Tamsyn Jones

Outreach and Publications Coordinator

Tamsyn Jones joined PFI in March 2012 as the new Strategic Communications and Policy Associate. She is responsible for writing and distributing press releases, media relations, occasional feature stories, helping with PFI’s blog and social media presence and coordinating visits to PFI member farms. She also assists with PFI’s policy efforts by helping members share their views in the media and become more involved in policy efforts, and publicizing the work of PFI staff and members in policy areas.

Before coming to PFI, Tamsyn spent two years working at Iowa State University as the communications specialist for ISU’s Corn and Soybean Initiative. Before that she wrote about agricultural issues for University of Missouri Extension. She received her B.S. in technical writing, with a strong focus in ecology, from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and her M.A. in journalism from University of Missouri, where she majored in environmental journalism and worked as a teaching assistant in the Agricultural Journalism program.

She then spent a year as a Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholar in Tasmania, where she worked to foster international peace and understanding and studied journalism at the University of Tasmania. While there, she made efforts to learn about the state’s unique agricultural industry – and got to try her hand at shearing some Merino sheep.

Tamsyn grew up in Pittsburgh, PA as the first “off-the-farm” generation. Her father grew up on a mixed dairy farm in New York’s Catskill Mountains, close to where her aunt currently owns a sheep farm, and she’s been intrigued to learn how her ancestors were among the first apple farmers in Maine. She and her husband, Chris, are very interested in small-scale, sustainable farming and dream of someday starting a small goat and vegetable farm on his sixth-generation family farm in rural east-central Missouri.

In her spare time, Tamsyn loves playing Irish fiddle and tin whistle, swimming, reading medieval literature and going on hiking and camping trips with Chris and their two cats (who love their nature leash walks and car trips).

Blog posts

Clark Porter manages his family’s farm near Reinbeck. He is a former teacher and non-profit administrator. A Practical Farmers member since 2012, Clark is an advocate for healthy soil and clean water.

He and his wife, Sharon, a Spanish teacher, have two grown sons. In his spare time, Clark enjoys kayaking, hiking and camping throughout Iowa and Minnesota, and writing about his reflections on farming and being a part of Iowa’s working landscape.

On a cold evening late last October, I found myself on a quest through soupy darkness, across bean stubble, waterways and fresh tile trenches. I had a measuring wheel in front of me while my father followed me on our ATV. In a cloud of bean straw dust and hazy yellow light, I attempted to sight combine tracks at my side and walk a straight line towards a distant waterway. Once there, we would plant a flag marking the corner of a future oat field.

My father and I were like mariners from the Age of Exploration. Absent a GPS device and using the best methods we had, we left the known world of our western fence line and set out against the elements on a futile journey to create a straight line. The farther our little exploration party ventured towards the dark, distant shore of the waterway, the more difficult it was to be sure we were indeed traveling in a straight course. We persisted on faith alone; it was clear we had lost our reason. Continue reading

Keith Sexton Member since 1989 Rockwell City, IA

Keith Sexton
Member since 1989
Rockwell City, IA

Keith and his wife, Barb, raise corn and soybeans, both GMO and non-GMO, on about 1,300 acres near Rockwell City.

They use cover crops in their operation (the Sextons reported in their 2017 member survey that PFI field days on cover crops have been most meaningful); are currently enrolled in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program; and use a mix of tillage methods, including fall and spring tillage, strip-till and no-till.

“We have increased fall tillage only to smooth out a field that was pattern-tiled,” Keith said. “We are doing more strip-till of corn stalks and less no-till planting of soybeans.”

The Sextons’ short-term farming goals include increasing yields and reducing soil erosion – but longer-term, their goal is to work on transition planning for their farm. Continue reading

PRAIRIE POTHOLES ARE USUALLY SMALL IN SIZE – but when farmed, these perennially wet spots on the landscape can have outsize implications for the environment and farm profitability.

The Prairie Pothole Region extends from Canada south and east, through parts of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa.

In Iowa, many of these areas are found in the Des Moines Lobe, an area that spans the north-central part of the state, ending around the Polk-Story County line – and the vast majority of them are farmed. (If you’re unsure exactly what a prairie pothole is or looks like, take a look at some of the photos below.)

These areas of crop fields habitually yield poorly and drag field yield averages down – and they are prone to nutrient loss and leaching, raising questions about the benefits of continuing to grow corn and soybeans in them.

On. Aug. 31, about 25 people gathered at the farm of Jerry Peckumn, near Jefferson, to explore these questions and learn what new research from Iowa State University is revealing about these unique remnants of Iowa’s glacial past. Continue reading

Throughout Practical Farmers’ 2017 field day season, we are spotlighting many of the PFI farmers who are graciously giving their time to share their knowledge at these events, as well as members who make the journey to attend them.

Watch practicalfarmers.org and “Practical News,” our weekly email newsletter, for details and updates!

Teresa and Rodne Wendt
Members since 2012
Stanwood, IA

Teresa and Rodne own 120 acres of farmland near Stanwood, where they raise corn, soybeans and cover crops, primarily rye, as well as custom-grazed sheep – and they hope to add cattle within the next year.

“We’re replacing fences right now with the plan to get cattle of our own in 2018. We plan to start with feeders and then develop a breeding herd,” Teresa says. “We’ll do managed grazing and limited grain feeding on pasture, with an eye for the total system.”

Rodne farmed conventionally with his dad for many years, and Teresa grew up on a farm, but she says “this is my first foray into farming for myself. We married in 2013 and have two boys, ages 1 and 3.

“2016 was our first year farming together, and we are starting out with no-till and cover crops. Last year was our first year of covers and 2017 was the first time for no-till, so this is brand new.”

Planning a resilient farm

When they got married, Teresa says Rodney was not farming, “for reasons beyond his control. This meant I had several years to take him to field days and watch videos about soil health and biology before we did start farming together.”

One field day the Wendts attended was the PFI trip to North Dakota in 2015, where guests visited the farms of Gabe Brown and Jay Fuhrer. Teresa says she and Rodne “learned a lot” on that trip and they hope to implement a similar farming system based on extended rotations.

“We had lots of in-depth conversations about how we could implement the principles of soil health on our farm, so we had a great plan in place before we even started. We’re very interested in the Dave Brandt / Gabe Brown system of long-term rotations for weed suppression and to limit applied fertilizers.

“We intend to do a four-year rotation in a few years, with corn-beans-rye grain-pasture, and to rotationally graze the crop fields two out of those four years. All years would have cover crops, the last two with really diverse mixes for grazing.” Continue reading

Throughout Practical Farmers’ 2017 field day season, we are spotlighting many of the PFI farmers who are graciously giving their time to share their knowledge at these events, as well as members who make the journey to attend them.

Watch practicalfarmers.org and “Practical News,” our weekly email newsletter, for details and updates!

Wendy Johnson and Johnny Rafkin
Joia Food Farm
Members since 2011
Charles City, IA

Wendy Johnson and her husband, Johnny Rafkin, returned to Iowa seven years ago so Wendy could farm with her dad. Wendy and her father grow conventional corn and soybeans, hay and sheep near Charles City. They have been using cover crops for five years, and this year they have added oats into the rotation.

Wendy and Johnny also operate Joia Food Farm, raising certified organic row crops, farrow-to-finish pigs, and pastured broilers and layers. They transitioned 30 acres to organic and as of 2016, those acres were certified organic. They have also been making improvements to their pasture, including intensively rotationally grazing their grass-fed sheep flock.

“I care about our planet and what we eat,” says Wendy, who also serves as vice-president of Practical Farmers’ board of directors. “We’re also farmers, so trying to combine conservation efforts with humane and ethically raised meat is important to us.

“We want our daughter – and other kids – to live on this planet for a long time, and the best way is to be good stewards of the land and take conservation seriously.”

Wendy and Johnny are hosting a field day on Thursday, Aug. 3, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., where they’ll explore how to manage low-lying areas on the farm, know as potholes, that pool water and often yield poorly during wet years. They’ll also discuss other conservation measures they use on their farm.

Learn more about the field day here (and be sure to RSVP for the meal by Monday, July 31! You can contact Debra Boekholder at (515) 232-5661 or [email protected]).

To learn more about Wendy and Johnny:

Throughout Practical Farmers’ 2017 field day season, we are spotlighting many of the PFI farmers who are graciously giving their time to share their knowledge at these events, as well as members who make the journey to attend them.

Watch practicalfarmers.org and “Practical News,” our weekly email newsletter, for details and updates!

Robert Alexander (right)
360 Heritage Farms
Member since 2015
Granville, IA

Robert (right) and his daughter, Adalynn, crouch in some oat stubble with a red clover underseeding at Scott Ausborn’s recent field day near Ida Grove.

Robert and his wife, April, operate 360 Heritage Farms near Granville, in Sioux County. The 160-acre farm features row crops, hay, a flock of 30 hair sheep (a new addition) and a herd of 40 grass-fed Angus-cross and Belted Galloway cattle. Calves are grass-finished alongside cows, and the herd is raised without hormones or antibiotics.

The whole farm is in transition to organic, though corn was certified organic this year. Robert and April grow their own hay to feed their cow-calf pairs and to sell. “One of the big things we do is sell small, square alfalfa bales,” Robert explains.

Starting to Farm

Robert grew up on his family’s farm, Alexander Farms, located in nearby Remsen. When he decided he wanted to pursue farming as a career, he says selling hay is how he got his start. He had been living in Des Moines, going to school and working, and decided to return home in the spring of 2008.

“I needed to make a car payment when I first moved back from the city,” Robert says. “We had some extra hay, so I took it to auction and started from there. We always had livestock on the farm and had always been putting up hay for our own animals, so it wasn’t anything new to me.” Continue reading

Practical Farmers’ 2017 main field day season is upon us!

Over the coming weeks, to help highlight some of the many farmer-led learning opportunities this growing season — and the farmers and farmland owners hosting them — we’ll be spotlighting many of the PFI farmers who are graciously giving their time to share their knowledge at these event, as well as members who make the journey to attend these unique events.

Watch practicalfarmers.org and “Practical News,” our weekly email newsletter, for details and updates!

Maggie McQuown
Resilient Farms
Member since 2014
Red Oak, IA

Maggie McQuown and her husband, Steve Turman, are farmland owners who live on land near Red Oak, in southwestern Iowa, that has been in Maggie’s family for generations. Maggie inherited her family’s Century Farm in 2011.

Her great-grandparents, J.E. and Retta Taylor, purchased the farm in 1899 and named it Pleasant Prospect. When Maggie and Steve moved to the farm in 2012, they renamed it Resilient Farms to reflect their goals of long-term sustainability and conservation.

The 170-acre farm features 130 acres of corn-soybean row crops, a farmers market produce garden, a 118-year-old Victorian farmhouse, a new Passivhaus energy-efficient home, several historic farm buildings, plus multiple conservation practices dating back to the 1920s.

Maggie grew up on the farm, and shares many fond memories of farm life — from swinging on a rope in the barn, to riding the tractor and combine with her dad, to detasseling corn and swimming in the creek — in a farm legacy letter she wrote as part of Practical Farmers’ Farm Legacy Letters Project (and which is published in the book “The Future of Family Farms”). Continue reading

Practical Farmers’ 2017 main field day season is almost upon us (our first event will take place this Sunday, May 21, at Blue Gate Farm).

Over the coming weeks, to help highlight some of the many farmer-led learning opportunities this growing season — and the farmers hosting them — we’ll be spotlighting many of the PFI farmers who are graciously giving their time to share their knowledge at these events.

Watch practicalfarmers.org and “Practical News,” our weekly email newsletter, for details and updates!

Fred Abels
K & A Acres Inc.
Member since 2004
Holland, IA

Fred Abels and his wife, Vicki, farm about 400 acres at K & A Acres Inc. Fred acquired the farm from his uncle in the late-1970s after working for other farmers for a few years. In addition to corn and soybeans, he has a cow-calf herd that he rotationally grazes.

He uses several conservation practices to protect his soil, local waterways and wildlife, including no-till, strip-till, cover crops, the Conservation Reserve Program and grass waterways, among others. Continue reading

Practical Farmers’ 2017 main field day season is almost upon us! Our first event will take place on Sunday, May 21, at Blue Gate Farm, operated by Jill Beebout and Sean Skeehan.

Over the coming weeks, to help highlight some of the many farmer-led learning opportunities this growing season — and the farmers hosting them — we’ll be spotlighting many of the PFI farmers who are graciously giving their time to share their knowledge at these events.

Watch practicalfarmers.org and “Practical News,” our weekly email newsletter, for details and updates!

Jill Beebout

Jill Beebout
Blue Gate Farm
Member since 2004
Chariton, IA

Jill Beebout farms at Blue Gate Farm with her husband, Sean Skeehan. They steward 40 acres of family land in southern Marion County, which has been in the Beebout family for generations, where they raise Certified Naturally Grown produce, laying hens, honey bees, hay and alpacas.

Their marketing is done primarily through their CSA and at farmers markets, including the Des Moines Downtown Farmers Market.

Jill also makes homemade preserves from the produce she and Sean grow, and dyes and spins yarn from fibers sourced from their own alpacas as well as other wool sources.

Jill and Sean’s vision is to create an economically and ecologically self-sustaining homestead that provides an ongoing connection to the Beebout land for their family, guests and themselves. Continue reading

Bill and Betty Kimble
Members since 1989
Pella, IA

Bill and Betty Kimble raise vegetables, fruits and bees on their 40-acre farm near Pella. Berries have been central enterprises on the farm.

In the past, the Kimbles had up to 2 acres of land in strawberry and blueberry production, marketed both as U-pick and pre-pick.

They now have about a half-acre of strawberries, raspberries and blackberries. “We cut things back to just what I can take care of,” Bill says. “I have some customers that pick up on the farm, and some at the Pella Farmers Market.”

Until a few years ago, the Kimbles also used to do some custom grazing on their land.

Bill served as a mentor to past Savings Incentive Program enrollee Matt Roe, of Terraceberry Farm, who was part of the SIP Class of 2015.

“I could tell Matt what not to do,” Bill says. “I failed at blueberries four times. Luckily, it was just three plants at a time. I never grew to the institutional, wholesale production scale – the scale as Matt is exploring. I couldn’t get consistency of supply, and never pursued it.

“We had been at various levels of production over 25 years, from an eighth of an acre to 2 acres of strawberries.”

In addition to farming, Bill used to work as a 6th-grade math and language arts teacher at Pella Christian Grade School. While he has retired from teaching, he and Betty continue to farm.

Their short-term goals include increasing income and profit. Their long-term goal is to continue farming for another 10 years.