Planting Seeds of CommunityOct 27, 2017 04:11PM ● By Tara Spencer
“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.