NCR-SARE's 2024 Heroes: Gary Lesoing and Nancy Williams

June 20, 2024

In 2012, the NCR-SARE Administrative Council created the NCR-SARE Hero Recognition to highlight, recognize, and pay tribute to those who have contributed to NCR-SARE and/or National SARE.

Gary Lesoing and Nancy Williams have been named the 2024 Heroes.

Gary Lesoing

A man named Gary Lesoing kneeling in a field examining a harvested vegetable

Gary Lesoing's journey into agriculture began on a multi-generation farm in Hickman, Nebraska, where his family cultivated crops, raised livestock, and milked cows. Their dedication to farming earned them the prestigious Aksarben Pioneer Farm Family Award in 1990, highlighting their longstanding commitment to agriculture.

Educationally, Lesoing pursued his passion by earning a bachelor’s degree in biology from Peru State College in Nebraska, a master’s degree in animal science, and a doctorate in agronomy from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Lesoing’s professional career has been marked by a steadfast dedication to promoting sustainable agricultural practices and supporting farmers in Nebraska. For over 18 years, he served as an Extension Educator in Nemaha County, focusing on crop production, sustainable agriculture, and training beginning farmers. His tenure in this role, spanning nearly two decades, ended with his retirement in 2023.

One of Lesoing's significant contributions to the agricultural community was as the SARE state coordinator in Nebraska from 2008 to 2022. By actively participating in meetings, organizing SARE booths, and supporting sustainable agriculture events and grantees across the state, he facilitated the exchange of knowledge and resources vital for advancing sustainable farming. Additionally, by coordinating and hosting a SARE Fellows tour in Nebraska in 2015 and SARE staff site visits in 2012 and 2019, he showcased Nebraska's innovations in sustainable agriculture, fostering collaboration and inspiring further advancements in local food systems and soil health.

Throughout his career, Lesoing was deeply involved in research and extension activities focused on sustainable agriculture. He researched organic and diversified cropping systems at the Eastern Nebraska Research and Extension Center (ENREC), formerly the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Agriculture Research and Development Center. His most recent work focused on implementing cover crops in integrated crop/livestock systems and enhancing soil health. Across his career, Lesoing successfully secured nearly a million dollars in grant funds to support educational programs in sustainable agriculture for Nebraskans. These funds were instrumental in helping local food programs, organizing conferences and field day events, and partnering with producers to conduct on-farm research.

Lesoing has been involved in various organizations and initiatives throughout his career. He served on the board of directors for the Midwest Cover Crops Council. He also contributed his expertise to organizations like the National Association of County Agriculture Agents, Nebraska Grazing Lands Coalition, North Central Region Water Network, and the Soil Health Nexus, further solidifying his impact and influence in sustainable agriculture.

Leaders in sustainable agriculture offered tributes as Lesoing was nominated and selected to receive this recognition. Read more.

Nancy Williams    

woman with red dress and colorful background

Nancy Williams’ journey into agriculture began early in her life, rooted in the soil of rural Louisiana. As a child, she was immersed in gardening and food production through her grandmother’s role as an Extension educator and her family's dedication to cultivating and sharing their produce with their community. Her first formal steps into agriculture came through her involvement in organizations like 4-H during elementary school and the Future Farmers of America during high school.

Williams’ academic journey in agriculture started with scholarships that allowed her to pursue a bachelor’s degree in horticulture at Louisiana State University. She then completed coursework and research for a master’s degree in weed science with a minor in plant pathology from Cornell University.

From serving as an agronomist for local farmers and entrepreneurs to contributing to grassroots organizing and management for nonprofit community organizations, Williams has shown a deep commitment to advancing sustainability and economic viability.

In 2016, after 15 years as an Information Technology leader for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Midlands, Williams accepted the role of President and CEO of No More Empty Pots (NMEP), a nonprofit that she co-founded in 2010 that is dedicated to improving self-sufficiency, regional food security, and economic resilience. Under her leadership as President and CEO, NMEP has pioneered initiatives like the Community Harvest subscription program, providing farm-fresh produce through CSA programs, and promoting nutritious plant-based meals.

During her tenure at NMEP, Williams served on the NCR-SARE Farmer Rancher review committee from 2011 to 2014. She was elected to serve on NCR-SARE’s Administrative Council (AC) from 2012 to 2019. From 2017 to 2019, she assumed the role of AC Chair, where she helped guide and shape strategic initiatives. She also took on added responsibilities as co-chair of the Youth Educator Committee, underscoring her commitment to fostering education and supporting the next generation of agricultural leaders.

Williams completed a planned succession from NEMP in 2023 and is now the Managing Partner at Block 27 Consulting, a family business focused on leveraging strengths and talents to cultivate collective generational wealth for clients and communities. She supports sustainable innovation through her work on the Center for Rural Affairs Advisory Committee and the Board of Directors for multiple Omaha nonprofits, including Omaha 100 and Heartland Family Service.

Among her many honors, Williams received a 2020 Wells Fargo's Can Do Future award, Food Day Omaha’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2022, The Bloc’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2022, the 2022 Jim Wolf Equal Justice Award, and the 2024 Outstanding Woman in STEM Award from the Nebraska Women in STEM.

Leaders in sustainable agriculture offered tributes as Williams was nominated and selected to receive this recognition. Read more.

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