Published Oct 23, 2020

the Practical Farmer: Autumn 2020

Executive Director Note

Setting the Stage for Successful Planning

Beginning Farmers

Finding a Path Through Livestock and Mentors

Garin and Kristten Buttermore sought mentors to guide their new farm venture.


Grazing the Prairie

Graziers in the Little Sioux watershed are helping land conservation efforts.

Farmland Owner Legacy Award

Honoring Land and Family

The Bouska sisters, PFI’s 2020 award recipients, put relationships first as they plan for their farm’s future.

Book Review

Review of “The Road I Grew Up On: Requiem for a Vanishing Era”

Review of “The Red Meat Republic: A Hoof-to-Table History of How Beef Changed America”

Member Survey

2020 Member Survey

Read highlights from the survey we send members every three years.

Local Meat Marketing

Expanding Local Meat Markets

The Cooperative Interstate Shipment program means out-of-state market access for small- and mid-size farms

Photo Story

Livestock on the Land

Glimpse into the lives of a few farmers we visited while making our forthcoming film, “Livestock on the Land.”


A Costly Gamble

Dick Sloan’s on-farm research finds neonics don’t boost soybean yields and aren’t worth the environmental toll.

Cover Crops

Small Grains Afford Cover Crop Options and Benefits

In this photo story, see how Noah Wendt and Caleb Akin use small-grains crops in their rotation to facilitate cover crop mixes that can be used as high-quality forage for grazing cattle while boosting soil fertility.


Restoring Soil and Community

Landowner Tom Wind’s quest to restore soil and community has connected neighbors and generations.

Early PFI Members

Paving the Way for Diversity

Niman Ranch creates markets for farmers to raise pastured pigs and start farming

Land Access

Sharing Soil to Heal the Land

Bart VerEllen and Shirley Waite are working together to restore her family farm.

PFI News

Exciting PFI Staff Growth and Changes

New position added as two current staff members step into new leadership roles

Late summer and early autumn have ushered in some exciting changes to the PFI staff, as we added the new and much-need position of data analyst and restructured part of Practical Farmers’ leadership team. As we have grown, adding staff to accommodate expanded funding and our capacity to make a greater impact on Iowa’s farming landscape, we realized we needed to reorganize some internal leadership and supervisory roles to more efficiently manage our grants, staff and some of our ambitious strategic goals.

To that end, we decided to promote two staff members – Alisha Bower and Liz Kolbe – to new leadership positions. Both have been key to the growth and success of Practical Farmers over the last few years, and with the restructuring of our leadership team, it was the right time for them to take on new and expanded roles.
Alisha is now PFI’s operations director, while Liz has transitioned to the role of education and engagement director. We are delighted these two highly qualified staff applied and were hired for these positions. We are also excited to have a new part-time office assistant, two new Green Iowa AmeriCorps members and to have hired Maddie Mueller, our summer intern, for a part-time position as a digital media assistant. Learn more about these new additions, and the new roles Alisha and Liz have taken on.

Michael Borucke – Data Analyst

IMG 5742Michael Borucke joined the PFI staff in August 2020 as a data analyst. Michael originally hails from the Chicago suburb of Orland Park, Illinois, and has been working at the nexus of science, technology and the environment for close to 20 years.

Michael obtained his bachelor’s degree and first master’s degree in environmental engineering from MIT in 2002. Since then, he has had a plethora of experiences, including teaching high school science in Massachusetts; working on an organic vegetable farm in Florida; engaging in soil remediation in New Orleans after Katrina; and working as an environmental analyst with the New England States for Coordinated Air Use Management in Boston, the Environmental Defense Fund in San Francisco and the Global Footprint Network in Oakland, California.

In 2016, Michael obtained his second master’s degree in natural resources and agroforestry from the University of Missouri-Columbia. He enjoys international travel, playing trumpet in a brass band, community gardening, cooperatives of all types and getting his hands dirty in the (worm) compost.

Alisha Bower – Operations Director

Alisha Bower 2 5 23 18Alisha Bower joined the PFI staff in early 2017, serving as our strategic initiatives manager. In that role, she helped to deliver and expand PFI’s cover crops and small-grains programs, including our cost-share initiatives, to farmers in Iowa and the Midwest. On Oct. 1, Alisha transitioned to her new role as operations director. In this leadership position, Alisha will oversee staff recruitment and performance, grant planning and management and office administrative capability.

Liz Kolbe – Education and Engagement Director

Liz KolbeFor the past seven years, Liz Kolbe has served as PFI’s horticulture and habitat programs manager. In that role, she crafted programming for our specialty crop farmers and helped deepen our understanding of their needs. In mid-September, Liz transitioned to her new role as our education and engagement director. She will oversee strategy and operations for PFI’s educational events, outreach and community and farmer engagement.

Rachel Findling – Office Assistant

HeadshotRachel Findling joined the PFI staff in August as the new office assistant. She is currently a student at Iowa State University studying agricultural education. Her duties at PFI include helping with mailings, membership database updates, virtual event support and general office support.

Rachel is from the small town of Royal, Iowa. She grew up working with cattle, sheep, pigs and chickens. She joined 4-H and the National FFA Organization right away, and competed in and attended every competition and conference she could. Through these opportunities, Rachel saw the impact the agricultural industry can make in the lives of youth, which inspired her to go to college to become an agricultural instructor. Since attending ISU, Rachel has enjoyed planning events for different university organizations, such as Animal Learning Day and Bacon Expo, and giving tours of Iowa State’s various farms. In her free time, you can find Rachel spending time with friends and family, cooking something new, visiting Iowa State’s Swine Teaching Farm or cruising around the back roads of Iowa.

Meet Our New AmeriCorps Members

Two service members will work with PFI over the coming year

In summer 2019, we worked with our first batch of Green Iowa AmeriCorps members, a community service program operated through University of Northern Iowa’s Center for Energy & Environmental Education. The experience was so positive for both PFI and the service members, we created service opportunities for two Green Iowa AmeriCorps members to work with PFI from autumn 2019 through summer 2020. We’re excited to again host two new Green Iowa AmeriCorps service members for a year-long term.

Emma Liddle

Emma Liddle Headshot 1Emma joined Practical Farmers of Iowa in September 2020 through Green Iowa AmeriCorps. Before coming to PFI, Emma graduated from Grinnell College with a Bachelor of Arts in biology and a concentration in environmental studies. Emma will be working with Practical Farmers’ communications, membership and Cooperators’ Program staff during her service year. She’s thrilled to learn more about farm resilience!

During her time in college, Emma was involved in biological and environmental research. In Fall 2018, she studied in the Australian rainforest through the School for Field Studies, a non-profit that specializes in environmental study abroad programs, conducting research on biome boundaries (and avoiding giant spiders). Her experience informed her work at Grinnell as a mentor for students interested in off-campus study, especially on non-traditional programs like SFS. Emma also performed an independent research project on gecko genetics at Marquette University in Milwaukee. Shes brings her passion, knowledge and analytical skill to her work at PFI.

Emma is originally from Bloomington, Minnesota, and will work there remotely until the local PFI office re-opens. In her free time, she enjoys doing craft projects, taking long walks outside with an audiobook, listening to music or hanging out with her two cats, Ike and Minerva.

Megan Sweeney

Megan Sweeney Headshot 1Megan Sweeney joined Practical Farmers of Iowa in September 2020 as a member of Green Iowa AmeriCorps. She graduated from Ohio University in the spring of 2020 with a degree in environmental biology with departmental honors, with certificates in environmental studies and geographic information science. Her duties with PFI include working with the communications team and the Cooperators’ Program, along with assisting the membership team.

Native to Ohio, her love of the environment and agriculture stems from her childhood spent camping in Indiana during the summers, and her family’s history of farming in northwestern Ohio. These interests led Megan to volunteer weekly for the Brukner Nature Center’s wildlife rehabilitation program throughout high school. She was also able to work in a biological research laboratory at Ohio University where she completed her thesis studying the impacts of the insecticide, imidacloprid, on the wood frog tadpole.

In her free time, Megan enjoys being outdoors doing activities such as camping, hiking and kayaking. She also loves spending time with friends and is an avid reader of fiction and non-fiction. She is excited to increase her knowledge of agriculture through her time at PFI and hopes to have a hobby farm in the future.

Read Our 2019 Cooperators’ Program Report

PFI2020 2019CooperatorsProgram Report Cover Page 01If you haven’t yet seen it, our 2019 Cooperators’ Program report is available online (or let us know if you’d like us to mail you a hard copy). The annual publication highlights some of the many farmer-led on-farm research projects conducted by PFI members.

This year’s report details the results of interseeding 60-inch corn; cabbage variety trials; the effects of apple cider vinegar in dairy cattle; and more. These trials are just a few of the 72 on-farm research projects conducted by 50 PFI members in 2019.

Read the full report

View Missed Field Days Online

Did you miss a virtual field day this summer or autumn that you wanted to see? All events have been recorded, and there are a few different ways to view them:

COVID-19 Resources for Farmers

Links on our site are updated as needed

Throughout the spring and summer, both the federal and state government unveiled a range of programs to support farmers, families and workers as the COVID-19 pandemic has stretched on and upended markets, jobs, work routines and farm operations.

To help you sort through all the information, we created a page on our site, “COVID-19 Resources,” that compiles several some resources we have found particularly useful. We have gathered the links from reputable sources that are frequently updated with current information. With the overwhelming amount of COVID-19 resources, we have attempted to keep our list pared down to the essentials. If you have suggestions for additions or are unable to find something you need, please contact any of our PFI staff and we will do our best to assist you.

Join PFI’s Facebook Group

Did you know we have a Facebook group where you can have conversations, share resources, ask questions and build community? Members and non-members are welcome to join. Keep informed, share events, meet other farmers, landowners and non-farmers interested in diverse agriculture – and get the support you need to make practical food and farm decisions.

Click here to join

Apply for Small Grains Cost-Share

Farmers in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin are invited to apply for cost-share on small grains harvested in 2021 and followed by a legume-containing cover crop. Small grains include barley, oats, rye, triticale or wheat. A legume cover crop could be under- or co-seeded clover or alfalfa, or a summer-planted cover that includes hairy vetch or field peas. Learn more and determine your eligibility.

Seeking Oat Growers for Feedback on Decision Tool

Practical Farmers is piloting an online decision tool to help farmers choose oat varieties based on their location and end market. The tool is powered by a genotype-by-environment model that predicts yield performance of oats varieties across the Midwest.

We’re looking for a group of farmers who can serve as the initial set of eyes on the website and provide feedback to staff about its utility. If you’re interested in participating in one of these initial focus groups, please contact Lydia English at You’ll be compensated for your time.

Derecho Relief Funds Available From IFU

Iowa Farmers Union is accepting applications for derecho storm disaster relief grants to help farmers and families recover from the powerful Aug. 10 storm that produced hurricane-force winds as it traversed six states and more than 700 miles. Full details are available here.

Beginning Farmer Retreat & Series

If you are starting a farm, or thinking about starting one, you should plan to attend one of these training series this winter. Both series will begin at our annual Beginning Farmer Retreat. This year, the retreat will be held virtually on Dec. 11-12. In addition, to networking with other farmers, you will make progress on defining your purpose in farming.

You will also establish a foundation toward setting goals and creating a business plan.

Following the retreat, attendees will choose one of two trainings to keep the momentum toward crafting an action plan.

Registration is open, click here for more details