Published Dec 26, 2019

Planning for the Future

By Sally Worley

Practical Farmers is almost two years into our strategic plan. During this plan’s reign, we have been fortunate to experience growth in membership, grant support and staff size. How exciting to grow our network and hopefully, as a result, make progress toward our vision: an Iowa with healthy soil, healthy food, clean air, clean water, resilient farms and vibrant communities. Thank you to all of you who comprise Practical Farmers of Iowa and are out there working day and night toward this vision. Thank you for your passion, dedication, open-mindedness and humility.

Celize Christy and Sally Worley at Rosmann Family Farms in fall 2019

To prepare for our next strategic plan, we are now actively seeking responses to our next member survey. If you are a PFI member, you will have received an email about this. Please, please, please take time to fill out this vital fact-finder. This survey helps us see how well our current efforts are or aren’t working, and provides information to inform our future work.

Our surge in growth seems to indicate more people are paying attention to farmer-to farmer research and education. We want to capitalize on our growth to increase our impact into the future. During this planning process, we will consider: Are we making the difference we want to make? Is our perception of our impact accurate? How can we use this momentum to do more and do better?

If you are like me and get excited by these kind of questions, and would like to contribute to the process for our next strategic plan, please let me know! In addition to the survey, we will also conduct some focus groups and interviews to gather information. A small group of staff, board and members will come together to help decide where we are going, what barriers are in our way and strategies to get there. The latter requires a substantial amount of time, but it is important, fulfilling, brainhurting work.

In preparation for this round, I perused our old strategic plan documents and found an email correspondence with Clark Porter, who was part of our last strategic planning committee. Clark wrote: Planning for the Future From the Executive Director

“I thought about some times when I have had doubts about PFI. As you know, I am a big fan of the organization, but just like belonging to any group (even family)… there are trying times or moments of doubt. Based on a few of my experiences, I think we have to guard against crossing the line between an organization and a club. PFI must avoid becoming a club. While we celebrate those who value conservation and sustainability, we need to be extremely sensitive to the fact that this is a hard road that is full of genuine financial risks.

“There can be a tendency to applaud the ‘sustainability all-stars’ and enable staff and stars to preach rather than teach, to compete rather than encourage, to become exclusive rather than inclusive. Do we want those who are contemplating cover crops or niche markets to be corrected by others or connected to others? Do we want all experiences and questions to be welcomed, or do we tacitly condone only certain experiences and observations? For instance, will a farmer feel supported if she says her cover crops failed to germinate well? Or will she perceive herself to be reprimanded for not doing what the research or all-stars suggest?“I think members (myself included) and staff need to be careful about this.”

Clark’s words resonated with me then and now. At Practical Farmers, our aim is to teach, not preach. Encourage, not compete. Be inclusive, not exclusive. Connect, not correct. Farmers who become members of PFI do make improvements to their farms that build community, steward our natural resources and create viable farms. This isn’t because they are better than other farmers, but because they are exposed to a creative and curious learning community.

Thanks for surrounding us all with your curiosity and creativity,

Sally Worley

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”

“I don’t much care where – ”

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.

– Lewis Carroll, “Alice in Wonderland”