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A connection with Nebraska Farmer’s founder

Gen Z Aggie: A staff writer speaks at the 200th birthday celebration for Robert Furnas.

Elizabeth Hodges, Staff Writer

June 24, 2024

4 Min Read
Elizabeth Hodges sitting at desk
INK IN VEINS: In the Chitwood Wheel Museum in Brownville, Neb., you can find the desk of Robert Furnas, where he wrote articles for the Nebraska Farmer magazine he founded in October 1859. As I sit at this desk, it is humbling to know that I am another writer for Nebraska Farmer — residing in Nemaha County, just like Furnas — only 165 years later. Photos By Elizabeth Hodges

In May, the Brownville Historical Society, based in Brownville, Neb., asked me to speak at the 200th birthday celebration of favorite son Robert Furnas.

For those of you who are not familiar with this Nebraska historical figure, he was a governor of Nebraska. He also served on the board of regents at the University of Nebraska, was an agriculturalist and a Civil War soldier. To add to this long list of accomplishments, he also founded Nebraska Farmer magazine in October 1859.

Residing in Brownville, Furnas was deeply invested in and intrigued by new technology that was coming from agriculture. Ironically enough, the Nebraska Farmer publication has found itself back in Nemaha County. It is very humbling to find that I am writing for the same magazine only 20 miles down the road from where Furnas started it all.

Passion for innovative tech

Realizing this connection, I went straight to work researching Furnas’ life, and to my surprise, we have a lot in common. He was fascinated with new technology and the possibilities this technology had to advance the industry.

Granted, he was impressed with the capabilities of trains, where now I am writing about autonomous machinery. I can just imagine Furnas’ surprise if he were to drive down the road and see a tractor operating itself.

Related:3 of my favorite summer field days

While it is to be expected that there are vast technological differences between our times, the principle of promoting Nebraska agriculture is a common thread. Furnas wrote this in the first edition of Nebraska Farmer.

“The changes in the next 10 years are too vast and comprehensive to embrace in a short collection of random ideas, too wonderful almost to imagine,” he wrote. “When 10 years shall have rolled over, the slow plodding ox trains carrying loads of merchandise toward the setting sun will be replaced by the swift locomotive with its long trains of living freight and its many tons of varied merchandise.”

If I were to make a guess, I would say that we would have the same favorite time of the year, Husker Harvest Days. This is more than just a farm show to the editors who attend every year.

Not only do we get to spend three days with our co-workers, but we also have ample opportunities to learn about the latest and greatest technology that different companies have to offer. This little snapshot into the future of our industry fuels our passion, and I think Furnas would say the same.

Dedication to the state

One thing is for sure, Furnas and I share a common love for the state of Nebraska, even though he was not native to the state. Born in Troy, Ohio, he moved to Nebraska in 1856 and fell in love with the territory, now state.

Related:A thank-you letter to the industry

In the first Nebraska Farmer publication, he also said this.

“In less than 10 years, Nebraska will have ceased to be a territory,” Furnas wrote. “She will have become a sovereign state, and as such in all her greatness will proudly take her place among the bright constellation of our land and who then can project her greatness, who can foretell her destiny.”

Elizabeth Hodges standing next to the Robert Furnas statue

After speaking at the reception for Furnas’ 200th birthday, I headed over to the Chitwood Wheel Museum, where I found Furnas' desk accompanied with many past copies of Nebraska Farmer.

Flipping through a few of the early editions of Nebraska Farmer, I was completely enthralled with the language and advertisements used a century and a half ago.

Personally, one of my favorite sections was the household column geared toward women. Different articles covered household care, financial advice, child care and recipes. This column only reinforced my belief that Furnas geared this publication for all Nebraskans.

Combining forces

One article that I came across was an announcement in 1898 when Nebraska Farmer and The Cultivator publications combined to form the new Nebraska Farmer. It said this:

“The new Nebraska Farmer, as a result of this arrangement, has the largest subscription list of any western agricultural journal. Its subscription list in Nebraska is greater than all other agricultural journals combined, and reaches every state and territory, including Alaska.”

Fast-forward to today and Farm Progress reaches across the nation, bringing relevant and important information to agriculturalists. This magazine is in good company as Prairie Farmer in Illinois has been around for more than 175 years.

Diving into Nebraska Farmer's history gave me a deep sense of pride to be part of such a historical yet cutting-edge magazine that is a stronghold in the agriculture journalism space.

About the Author(s)

Elizabeth Hodges

Staff Writer, Farm Progress

Growing up on a third-generation purebred Berkshire hog operation, Elizabeth Hodges of Julian, Neb., credits her farm background as showing her what it takes to be involved in the ag industry. She began her journalism career while in high school, reporting on producer progress for the Midwest Messenger newspaper.

While a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, she became a Husker Harvest Days intern at Nebraska Farmer in 2022. The next year, she was hired full time as a staff writer for Farm Progress. She plans to graduate in 2024 with a double major in ag and environmental sciences communications, as well as animal science.

Being on the 2022 Meat Judging team at UNL led her to be on the 2023 Livestock Judging team, where she saw all aspects of the livestock industry. She is also in Block and Bridle and has held different leadership positions within the club.

Hodges’ father, Michael, raises hogs, and her mother, Christy, is an ag education teacher and FFA advisor at Johnson County Central. Hodges is the oldest sibling of four.

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