Published May 5, 2017


By Sally Worley

Practical Farmers of Iowa annual conference, January 19-20, 2018, Scheman Center, Ames

sunset on James Rebanks' farm -- photo from James Twitter account, @herdyshepherd1

sunset on James Rebanks’ farm —
photo from James’ Twitter account, @herdyshepherd1

If we look back in recent history, Iowa’s rural landscape was one with more people. People have been moving to metro areas where there are opportunities to make a living, make friends and build community. Rural schools are consolidating, businesses are closing and those once thriving rural communities are losing their vibrancy.

This trend is not inevitable. Practical Farmers of Iowa has a different vision for the future, one of Revival. Revival means repopulating rural communities with farmers.  This conference will strategize how to create markets and infrastructure for small grains and cover crop industries. We’ll talk about how to bring fruit, vegetable and livestock farms – and the resulting jobs and healthy food – back to our small communities.

Revival means regenerating Iowa soils by putting living roots in the ground year-round, by diversifying crop rotations and by re-introducing livestock to the landscape. The wellbeing of our rural communities depends on healthy soil. Revival means rejuvenating our creeks and rivers and bringing clean water back to Iowa. We will talk about ways that all Iowans can have clean water.

Revival means opportunities for the next generation. Our conference will abound with education for beginning farmers to learn the skills they need to succeed, and for families to learn how to put strategies in place to help their farm succession plans match their values and goals.

Though revival honors our vibrant history, the Iowa future we envision does not replicate the past. We need to embrace technological improvements of the modern world while reviving the wisdom of our grandparents.

As happens every year at Practical Farmers’ conference, we will revive relationships with old acquaintances and make new ones as well.

James Rebanks (c) Eamonn McCabe

James Rebanks (c) Eamonn McCabe

Keynoting the conference this year will be James Rebanks, a farmer who knows something about rural decline and revival. James is a shepherd, continuing his family’s 600-year-long tradition of raising sheep in the Lake District of rural England. Recently, he wrote the best-selling book The Shepherd’s Life, an account of his rural upbringing and livelihood. He also is enormously popular on Twitter, with nearly 100,000 followers of his account – Herdwick Shepherd (@herdyshepherd1). James has published The Shepherd’s View: Modern Photographs From an Ancient Landscape, and The Illustrated Herdwick Shepherd.

In a recent opinion article James wrote this: “The future we have been sold doesn’t work. Applying the principles of the factory floor to the natural world just doesn’t work. Farming is more than a business. Food is more than a commodity. Land is more than a mineral resource.” We agree. We hope to see you there.