Coordinated by the NCR-SARE Alumni Organization, the term "NCR-SARE Hero" recognizes the leadership, vision, contributions, and impact that certain people have made in the field of sustainable agriculture in the region.
Ferd Hoefner has worked since the late 1970s to advance sustainable agriculture’s role in the U.S. food and farm system, and has been a leader in the sustainable agriculture community for more than 30 years, with a focus on federal policy and advocacy. He holds an undergraduate degree in government from Oberlin College, where he began his path in sustainable farming as he helped build a greenhouse and learned about composting on the student farm. For nearly a decade after he left Oberlin, he represented Interfaith Action for Economic Justice and the Interreligious Taskforce on U.S. Food Policy, during which time he helped to pass the Agricultural Productivity Act which provided the initial, early authorization for the LISA program, SARE’s forerunner. He was a policy consultant for Bread for the World, the Center for Rural Affairs, Conference on Alternative State and Local Public Policies, the Land Stewardship Project, the Lutheran Office for Governmental Affairs, the Presbyterian Church, and the U.S. Catholic Conference, among others.
As a founding staff member of National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), Hoefner led NSAC’s federal policy work from 1988-2016, which included promoting the development of the SARE program in the late 1980’s. As an alliance of grassroots organizations that advocate for federal policies supporting the long-term economic and environmental sustainability of agriculture, natural resources, and rural communities, NSAC has been a leading voice for sustainable agriculture and the SARE program in the federal policy arena. Throughout his career, Hoefner has partnered with dozens of organizations in the North Central region, working closely with farmers, researchers, processors, and advocates to ensure that federal policy benefits family farmers in the region. Hoefner currently serves in a mentoring and advisory role to NSAC as their Senior Strategic Advisor.
The NCR-SARE Hero Recognition honors individuals who 1) have provided service to NCR-SARE or national SARE, 2) have shown leadership in sustainable agriculture locally and regionally, and 3) have made lasting impacts to sustainability in the North Central region.
Many leaders in sustainable agriculture offered tributes as Hoefner was nominated and selected to receive this recognition:
- "I've worked with Ferd since 1988. Certainly no single person has made a greater difference than he in creating institutional structures that have fed the sustainable agriculture movement. From those early days to today, Ferd has helped write legislation to create, fund, and implement countless federal programs addressing many dimensions of the sustainable agriculture agenda - including rural development, research, outreach, organic, IPM, conservation, local foods, food safety, equitable commodity and risk management programs. Sometimes a program that served a need at one moment in our movement's history needed change and would be reincarnated in another form. Ferd was as close to indefatigable as anyone I can imagine - and the movement's track record reflects that - an absolutely amazing number of programs created, worked to make optimal, funded, reworked, rewritten, with scores of billions of dollars that wouldn't otherwise have been available to our movement, as just one result. Though he is famous for his encyclopedic memory and comprehensive understanding of policy and its history, and though he is widely recognized at the highest levels in Washington for his expertise, he has always understood the power and importance of having grassroots stakeholders guide the movement's agenda and form the power base to advance it; he has built an apparatus that has served the movement over decades and is helping to build it toward the future." - Margaret Krome, Michael Fields Agricultural Institute
- "Ferd’s work in Washington D.C. on behalf of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has directly contributed to the expansion of sustainable and organic agriculture in the United States in the last three decades. Ferd is truly one of a kind, as anyone who has met him knows. One of the most knowledgeable and hardest-working people in Washington, Ferd is also disarmingly full of joy and of energy, even after the most taxing legislative or appropriations battles. I was lucky to work with Ferd early in my career – he significantly shaped the way that I think about social change and how to get something across the finish line." - Aimee Witteman, The McKnight Foundation.
- "During the four years I've worked with Ferd at NSAC, I've witnessed his dedication to sustainable agriculture, in the Heartland that is the North Central region, and a love for its farmers and its people. Ferd is dedicated to the continued success of the SARE program with a parent's watchful eye. As a champion of the program since the beginning, he is always working to protect and promote SARE and the importance of research. He reaches out to his vast network of contacts through the North Central region on a regular basis, always with a goal of ensuring sustainable ag grows in the Midwest and that family farmers can make a good living while being good stewards of the land and water. Ferd's knowledge and experience in farm policy are unsurpassed, and he has been a juggernaut of an advocate for four decades, while his modest demeanor and Midwestern work ethic earn him not only respect but friendship with so many. I should point out that Ferd is not actually from the Midwest, but I've seen many, many people make the assumption he is. And I think he's earned the right to say he is a Midwesterner after so many years of service to the region and to sustainable agriculture." - Jeremy Emmi, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
NCR-SARE is one of four regional offices that run the SARE program, a nationwide grants and education program to advance sustainable innovation to American agriculture. Since 1988, NCR-SARE has helped advance farming systems that are profitable, environmentally sound and good for communities through a nationwide research and education grants program. The program, part of USDA's National Institute for Food and Agriculture, funds projects and conducts outreach designed to improve agricultural systems.