Laura Frescoln

Program Director

Laura Frescoln joined the team in 2016 as the Program Director after completing her MS degree from Iowa State University in Sustainable Agriculture. Prior to pursuing a career in conservation and agriculture, Laura worked in the social services field in various administrative and program development capacities. Her love of the land and experience in program management brought her to PFI after being a member for several years.

Laura grew up in Ames and has lived here for most of her life. She graduated from Iowa State in 1990 with a BS in Psychology, and received an MS in counseling in 1993.  Laura worked for Youth and Shelter Services as a Program Manager, and at Heartland Area Education Agency. Laura’s family owns farmland in NW Iowa where she loves to spend time.

Laura has two teenage daughters and likes to spend her free time enjoying the great outdoors. She loves to camp, hike, garden and listen to music.

Blog posts

Is it possible to “accidentally” start a business? If you ask Jan Libbey, co-founder of North Iowa Fresh, the answer is “yes”. Jan is the first person to admit that she wears several hats. In fact, it was while she was wearing her Healthy Harvest of North Iowa hat that the conversation began about looking at new markets for locally grown produce.

Those conversations turned to commitment and led to the realization from someone in the founding group, “Sounds like we are starting a business”, and so they did. North Iowa Fresh (NIF) became incorporated in 2014 as an aggregator and online marketplace for locally grown and produced food. Jan admits, “It hasn’t all been rosy. There are a lot of questions and a lot of work to do.” But, North Iowa Fresh seems to be on the right track. They have grown from 6 to 13 producers and are growing their customer base as well.

As with many successful business ventures, it takes partnerships to make it all work. Here is how the process looks on paper…

Producers  ⇒  Broker  ⇒  Aggregator  ⇒ Distributor  ⇒ Eat!

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If I am being honest, I groan and roll my eyes a bit when a survey comes my way. At least I used to.

Now that I have been behind the scenes and on the team responsible for our 2017 PFI Member Survey, I have a different perspective. I understand the importance of gathering this information. We really use it. I have been at Practical Farmers for close to a year now. I have lost track of the amount of times we have discussed an event or a programming change and the first question from the PFI team is, “Is this what our members want?” Every time. Without fail.

Since our office is a bit short on crystal balls, we rely on our interactions with our membership to understand what they want, and what they need. We gather that information in many ways; informally through phone calls or chats between annual conference sessions, and formally through discussion lists, program advisory teams, and event evaluations. We also gather it every 3-4 years through our Member Survey. The last one was in 2013 and was a critical step in the development of our strategic plan. Now, as we prepare to update our strategic plan for 2018 and beyond, we once again look to our members for their leadership in determining our organizational path for the future and to evaluate how we have done in the past.

We want to thank all of you who have taken the time to complete the survey. For those of you who completed the survey by March 1, 2017…your name was entered into a random drawing to receive free PFI merchandise. We chose 25 winners from the bunch, and here they are! Continue reading

It’s that time of year when PFI staff analyze, scrutinize, and summarize another successful field day season. We have much to be proud of, and much more work to be done! PFI hosted 25 field days in 2016. Thank you for attending.

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Leaders: First of all, none of these field days would be possible without the farmer-leaders who step up every year to host these events. Their commitment in 2016 was invaluable and we thank them for sharing their knowledge and their farms! Some of them stepped up because they found attending field days was an important part of their learning process and they wanted to participate from the leader side. Others, just humbly stated that hosting a field day was a good excuse to clean up the farm. Whatever the reason, PFI could not exist as a member-led organization without our field day hosts!

Jon Bakehouse discusses soil regeneration at his July 27 field day

Jon Bakehouse discusses soil regeneration at his July 27 field day

Here are the PFI member-leaders who “cleaned up their farm” in 2016: Nathan & Sarah Anderson, Jon & Tina Bakehouse, Carmen Black, Ethan & Rebecca Booth, Bruce Carney, Rob & Tammy Faux, Jeremy Hall, Larry Harris, Chad & Katie Hensley, Jeff Jensen, Emma & Marcus Johnson, Laura Jones, Susan Jutz, Virgil Knobloch, Tim Landgraf, Steve Leazer, Aaron & Nicole Lehman, Jan Libbey, Randy Luze, Amber Mohr, George Naylor, Denise O’Brien, James &  Julie Peterson, Mark Peterson, Sara Peterson, Billy Sammons, Frank Santana, Steve Schmidt, Dave & Meg Schmidt, Erik Sessions, Julia Slocum, Lee Tesdell, Dan & Lorna Wilson, Mary & Vernon Zahradnik, Daniel Zimmerman and Leroy Zimmerman.

Lessons: We had a variety of topics covered again this year, directed by feedback from our members and event attendees. You know that pesky blue field day evaluation form that PFI staff relentlessly chases you to complete? Well, it turns out we really do use that information to assess the current year, and plan for the next. Here are some statistics from 2016 to prove it!

 

98
FDEffective
             
FDChange
    
FDQuality

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When Steve Leazer speaks of the 4th generation now on the farm, he is not referring to the new robotic milking system installed 16 months ago, but perhaps he should. This addition to the farming system has improved the quality of life for his daughter, Laura Jones, who supervises dairy production on the farm. “For me, it means having a better quality of life.” says Laura. Before the innovative robotic system (and before kids), Laura was milking 60-70 cows at 3am and 3 pm. Not a surprising schedule for all the dairy farmers out there. However, raising two kids with a third on the way got their family to considering alternatives. As Steve puts it, “If Laura wasn’t here, we wouldn’t have robots here today.”  They added the robotic system 16 months ago when Laura’s youngest was just 10 days old. “I wouldn’t recommend that!”, but Laura buffers her statement by adding that lots of moms have juggled farming and family duties.

Steve, Laura, Jared, Lizzy, and Hunter

Steve Leazer, Laura Jones, Jared Jones, Lizzy and Hunter Jones of Blue Knoll Farm

As we donned our plastic booties and headed towards the ordinary looking dairy parlor, a few of the older generation farmers reminisced about milking in the “old days”. One farmer shared a smile and perhaps a statement about the automated system, “we used to sit on a stool and…” finishing his statement with a visual reminder of how milking was done during his generation- a reminder of the progress made, and the important connection between farmers and their livestock.

Entering the dairy parlor, the system seemed surprisingly simple – but Laura explained the complex interaction between computer and cow. Laura is able to program the computer to interact differently with each cow depending on its milking schedule and physical condition. As the cow enters the milking parlor, the computer identifies the cow by its RFID tag and stores information on the milk volume produced from each teat. Wow.

Watch the DeLaval robotic milker prep a cow for milking.

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It seemed like a reunion of sorts. Robert Karp, a current co-director of the Biodynamic Association and former executive director of Practical Farmers of Iowa, addressed an eager crowd of about 40 on April 29th.  The topic? “Spirituality and Sustainable Agriculture: Weaving a New Narrative for the Earth”. Even among friends and colleagues, Robert was tuned into the potential skepticism of the audience and the vulnerability that people sometimes feel when discussing such intense topics. But Robert was not intense. He had a very calming and comforting way of delving into such issues. And delve he did. His message centered on the interconnectedness of the physical and the spiritual world. He used the example of the sustainable agriculture movement as the backdrop for his message. He suggested that those of us in sustainable agriculture were moved to begin this journey either out of  grief or shock. Grief, due to viewing the declining world around us and longing for a time when the world seemed in better balance. Shock perhaps, due to an event (such as the farm crisis) which woke us up to the necessity of doing things differently. But whichever your path, he also advocated that we have felt joy in the natural world around us. This joy provides a foundation for our values and ideals which we carry out in our work today.

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