Published Jun 21, 2013

Farmland owners: “in a rare position” to influence the future

By Teresa Opheim

First and foremost, Practical Farmers exists to serve farmers. However, non-farmers are hugely welcome in our membership as well: We will not achieve our vision without them.

Our “friends of farmers”, as we call them, are key to our farmers’ success. A great example: Did you all know that, in the Community Supported Agriculture model favored by many of our fruit and vegetable producers, the subscriber pays at the beginning of the season and shares the farmer’s risk? That our friends of farmers provide their business skills to help beginning farmers improve their business plans? Each of our Savings Incentive Program enrollees receives feedback from these experts.

A good number of our friends of farmers members own farmland, and the PFI Board of Directors voted this year to begin presenting an annual Farmland Owner Award. The Farmland Owner Award was created to call attention to the need for improved landowner partnerships with farmers, and of the vital – but often unacknowledged – role non-operator landowners play in shaping the agricultural landscape, rural communities and opportunities for beginning farmers.

I’m so pleased that the Board chose long-time member Helen Gunderson to receive the first award. In 2009, Helen started renting 180 acres of her 500 acres of Pocahontas County farmland to Betsy Dahl, a PFI member who is now transitioning the land to organic production with a longer rotation of row crops and small grains. Helen says she hopes this award will inspire other landowners to become more active in managing their own land. β€œAll of us can affect the landscape by the food choices we make, but people who own land are in a rare position to influence the future of the land,” she says.

Helen is a terrific example of the “diverse connections between farmers and friends of farmers” included in the PFI vision. Congratulations, Helen, and may you and Betsy succeed in your partnership together!