Published Jun 25, 2019

The Power of Community

By Wendy Johnson

Why do you farm? And to our friends of farmers, what attracts you to farming? This may be a question we may not ask ourselves often enough. Or in challenging times, it may be a question we ask ourselves too often. It is clear though, that there is something about agriculture that draws us. We may have differences in opinion from religion, politics or social issues, but we all have the love of agriculture in common. Practical Farmers of Iowa has taken this love one step further and facilitated the cultivation of community. PFI is a powerful organization, I don’t mean in the lobbying sense, but in the people sense.

We get through challenging times because of the power of community. Farming and ranching are occupations that require copious amounts of perseverance. There is so much risk and decision-making mixed with so many uncontrollable variables: weather, market variability, land access, demand and supply, too much government, too little government, changing consumer behavior, rising interest rates, low profit margins and the list goes on and on. Are we crazy for taking on this life of so much unpredictability? Most of you are probably shaking your heads, no. I think you’d agree, farming is meaningful work. It’s the love of soil and growing food and putting seeds in the ground and witnessing a calf born and a child’s delight holding baby chicks and that bumper crop of corn or sugar snap peas and that smile and thank you from that customer at farmer’s market. The list of why we farm most likely outweighs all of the unpredictable variables we have stacked up against us. Who better to share our joys and heartaches than with our peers and community that make up members of Practical Farmers of Iowa?

Wendy Johnson with husband Johnny Rafkin and daughter Vivienne

Wendy Johnson with her husband, Johnny Rafkin, and their daughter, Vivienne, on their diversified crop and livestock farm near Charles City.

Some of us are working through the devastating flooding we had this spring and we all witnessed how destructive perfect storms can be. As we can’t always prevent these events from happening, let’s ask how can we become more resilient – physically, emotionally and financially? I believe that community holds the answer to many of these questions.

Farm viability is a topic worthy of more discussion as we enter a time of a depressed farm economy. PFI was created during a time when the outlook of agriculture was bleak. The organization was developed on hope and optimism and the idea that there was a better way to continue farming, be profitable and enjoy the work we do each day. As we near a similar cycle, where in some cases costs are outweighing profits, here is an opportunity to gather outside-of-the-box ideas, continue researching new and soil building ways to farm and keep farming, march upward an onward with that same hope and optimism and have that important tool in our toolbox: the community we’ve built through PFI.

I recently read Nourishment by Fred Provenza and among many interesting research studies on behavioral ecology, he touches on happiness and longevity as it relates to humans. Much of our well-being not only comes from diet and lifestyle but from our relationships with others, sharing a sense of community and purpose. Practical Farmers of Iowa uniquely connects agriculturalists that share the purpose of land stewardship and unwittingly creates a sense of community. Our annual conference keynote, Michael Phillips, said it too, “the evolution across biological kingdoms points relentlessly to cooperation and support networks as the way to proceed in life”. My interpretation is the analogy that we are the fungi and the microbes, sharing, trading and cooperating. PFI is soil health, the result of strong community building.

Thank you for being a member of an organization that meshes our commonalities, empowers farmers, harnesses curiosity and opens us to a broader audience. PFI brings agriculture in your sense of the word, to the forefront and brings us together as we steadily march forward dedicated to viable and strong farms and resilient communities. You are all the voice of this organization and we love to hear you sing.

Stay curious friends,

Wendy Johnson
President, Board of Directors