Published Feb 4, 2021

Count Blessings

By Sally Worley

Many people, myself included, have referred to 2020 with a good-riddance demeanor. From destructive weather and divisive politics to a pandemic, protests and other challenges, it feels as if 2020 has lurched from one upheaval to another. The myriad challenges have left many of us with plentiful reasons to host our own personal pity parties. My therapist told me that sometimes it’s actually good to do this, to acknowledge the things that are causing us pain and stress. But it’s important that we don’t dwell in that sorrow. Allowing ourselves to feel our emotions can permit us to reflect on them, and then move on to more inspiring thoughts and actions.

Mark peterson sally melanie chris willie

From left to right: Sally Worley, PFI board member Mark Peterson, Willie Nelson, Melanie Peterson and Chris Worley pose together after presenting Willie with a PFI “Don’t Farm Naked” T-shirt in 2014.

After I bring out my fall and winter holiday décor, I am greeted each day with this quote from Willie Nelson: “When I started to count my blessings, my whole life turned around.” As we close up 2020, I am trying to follow Willie’s wisdom. As I do so, Practical Farmers of Iowa continues to be a constant source of inspiration. This magazine is filled with stories of people coming together – bountiful examples of an enduring PFI ethos: “Working together, always learning.” When barraged with challenge after challenge this year, Practical Farmers members continued to adapt. Here are a few of the many blessings I counted within Practical Farmers’ community this year:


  • Members collaborated to get food to their communities quickly and safely when pandemic-induced disruptions to the nation’s large-scale supply chains depleted grocery store shelves. This revealed the vulnerability of our current centralized food system – but also the agility and resilience of a more localized system, and the potential benefits a decentralized food system would bring to our farms and communities.


  • PFI members continued our tradition of on-farm learning by hosting field days virtually, even welcoming people who can’t typically travel to in-person events due to distance and schedules. While we missed getting to see one another in person, PFI staff and members quickly learned new skills to make our virtual events practical, engaging and high-quality. We will continue to use these valuable virtual skills even when we resume face-to-face events, so we can continue to make our farmer-to-farmer learning accessible to a broader audience.
  • When many lost power and had substantial derecho storm damage, other members reached out and offered storage and physical help to clean-up.
  • Our musically talented members took their tunes online so people could listen to live music when they weren’t able to go to in-person shows. One such member and supporter is the talented Susan Werner, who debuted Susie on Sundays this year.


  • We completed high tunnel builds, COVID-safe style, to help three farms rebuild from the derecho, and to help others learn how to construct high tunnels. We held some fall socials, and started up a community connections committee to supplant the one-on-one interactions we usually get to experience at our events.
  • We welcomed more than 80 people to celebrate with sisters Carol Bouska, Peg Bouska, Sally McCoy and Ann Novak as they received the 2020 Farmland Owner Legacy Award. It was nice to see such support for these sisters and their dedication to the future of their farmland, and to be genuinely inspired by their work. Holding this event virtually was indeed a blessing – it was a genuine celebration, and people from across the country were able to participate.

Looking Ahead

As we settle into winter, we are looking forward to January 2021 and a top-notch conference, Coming Home, which everyone will be able to enjoy from the comfort of their homes. No driving in a blizzard this year!

Practical Farmers remains strong because of its network of committed and caring members. While 2020 hasn’t been easy, Practical Farmers staff, board and members aren’t in this fight because it’s easy. We are up to solving challenges, and 2020 has been no different.

That is because there is a strong commitment to our vision: An Iowa with healthy soil, healthy food, clean air, clean water, resilient farms and vibrant communities.

Despite how ‘special’ this year has been, Practical Farmers continues to grow its membership and efforts to reach its vision. I want to thank all of you for your support and involvement in our efforts.

I am excited and hopeful for Practical Farmers’ – and Iowa’s – future.