Published Oct 11, 2011

A thoughtful gift to PFI’s new Legacy Society

By Teresa Opheim

It is with great pride and tenderness that I announce that longtime PFI member Helen DeElda Gunderson has become a charter member of the PFI Legacy Society. Helen has included in her will a gift to PFI of Pocahontas County farmland. In the following comments, Helen talks more about her land ethic, the responsibility of being a farmland owner, and why she is choosing PFI for her generosity.
–Teresa Opheim

“When I was studying for my Master of Divinity degree, I was surprised to discover that many of the Biblical messages were about land. There was even a term we learned, “latifundialization.” It meant the displacement of people off the land and the land being taken over by the king to grow grapes and olive oil to trade for armaments.

“There was also the Hebraic concept that land was not supposed to be controlled in perpetuity by the same family, that there was to be a Year of Jubilee. Fortunately, one of my two Old Testament professors, Marv Chaney, had grown up on a farm in Kansas and would eventually inherit land. So we had some good conversations about finding the balance between appreciating our inheritance and yet seeking ways to be ethical.

“I want to put some projects in place before I die and make sure my will reflects some of my values. Already, I have put about 35 acres of my land into CRP, using a diverse mix of prairie seed from Carl Kurtz. And I am renting a third of my land to PFI member Betsy Dahl who is transitioning it to organic. This year, I am giving some permanent pasture and CRP land and adjacent crop acres to the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. And I am giving land to PFI in my will.

“There is much latifundialization at work today. Because of gift laws and inheritance taxes required of beneficiaries who are not related to the deceased, and with today’s high land prices, it would be difficult for me to keep land in the hands of people who will farm it sustainably. So the next best thing I can do is give land to PFI. In that way, I help a vital and ethical organization continue its work, and I help keep sustainable farmers on the land.

“I would not have the lifestyle to which I have become accustomed if I did not have land that someone else gave to me. On the other hand, I do not want to continue a family dynasty of land ownership. As I write that, I know the notion goes against all the family acculturation that I have been exposed to. I do think of many PFI folk as being sort of like family. However, I am also not so naive as to think that I can control what happens in 20 or 50 years from now with the country, the PFI organization, or my land. But I can act with good intention, detach from the outcome, and trust the process.”