Published Apr 4, 2013

Are We Making Progress?

By Teresa Opheim

“PFI gives me hope for the future.”

“Everything I know about farming I learned from PFI.”

“I would not be pursuing this farming dream without your help.”

When we hear statements like this, we know Practical Farmers is meaningful to people. But, over the years, are we helping farmers increase their economic security, become better environmental stewards, and build more vibrant communities?

Beginning late in 2012, we started an “evaluation” project to figure out how to measure our progress. Our first-rate “Evaluation Task Force” includes farmers Vic Madsen and Tim Landgraf, farmer and professor at Wartburg College Tammy Faux, and Cornelia Flora, a member and rural sociology professor at Iowa State University. PFI staffers Sean Skeehan and Drake Larson on the PFI staff are serving with me on the Task Force as well. In November we came together at the Iowa Arboretum with PFI staff to begin tackling our work.

We’ve found it harder than you might think to decide on what to measure and how to measure it. Through follow-up calls with the Task Force, we now have decided on the questions we will ask, including:

• Are more PFI members through the years achieving their desired percentage of household income through farming?
• Are PFI farmers decreasing their use of herbicides, pesticides and fungicides?
• Are they increasing their use of cover crops?
• Are they investing more in on-farm conservation?
• Has being a member of Practical Farmers resulted in social and business relationships? An increased sense of community?

Now we are honing in on the right way to ask these questions and others on our next member survey. We are spending a lot of time and resources on this, because we want to make sure our programming is as efficient and effective as possible.

But, in the end, statements like this from Vic Madsen keep me, personally, working for Practical Farmers:

“PFI improves people’s farms and lives.”