Published May 8, 2013

What Holds Us Together: Shared Values

By Teresa Opheim

Another Gilbert generation on the farm: John C. and Sarah

Members of Practical Farmers have all kinds of farming systems. People frequently try to “pidgeon hole” us as just ridge tillers, or just organic producers (or whatever), but it is just not accurate to do so. If you need proof, check out our Field Day guide (which will arrive in the mail soon) for the wide range of enterprises we support.

So what holds this diverse group together? Some core values:
• We value ingenuity, exploration, experience and sharing of knowledge for solving on-farm challenges.
• We value diverse and independent farm operations that are integrated with and enhance the earth’s ecosystems.
• We value an agriculture that is economically and ecologically sustainable and built on a fair market system.
• We value widespread ownership of land and resources.
• We value commitment to family, community and the celebration of wholesome food.

I see these values practiced daily by all kinds of PFI members, but I am going to just pick on one farm family: The Gilberts.

John and Bev Gilbert, John’s brother Greg and his wife Barb, and John and Bev’s son and daughter-in-law John C. and Sarah, all farm together on 800 deeded acres between Iowa Falls and Hubbard. (John and Greg’s father William, who farmed with them, died recently; a portion of his obituary was featured in a recent PFI newsletter.)

A couple examples of the shared Gilbert-PFI values. Their farm is diverse. The centerpiece of their farm is a 90-head Brown Swiss herd (milk sold to Swiss Valley Farms) and 250-300 pigs sold to Niman Ranch and through a local locker. Their 650 tillable acres include corn, food-grade soybeans, alfalfa hay, oats and a variety of annuals. Their tilled acres mainly feed livestock.

The Gilberts are constantly working to explore answers to on-farm challenges, and John is a frequent PFI Cooperator. He reports that “Diversity in seeds and breeds are a priority for our family, which is why I participate with Practical Farmers of Iowa in a trial to test and increase the varieties of corn seed available. That option is no longer available because genetic modification of seed has led to rapid corporate consolidation in the seed industry and specialty seed varieties are no longer important to the corporations.”

The Gilberts also value widespread ownership of resources and make it a priority to own their own livestock. Says John: “Farmer-owned livestock is much more likely to be a positive for local economies and environments. Livestock makes more limited acreages economically viable, creates a need for soil-conserving forages, provides income and work for a family on the farm, builds stronger local communities and is the time-honored way for new generations to enter farming.”

With John C. and Sarah’s return to the farm a few years ago, the older John reports: “Adding another generation is a major step toward sustaining the farm. The challenges involved are a small price to pay for what adding a son and daughter-in-law means long term. The Gilbert family has farmed in Hardin County since coming from Delaware County in the 1870s.”

Talk about commitment to family and community!