Tag Archives: 4-H

Cooped Up in the City

June 13, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Raising chickens in the city has become more common in recent years due to the popularity of urban farming. 

Brett Kreifels, educator for the Nebraska Extension in Cass County (formerly of the Douglas-Sarpy County Extension), has been around poultry his whole life. He runs 4-H youth development for the county and has extensive education in livestock. His grandfather owned a hatchery in Springfield when he was a child. 

Kreifels says there is a trend in favor of urban farming and raising poultry in cities like Omaha because it’s fun and it teaches sustainability. Eggs are an added benefit. For some, it is comforting to know where their meat comes from.

To get started, he says it is important to know local regulations, noting that Omaha and Lincoln have different rules, and Omaha residents must follow both city and Douglas County rules. Much of Sarpy County does not allow chickens, with the exception of those raised by youth in 4-H programs.

Beka Doolittle raises chickens in a part of Elkhorn that is not annexed by the city but falls within Douglas County. She has a permit from the county, but also advises urban farmers to be aware of homeowners association covenants. She raises egg-laying chickens exclusively. Doolittle selected types that lay a variety of colored eggs—they look beautiful in cartons. If one of her birds were to stop laying, she would keep it as a pet. She says raising chickens teaches good life skills, and she enjoys passing them on to her 8-year-old daughter. She says caring for chickens is therapeutic, noting that their strange behavior always makes her laugh. 

Janine Brooks keeps chickens within Omaha city limits. She has many Seramas (a small breed of bantam chickens originally from Malaysia), and enjoys their eggs. It takes five of their eggs to equal one average chicken egg. Brooks says she got into chickens with her 31-year-old daughter, who is autistic. She says her daughter loves the chickens and also raises turkeys. Rearing poultry and watching them grow has been therapeutic for the family and keeps her daughter occupied. Brooks says chickens and turkeys are incredible pets, inexpensive to feed and maintain, and they are clean animals.   

Kreifels says there are no health concerns with raising poultry so long as you keep a clean coop. Otherwise there are risks of salmonella and E. coli. He recommends washing your eggs and your hands after handling chickens. He has been sick from his own birds on one occasion. He attributes it to lax hand-washing practices. “Don’t kiss your chickens,” he says, partly joking.

To get started in Omaha, Kreifels recommends first contacting the Douglas County Health Department. Let them know you are interested in raising chickens. They will want to know your lot size, whether or not you have a fenced-in yard, and what the coops look like. They will send someone out to inspect the facility. If they approve, they will tell you how many chickens you can have and issue you a permit.

It’s that simple. Raise chickens. Eat fresh eggs. Know where your meat comes from. Learn to nurture yourself by nurturing and respecting your food source.


Visit extension.unl.edu to learn more about the Nebraska Extension’s work with local agriculture and livestock.

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of OmahaHome. 

Planting Seeds of Community

October 27, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Although he grew up in Louisiana during the time of segregation, Edgar Hicks says he was more fortunate than most of his African-American peers. His parents were professionals—his mother was a teacher and his father a physician. This enabled them to better support their children financially, including helping out with college.

“I had a good father, good mother—they took care of me,” Hicks says, adding that in spite of racial segregation, he remembers a stronger sense of community than what he sees available for young people in Omaha. “It caused you to know your neighbor.”

He now works to encourage community bonds among Omaha youths by teaching agricultural skills to the next generation.

Hicks graduated from Pace University in New York City, where he studied finance. His first job out of college was as a floor clerk at the Chicago Board of Trade in 1971. He subsequently worked with various aspects of agricultural commodities. In 1985 he moved to the middle of Nebraska for a grain mer- chant job at a Merrick County cooperative (in Clarks, Nebraska), where he was eventually promoted to general manager. Risk management consulting work for a Fortune 500 company (INTL FCStone) brought him to Omaha in 1989.

The 69-year-old Hicks can’t seem to stop working. The part-time director at CFO Systems LLC says his mission now is to pass on his love for, and knowledge of, all things agriculture to those he believes it can benefit—especially young people.

Hicks says he believes that if the city’s young people better understood where their food comes from—and how everything is connected, from water to land—the world overall would be a better place. He says some of the horrible things that are happening in the world are happening because people don’t feel a part of it, and as a mentor, he hopes to help change that.

In order to help youth gain a connection to their food, he became a charter member of Carver Grange of Omaha in 2011. The organization’s focus is to expand hands-on education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics; promoting leadership skills; and striving to cultivate an interest in food (and careers in agri- culture). And if this does not keep Hicks busy enough, he also serves on the board of directors for Friends of Extension & 4-H Douglas- Sarpy County Foundation and 100 Black Men of Omaha. He was a founding member of 100 Black Men of Omaha, and he is currently mentoring three high school students through them.

Hicks is also an avid stamp collector and active member of the Omaha Philatelic Society. Vernon Waldren, the executive director of Friends of Extension & 4-H, says he has known Hicks for more than 20 years. The two bonded over their love of agriculture and stamps. Even Hicks’ stamp collection focuses on agriculture.

“He has a passion for getting people to understand where their food comes from and how all of it ties together,” Waldren says. “You know, it’s kind of a joke, but it’s not a joke: Everybody eats, so everybody has an interest in agriculture.”

Through the federal USAID Farmer-to-Farmer program, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Hicks was asked to travel to Africa to help farmers start a co-op in Toubacouta, Senegal. That summer 2016 trip made him think about food, and America.

“The only thing they have in Senegal that we don’t—they eat well,” he says. “They eat fresh food. The eat much more than we do.” However, Hicks also discovered that much of the West African country lacks essential public services—running water, dependable electricity, post offices, and traffic lights.

“I never thought about traffic lights as a big deal, until you try to go to Africa and turn left,” he says, noting that the trip made him appreciate the services provided by the U.S. government.

In the future, he suspects Africa will be the answer to the world’s rising demand for food. “If there’s ever going to be a need 100 years from now for land, I’m sure we’ll be using Africa as a food base,” he says.

During his interview at Omaha Magazine’s West Omaha office space, he gestures out a window to the surrounding buildings and says, “As we put more concrete up and run out of [land], how are we gonna feed ourselves in the future?”

This question seems to be a part of what drives Hicks’s mission to educate youths about agriculture and animal husbandry. He adds there’s a lot he has wanted to work on but hasn’t gotten done.

“That’s why I gotta go back to work!” he says. Not that he ever stopped.

Visit 4h.unl.edu to learn more about 4-H in Nebraska. The Douglas-Sarpy County 4-H is a community partner for Omaha Magazine’s 2018 Best of Omaha Festival (which takes place at Baxter Arena on Nov. 5, 2017).

This article is printed in the November/December issue of Omaha Magazine.

Busy as a Bee

September 26, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Ryan Sedlacek’s family farm—90 acres of gently rolling fields and wooded Nebraska land—sits barely a mile outside of Gretna’s busy shopping district. Life is much simpler there, with the beauty of mature corn stalks, the sweet-tart blueberries and raspberries ready for picking, and the steady buzzing of honeybees.

Beekeeping, for the Sedlaceks, is not a novelty but a way of life.

Ryan is the sixth generation of his family to keep bees. In fact, his grandfather, Bill Sedlacek, says his own grandfather cared for bees long before the Sedlacek farm was settled 75 years ago.

“My interest in bees has been around my whole life,” Ryan says. “My earliest memory is making frames for the bees to live in for their hives and checking on them with my grandpa.”

Never mind that Ryan and his father are allergic to bees. Such inconveniences don’t stop him from caring for 18 hives on the Sedlacek Farm and two neighboring farms.

Their bees are key in pollinating the crops and orchards for miles around. “Bees travel eight square miles,” he explains. “All the bees you see here are mine.”

Last year, the farm’s hives produced 34 gallons of honey, which was a good year. The year before, only 12 gallons of honey were harvested, as wet and rainy conditions limited the availability of pollen and kept the bees in the hives.

Out of 14 grandchildren, Ryan is the only one to take to beekeeping. Since age 8, Ryan has learned about honeybees and the Russian and Italian varieties that he and his grandfather keep.

“I love watching and caring for bees just because you’re making a difference in everything around you,” he says. “You might not have bees in the area [but you] might have a fruit tree. It grows nothing every year. Then you put a beehive next to it and the tree grows the biggest apricots…so big and healthy.”

Ryan shares his passion and knowledge of bees with others through the 4-H Agriculture Innovators Experience program, which has focused on honeybees and pollinators. At a national conference in Washington, D.C., during 2016, he learned more about pollinators and their role in agriculture. Since then, he has worked with the 4-H program statewide to offer the Honeybee Challenge and educate other youth. For his work and excitement about bees and agriculture, Ryan was named 4-H King of Douglas and Sarpy counties.

On what seemed the hottest day of summer, Ryan’s faithful dog Tucker—whom grandma calls Bingo—follows his every move. And, boy, does Ryan move fast, going almost effortlessly from one chore to the next, from repairing fences to feeding his pets (goats, pigs, horses, geese, chickens, and ducks). After quickly filling watering cans for the animals, Ryan goes to check on the bees.

Beekeeping kicks off in the spring as the bees start to produce honey after the first flowers bloom. The worker bees gather pollen and water for the hive, and they generally live four to six weeks in the spring and summer months.

“Bees will literally work themselves to death,” he says while opening the lid of a white wooden box. “You must be gentle when going into a hive. Otherwise, you can kill bees. Always be gentle and be aware of your surroundings.”

Ryan wedges a metal tool between wooden slats, sliding a frame out of the hive to reveal the bees at work. Inside the hive, bees build a comb of wax where the queen will lay eggs and honey will be stored. Each hive has one queen, which can live for up to five years. The other bees are workers and drones—all of which serve a purpose to build a healthy and active hive.

Ryan and his grandfather check the hives periodically over the summer to see how they are producing. As fall begins, the family harvests honeycomb and makes honey. The pasteurization process separates the comb and other impurities from the honey, which the family then sells at the farm. In winter, the bees live off the honey stored in the hive and a tray of a sugar-water mixture the Sedlaceks make to supplement the bees’ diet.

Life in rural Gretna with his parents, Mike and Trish Sedlacek, has been good for the 18-year-old recent Gretna High graduate.

His parents and grandparents demonstrated how farmers are stewards of the land. They taught him to conserve water, repair farm equipment, and protect the environment while maximizing the land’s sustainable yield.

Few of his classmates share such passion for agriculture, however. Of the 243 Gretna seniors in Ryan’s 2017 graduating class, Ryan says he’s the only one to pursue a career in agriculture (not including three who plan to pursue veterinary science degrees).

In the fall, Ryan starts an undergraduate degree in animal science at the University of Nebraska-­Lincoln, and he plans to continue his family’s beekeeping legacy. 

Visit extension.unl.edu/statewide/douglas-sarpy for more information about 4-H in the Omaha metro.

This article was printed in the September/October 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

For the Love of Pets

December 12, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“Animals are a huge deal in this house!” exclaims Kim Hanusek of Bennington, mom to Samantha, 9, and Leigha, 6.  She’s also a second-grade teacher at Pine Creek Elementary in the Bennington Public Schools district. Kim is always eager to visit about the eight animals (yes, eight!) that complete her extended family.

“First off, we have Tucker, 3, a purebred Boxer,” shares Kim. “My family has been raising Boxers for 20 years, and my sister and I grew up showing Boxers in 4-H. I have shown Tucker locally at shows in Lincoln and Omaha, but now he’s a ‘finished champion,’ which means he’s just a coach potato.

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“Then we have Piggy, a French Bulldog who’s 4 and also a purebred. We got him from a breeder, and he actually looks like a pig.”

Kim goes on to describe her three feline friends. Callie, a domestic shorthair Calico, was adopted from the Nebraska Humane Society seven years ago (which makes her the most senior pet of the household).

Diamond, 4, is a Ragdoll, a domestic breed known for its gigantic size and limp body. “The kids like to hold him like a baby, and he’s so flexible, he folds up in half.”

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Then there’s Lily (age unknown), a domestic shorthair stray the family took in a couple years ago. “Another teacher spotted her in the snow on the playground one day, and I took her home. We didn’t intend to keep her,” Kim confesses, “but [Leigha] had been asking for a cat of her own, and we were trying to get her to stop chewing on her blanket. I told her, ‘Little girls that chew on blankets don’t have their own cats.’ It worked like a charm,” Kim recalls with a laugh.

The family also has two hamsters—gifts to the girls from their father, Brian, for Valentine’s Day last year.

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And just what does Dad think of all the animals in the house? “He grew up in a home where the dog stayed outside most of the time,” says Kim. “Then he found me and met my family…He had to become an animal lover out of necessity! Now, he travels to dog shows with us and willingly goes along with it all. Truly, he loves seeing the enjoyment the girls get out of [the animals].”

Last, there’s Coty, an 18-year-old paint horse that Kim got while in college. The family boards Coty at The Farm at Butterflat Creek in Bennington. “I did a little breakaway roping on her when she was young, but I was never successful,” Kim recalls. “She’s pretty ornery, but she’s turned out to be a great family pet. The girls and I ride her…both girls took riding lessons this summer. Samantha hopes to ride competitively one day.”

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Samantha plans to begin showing Boxers next summer in 4-H Junior Showmanship competitions as well, Kim shares proudly.

“My hopes are that both girls will show or train dogs in 4-H and more competitively in AKC-sanctioned shows when they get older,” she adds. “There’s a lot of enjoyment and pride that comes when you work hard and bond with a pet. The possibilities are endless with dog/owner activities. They might move on to dog agility, confirmation [breed judging], obedience, therapy dogs, and/or working with our breed-specific rescue group.”

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While the family pets are teaching her girls lessons about hard work and responsibility—they help clean cages, take the dogs to obedience classes, make sure all the animals are watered and fed daily, and other duties—Kim says they’re teaching them lessons in humanity as well.

“They’re learning that the animals depend on them…that all animals need love and attention, and that playtime is a requirement of pet ownership, too. They’re learning that animals feel…and they’re all unique. Samantha, especially, has taken a real interest in learning about the differences in dog breeds and their temperaments and behavior.”

The family has also done some work with a dog rescue club, which has allowed the girls to see how some pet owners treat pets as disposable. “I want them to understand that pet ownership is a commitment, and you don’t get rid of a pet because you’re bored with them or so you can get another. It’s not temporary,” adds Kim.

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Having so many pets does offer its challenges, Kim admits. The family has to budget for yearly vaccinations and heartworm pills, boarding and farrier fees, vet bills, and of course, pet food and supplies. All the expenses can add up. Taking any trip can also be a hassle. “We always have to ask, ‘Who’s going to take care of the animals?’ before we can go anywhere.”

Recently, Kim and Brian approached the girls about taking a vacation to Disneyland. The girls’ response? “They told us they wanted to go to New Orleans where they make Pitbulls & Parolees or to the Florida Everglades to see where Gator Boys is shot.” These are two Animal Planet shows the family watches together. A love of animals is ingrained in them for life, Kim says.

“A lot of what we do revolves around the animals, especially the dogs. They join us for fire-pit nights with the neighbors…they sleep in our bed…they’re there for just about everything.” And that’s just how the Hanuseks like it.