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Nils Christoffersen: Uplifting Rural Communities Through a Stewardship Economy

Posted by The Equity Team in Equity Initiatives in Equity Initiatives
Jun 14, 2024
Nils Christoffersen visits USDA, Washington D.C.

With a long family history of farming in rural communities, Nils Christoffersen, a member of USDA’s Equity Commission Rural Community Economic Development Subcommittee, was inspired to learn about the challenges impacting rural America. Christoffersen’s desire to bring attention to the needs, opportunities, and challenges faced by rural and Tribal communities grew from participating in farming and enjoying the experiences of farm life. This led him to the Equity Commission where he helped develop recommendations that were brought forward to help improve outcomes for USDA customers in rural areas.

“The recommendations we crafted will be durable long term so that value returns to rural communities,” said Christoffersen. “If we uplift and support rural Americans, we can support a different approach to rural economies - one that reinvests and endures for generations.”

As the Executive Director of Wallowa Resources, a community-based non-profit that works to sustain working lands and livelihoods in Northeast Oregon, Christoffersen manages the development of the organization’s watershed stewardship and educational programs. His work underscores the importance of connecting land and communities for new and better economic opportunities in rural America through the Stewardship Economy approach, an economic strategy that Wallowa Resources believes offers hope and new opportunities for rural communities.

“A stewardship economy benefits rural development as it places the people and the land as the most valuable assets,” Christoffersen said. “Sustaining and improving the full suite of ecosystem services that landscapes provide will generate high-quality produce and products, as it builds soil health, sequesters carbon, improves water and wildlife habitat, and much more.”

The questions of how, where and when investments in rural communities are made by federal, state, and philanthropic partners are key to a stewardship economy. These are questions Christoffersen has been asking since his college years learning about the 1985 Farm Bill. The inequities of the ‘get big or get out’ philosophy, embedded in the agricultural landscape since the 1970s, inspired his senior economics essay. Christoffersen became passionate about equity and externalities in agriculture and dedicated himself to consider how public policies effect land use and rural community prosperity.

“In eastern Oregon, half of the land is federally owned; our small, isolated communities often are forgotten in public policy. While the challenges are different than communities impacted by discrimination, the obstacles for rural Americans are real,” Christoffersen said. “Through the recommendations written by the Rural Community Economic Development Subcommittee, we are trying to speak to all communities that may not be served equally including those left behind in rural regions.”

Before joining Wallowa Resources, Christoffersen spent six years with rural communities in southern Africa where he learned more about the nuances of racial discrimination, the legacy of colonialism, and the power struggle over land and natural resources. This experience led the way for Christoffersen’s pursuit of equity and justice in agriculture and natural resource.

“Equity is about fairness and justice and recognizing that we’re not all starting from the same place,” he said. “We must acknowledge this, adjust, and ensure our own actions, and the way society responds, creates more equitable opportunity for everyone to prosper. That starts with ensuring everyone feels welcomed, safe and supported.”

At the upcoming USDA Pacific Northwest Regional Equity Convening in Oregon, Christoffersen is looking forward to shining a light on issues facing rural Americans in the intermountain West and discussing how to remove barriers to programs and services. In highlighting the importance of partnerships to overcome constraints of capacity and distance, and improve access to federal programs and resources, this convening will provide an opportunity to bring prosperity back to communities that thrive off connection to their land.

“This convening will drive home the idea of isolation in rural communities as many attendees will have to drive 4-5 hours to the location of the event,” Christofferson remarked. “Most of our communities are small and are far from urban centers with limited access to markets.

For the remainder of the year, Christoffersen is optimistic about USDA’s progress on the implementation of the Equity Commission recommendations.

“This Commission’s work is bigger than USDA – it’s a shift in how we think of our diverse communities spanning the states and a push to the revitalization of rural America we desperately need.”

For more information on the next Equity Regional Convening, visit the Equity page. The Equity Commission Final Report is available in both English (PDF, 2.0 MB) and Spanish (PDF, 1.7 MB).

Category/Topic: Equity Initiatives
Tags: equity USDA