Published Mar 12, 2019

PFI Annual Conference Recap: Cultivating Connections

By Laura Frescoln

“If I were outside in a healthy, diverse ecosystem, underneath one single footprint there would be 300 miles of fungal mycelium if you could stretch it out from end to end.” – Michael Phillips, “Soil Redemption Song” keynote

attendees networking between sessions at practical farmers of iowa annual conference 2019One single footprint. How often do we associate one single anything as an influential force? But that single footprint is connected to another single footprint, and another, until there is a vast network of interconnected systems. This is true of the vast biological community underfoot, and it’s true of the vast member community at Practical Farmers of Iowa. Each of our member “footprints” represents a connection to something bigger. A connection to an idea or question. A connection to a neighbor, a family member or friend. A connection to the landscape. A connection to a community.

If you attended our annual conference this year, you were a part of cultivating those connections. Each footprint represented a vast network, all linked by a common mission.

attendees at practical farmers of iowa annual conference 2019

Despite some challenging weather conditions, 823 of our members and friends gathered to share knowledge and enjoy each other’s company. Over two days, 60-plus sessions highlighted diverse topics that appealed to both farmers and friends of farmers. In addition, two pre-conference short-courses – “Silvopasture” and “Commercial Apple Orcharding” – gave participants a chance to learn in-depth about topics our members have specifically asked about.

You can view selected presentations and recordings here!

When it comes to creating connections, our members are the ones we rely on the most. We count on each and every person who attends an event and is inspired by the message to tell someone. In our conference evaluation this year, we asked, “Do you plan to share what you have learned at this conference with others?” We were heartened by the enthusiastic responses we received. Every person who answered this question (107 of you) committed to sharing the knowledge they gained from the event in some fashion. What if every person who said “yes” followed through on that commitment? And what if EVERYONE who attended the conference – all 823 – told someone about it? Imagine the impact: many more footprints.

Adding footprints and creating connections often helps people reach their farming goals. Ninety percent of those who filled out the conference evaluation said they met someone at the conference who will be a positive addition to their farm network. Here are a few comments from attendees:

“[I] met someone from adjacent county that can help with advice.”

“Reconnected with someone in area I didn’t know was farming!”

You never know where those connections will lead you. Margaret Smith and Doug Alert, the 2019 PFI Sustainable Agriculture Achievement Award recipients, credit their connection to PFI co-founders Dick and Sharon Thompson, and to the broader PFI community, with setting them on the path they are on today. “Practical Farmers of Iowa has been instrumental in the development of our farm,” Margaret says. “Since Doug started farming without an existing family farm operation, PFI was a critical part of our community that helped us explore our options . . . . We were not out here all alone.”

There is comfort in being surrounded by people who share your values and goals. People within the Practical Farmers community share other things as well: curiosity and humility. Margaret sums it up well: “I think curiosity is really important to farm well, as is humility. Acknowledging that how we’re farming has flaws pushes us to ask how we are going to do it better.”

Humility was a theme in Michael Phillips’ keynote as well. He looked to Aldo Leopold’s “Land Ethic” essay as a call to action for how we should interact (connect) with our natural world. “We humans are one of many,” Michael said. “We need to be a humble member, a respectful member, of a community of many species.”

Thank you to all of you who attended the conference. Your footprints form the vital framework that connects communities, in ways both seen and unseen.

attendees of practical farmers of iowa annual conference networking between sessions