RAYMOND - Bush is out, Obama is in, and the people on the production end of the food pipeline in Nebraska are noticing there's a lot more to it than that.
"Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" is an example of renewed efforts in the U.S. Department of Agriculture to connect consumers more directly with the people who grow what they eat.
It could also be said the government's biggest food promoter and food regulator is putting more of its money closer to where the mouths are. In one week, according to USDA officials, the funding total for "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" added up to $65 million.
Krista Dittman - whose 10 years in food production in the Lincoln area has taken her from selling a few dozen eggs to making and marketing a dozen different kinds of cheese - likes the message she's getting from a new federal initiative and from growing numbers of customers.
"There's kind of a resurgence, maybe, of people being interested in the food they eat," she said.
Kendell Keith, president of the National Grain and Feed Association, isn't quite as pleased.
"This is a significant philosophical and policy shift," Keith said in a recent association newsletter. "The emphasis now is on fostering local and regional agricultural production/processing and direct farmer-to-consumer marketing approaches."
To Dittman, this is great. To Keith, not so great. "Is the U.S. government getting even more involved in picking winners and losers in today's marketplace?" he asked.
Along with decidedly different points of view about how to spend taxpayers' money, Dittman and Keith view it from very different places.
Keith's vantage point is Suite 1003, lobbying central in Washington, D.C., for the nation's grain-handling industry.
Dittman's is Branched Oak Farm, tiny by conventional farming standards, but big enough to accommodate a small herd of Jersey milking cows, a milking parlor where husband, Doug, presides, and her cheese-making headquarters.
The Dittman enterprise got started with the help of two federal grants that added up to about $30,000. One was a rural development grant and the other was for sustainable agricultural research and education.
On a typical day on the farm, Dittman's thoughts about farm policy have to fit between the latest batches of hard Alpine cheeses.
Not all of her contemplations come wrapped in gratitude for the apparent adjustment in spending priorities at USDA. She senses a rising level of public consciousness about healthy eating and some skepticism about federal food standards.
"We as a people have given a lot of trust to the government, and I think the pendulum is swinging back," she said.
Consumer desire to look beyond federal food-safety labels and to put a name and a face on what they buy could be a factor in rising sales for Dittman and cheese-making partner Charuth Loth of Denton, who specializes in artisan goat cheeses.
"This year I've seen a little over a double increase in sales from last year," said Dittman.
Liz Sarno, organic projects director for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said consumers' efforts to connect more directly with food production also work in the favor of the state's producers of tomatoes, black walnuts, wine and, in the case of Bill Rhynalds of Prague and sons Shad and Joel, the crucial beer ingredient hops.
The elder Rhynalds is feeling good about his first year of hops production despite the need to poke cedar poles and a wire and rope grid 18 feet into the air to support hops vines.
"There are actually six hops growers in Nebraska," he said, "and next year, when we expand, we'll be the largest."
Microbreweries in Lincoln and Omaha and home brewers of beer seem eager to buy as much as the Rhynalds operation can produce. "We have no problem selling them."
Brian Depew of the Nebraska Center for Rural Affairs said the $65 million in spending cited by USDA officials for Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food comes from a reallocation of funds within existing grant programs in the agency. It's not new money.
Still, said Depew, there is a new emphasis there.
"I would suggest that USDA, under previous leadership, has invested lots of money in unlimited subsidies to the largest farms in the country. And, if anything, we welcome a rebalancing of priorities by USDA."
Reach Art Hovey at 473-7223 or firstname.lastname@example.org.