Published Jul 16, 2014

Remembering Dan Specht: One Year Later

By Teresa Opheim
He was always ready with a smile, a handshake -- and questions and observations

He was always ready with a smile, a handshake — and questions and observations

On July 20th, 2013, hundreds of us gathered at Pike’s Peak State Park to memorialize long-time PFI member Dan Specht. We are thinking of Dan’s friends, brother Phil and the rest of the Specht family as they continue to adjust to life without Dan. I know I have a sadder, softer heart having known and lost such a wonderful PFI member. Here are some of the memorials that poured in last year after his death.


Dan, thank you for……
• being you and not trying to be anything else
• offering first your smile then your handshake
• adding to the discussion by first listening
• bringing calmness to the room by just your presence
• being one with your land and not an occasional visitor
• knowing when to worry and when to laugh
• leaving huge impressions on our minds and not on the land
• seeing connections and understanding complexity
• valuing depth and not mere quantity
• walking both the halls of Congress and the pebbles of the Yellow
• providing rich gifts to the generations that will follow
• painting the beautiful NE Iowa landscape with your actions and hands
• valuing simple serenity, all smallness and the unseen across the landscape
• creating and living your vision
• allowing me to always look up to you in more than one way (Ha!)
• and leading the way in your life for those of us to try to follow
Thank you Dan…we love you
–Jerry DeWitt

The first time I really got to talk to Dan was when I went to take the water infiltration measurements at his farm. Dan was one of the few field crop/livestock farmers to whom I didn’t feel intimidated to talk. PFI is such a great group of people and all the farmers are nice and approachable, but I often feel inadequate talking, especially with field crop/livestock farmers, because I don’t know the farming/agronomy languages well enough, and I can’t quite speak like “Iowan” or don’t quite look “Iowan.” But with Dan, I always felt comfortable. When he was talking about farming, it was also about native plants, habitat for birds, food, and something that I could fully grasp. And it wasn’t that he was trying to dumb it down for me. Dan also always asked me questions/for advice about how to plan/cook a meal for his field day, etc. I’m sure he cared and loved good food and drink, but I think he was doing this in part because he knew that food was the language I feel fully competent to speak. He had that kind of genuine sensitivity and kindness. He also always asked me if I want to experiment with his open pollinated varieties of corns to see if we can maintain the beautiful colors after baking, or to see the flavor difference. We were just talking about how I might get some soon – if he will be attending one of our upcoming field days. I’ll miss little anecdotes that he always had, whether I’m calling him about booking a room for Cooperators Conference, or about the food planning for his field day. The last one was about his knee healing experience with medicinal plants.
–Tomoko Ogawa

The first time I heard about Dan was when my husband came home from attending a PFI sponsored meat cutting and grading seminar held at ISU where they compared one of Dan’s pasture raised beeves to an Iowa State Fair prizewinner. My husband was impressed and bought a half of Dan’s beef and it was great. The first time I actually met Dan was at the late night PFI after party later that year, taste testing rye whiskeys, when Templeton Rye was so hard to get. I told him my husband was the one that bought his beef at the demonstration and how good it was- he donned a rather curmudgeonly look and proceeded to regale me, with a great deal of dissatisfaction, with the details of how his beef was graded that day – not as high as the Fair beef, then his face lit up in that mischevious Dan way when he told me with great satisfaction that the after the beef was cut that it had to be re-graded and was graded much higher than it was the first time, he followed that story up with the comment, “and I have plenty more, just give me a call.” He sure knew how to raise a delicious and healthy beef. Over the last couple of years we have sat in on many of the same PFI conference sessions- the ones about pastures, and soils, and grazing, often sitting together and sharing notes and comments. I will miss Dan at the conferences and field days but as a tribute I will carry on with good conservation practices, healthy livestock care, and something I have put off doing, but inspired by Dan’s enthusiasm, will now actively pursue -birdwatching, especially the native birds of Iowa fields and prairies.
–Sally Wilson

I knew Dan very well for a long time, as well as many others through PFI. When I worked at Organic Valley in the past coordinating the pork pool, I coordinated all of the live hog hauling and worked with many truckers. EVERY trucker that I sent to Dan’s farm for picking up hogs would all agree (and I have heard this in the past straight from a truck driver) – He may be a big grizzly man (that sometimes would almost scare some truck drivers!), but is the most kind hearted hog (and cattle) farmer there is. He knew just how to work with and speak to the animals that he so dearly loved. I think that is a good point to make on behalf of Dan, and seeing him in action as I have visited his farm a few times years ago, he really did know just what the animals needed and he knew just exactly how to move them and keep them healthy and happy. MANY will miss Dan and his ways of farming and working with nature!
–James Frantzen

I knew Dan ever since he moved to NE Iowa, and in the last few years we buddied around more and more, going to conferences and meetings and lectures around Iowa, I was privileged to work with him the last two years on his corn breeding project, he was ready and willing consultant for me on issues with pigs as I started my career with the outdoor pig industry. Dan knew the birds and the plants well. He was always up for watching and looking for them, and was just as excited about a plant he would find in a new place as anything. His values were so good. We could all learn from Dan in that regard. When one loses someone you had figured growing old with as friends the gap will always be there but if we remember dan and do what he would have been proud of, he will always be with us.
–Jack Knight

We are all so greatly saddened to hear this terrible news. Dan is one of the most intelligent and truly caring farmers that I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. We hung out together a lot at the upper Midwest conference this past year and I will always cherish that. We worked together often over the years at both PFI conferences but also traveled together to Washington to work on Sustainable Ag Coalition issues and the seeds and breeds meetings. He shared his insights often about many different things whether it had to do with prairie, plant and animal breeding, cattle and hogs, ( mostly cattle) and wildlife. He took the time to get to know all the living things around him and I will always think of him as one of the best practitioners of what he believed farming should and could be. I will miss those after meeting beers and sharing of experiences and concerns the most. He was a gentle man but could snore worse than a lumberjack so I teased him that he was at least half bear. I will miss him a lot.
–Ron Rosmann

Dan knew so much about the land and yet he was so humble. Laura and I have learned so much from Dan when we moved here 20 years ago and ever since. I admired his taking the time to go to DC and try to bring his sensibilities to policy makers. I have always enjoyed hanging out with Dan at PFI conferences for good conversations and great laughs. We are very sad.
–Kamyar Enshayan

We have known Dan for many years and will cherish the memories, the conversations we had with him, as well as the great laughs and a few beers. Dan was truly a conservationist in every way, caring for the land and animals all around. We attended many of the same meetings and conferences and always knew we’d see him there. We’ll miss that. We will always remember the last time we saw him and that was at our farm, in our home, for a PFI gathering just a few months ago. He attended our tour on a research trial we are currently doing. He enjoyed the noon meal around our dining room table and shared his valued information with all in attendance. A real inspiration to others, may he be a forever example on what agriculture should be all about…loving the land, caring for all things living, and appreciating the beauty all around us. May he rest in peace.
–Tom and Irene Frantzen

Dan was one of my heroes, partly for what he believed, but more for living those beliefs.
–Vic Madsen

I started working for Practical Farmers a couple weeks before the Annual Conference that year. By the time it rolled around I was in a panic about why I decided to take my first ever desk job and was wondering if I could hack it. Dan was the first PFI member I got to have a talk with at that conference. I thought “if more are like him I can do this.” Turns out most everyone in PFI is similar of course. He had that blend of traits that make farmers so special and that make PFI what it is. He practically oozed calm wisdom to where a simple conversation with him felt like a life or farm lesson, but he was so humble it could be hard to drag direct advice out of him. He lit-up and talked like a kid about his favorite topics, which were diverse. It was clear he could demolish a small town with his bare hands, but equally clear the thought would never cross his mind.
Such an ugly, inappropriate shock he is gone but a great lesson on the importance of living the values we all hold dear. He was a great role model and I know the many beginning farmers I recommended him to picked-up on it. He would not admit to it but he is one of many PFI’ers who can be described as having a legacy that will persist.
–Marc Strobbe

There are so many great memories of Dan Specht! Taking water infiltration rates in 2009 on his farm with Suzi Bernhard Howk, Greg and Kayla Koether. Watching Dan and Gerald Frye exchange cattle breeding methodologies before the Beard Field Day. Going to Washington, DC, with him. At an annual conference in Marshalltown deciding with him that we should plant corn in the winter in Puerto Rico so we could go “south.” Receiving guidance about stages of grazing cover crops and learning more about providing for grassland bird habitat than I thought was possible. Finally seeing Dan so humbled at the number of farmers who came to his last field day on May 22, 2013—more than 60 farmers attended to learn about grazing cover crops and bird friendly farming.
–Sarah Carlson