The Louisiana State University science graduate earned her master’s in weed science and plant pathology at Cornell University. A job with Dupont brought her to Omaha, where she and her musician husband raised four children. The couple introduced their kids to gardening.

“It was important for us to garden when our children were younger so that they understand where food came from, how to grow it and harvest it and had access to the same good food I grew up with. Now we enjoy supporting local farmers and farmers markets.”

Her experience and expertise long ago planted the seed for the sustainable food work she does today.

“I actually wrote plans for elements of No More Empty Pots in 1999 before I knew any of the folks that helped to get it off the ground.”

Around that same time she directed Omaha’s City Sprouts program, whose mantra of “sustaining communities through gardens” fit her philosophy. Then she and a group of friends began talking about doing something to help alleviate the disparities plaguing northeast Omaha.

“Seeing little change in our neighborhoods and with residents as a result, we decided to take action.”

Informal meetings led to a food summit and monthly forums. NMEP was born from the discourse and partners with many like-minded organizations, including Tomato Tomato and Metropolitan Community College‘s Institute for Culinary Arts and horticulture program.

“Because we are a diverse community and alleviating poverty is complex, there is ample room for multiple strategies,” says Williams.





She says everyone comes to food issues from their own vantage point  “but I think maybe others detect a certain authenticity in me,” adding, “I can speak with authority about food and practices in this way because I have lived it and internalized it.”

“I’m passionate about this because I understand the power of good food,” Williams says. “When you have access to it, when you know how to provide it for yourself, when you consume it, when it becomes available on a wider scale for you and your neighbors, I know the overarching impact it can have in your life and the ripple effect it can have in your neighborhood and community from a self-sufficiency and sustenance standpoint, from a nutrition standpoint, from a brain development-child development standpoint, from an economic development standpoint.

“Because if you have access to good food you have more energy and better capacity to do those things well and you can invest those dollars you would have been spending on food on something else. You can also have income from providing that food to others or you can create a value-added product from the food that comes from someone else. So it is what I see as a perfect system for STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education and micro enterprise development.”

NMEP or its partners provide everything from cooking demonstrations to food entrepreneurship programs and looks to expand these offerings and add new ones. Everything NMEP does is about education, collaboration and sustainability. Witness one of its new partner programs, Truck Farm Omaha. The mobile garden planted in the bed of a Chevy pickup educates area youth about sustainability. Truck Farm founders-directors Dan Susberg and Andrew Monbouquette, the makers of the new documentary Growing Cities, sees= their project as a perfect fit, just as NMEP sees Big Muddy Urban Farm or Minne Lusa House or Tomato Tomato as natural co-conspirators in this movement toward food security.

“More and more organizations and public entities are asking us to do cooking demonstrations,” says Whitfield. “People are amazed at how simple and easy it is to cook these foods. If you don’t see it, you don’t know.”

NMEP is located in a former Harvester Truck and Tractor sales and service center at 1127 North 20th St., in a mixed used tract of light industrial plants and single family housing units. There are plans to retrofit the 19,000 square foot facility to house The Eleven27 Project, an urban agriculture and food systems innovation zone that will feature shared commercial kitchens, event space, food production, aquaponics systems, workshops, classes and on the surrounding two acres outdoor urban agriculture, hoop houses, raised garden beds and composting.

Williams says 1127 will approach food “from production to processing to distribution to marketing to composting so that we have a full cycle for these products. We will extract the value along that food chain so that we’re maximizing the resources. We will make this sustainable by generating income to cover the education costs as well as the hands on training people are getting while going through the programs. It’s several different levels of sustainability built into this.”

By year’s end NMEP plans to initiate a $3 million-plus fundraising campaign for the renovation.

NMEP has picked a good time to have emerged.

“The universe is conspiring in our favor,” says Whitfield. “Evidence of that is community gardens and farmers markets. There’s been an explosion over the last few years. In supermarkets local foods are starting to take up more and more space. Stores want to reduce that carbon print, they want to know who their small farmers are, they want to know where their food is grown, they want to know what is put on that food.

“People are becoming more and more educated.”

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