Published Feb 4, 2021

Staying Focused on Community in Our Strategic Planning

By Sally Worley

Practical Farmers of Iowa’s dedicated membership is working purposefully toward an Iowa with healthy soil, healthy food, clean air, clean water, resilient farms and vibrant communities.

PFI is so fortunate to have so many farmer leaders willing to teach each other. Most of you reading this have had the opportunity to attend a farmer-led event, and know they are top-notch. At these events, farmers talk some about why they are trying the things they are trying. But mostly, they share how they are farming. Often, they include highly detailed information, from enterprise budgets to cultivator settings.

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Top: Wendy Johnson (left) hosted a grazing group ion her farm near Charles City in June 2019.

Donna Warhover, of Mount Vernon, says, “I tell people all the time that becoming a part of PFI was the single most important thing I did when I decided I wanted to begin farming. The education and support I’ve received through events, mentors, and peers has been incredible. I’m so grateful for the good work PFI is doing to help farmers.” Donna talks about education she’s received through PFI, but also about peers and support.

Practical Farmers spends substantial time cultivating community among members. This is because research – along with members’ feedback and decades of farmer-to-farmer community-building at PFI – has proven that a supportive community is integral to farmer-to-farmer learning.

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Jill Beebout (right) hosted field day in May 2017.

Investing in people and relationships brings about positive changes that move us closer to our vision. As we created the next strategic plan (that will be unveiled at our annual conference!), we did so with the importance of community in mind. During the process, we also asked through visioning sessions, and through our survey, about the meaning of community to our members.


As you all know, Practical Farmers sends out a comprehensive survey every three years. THANK YOU for filling this out! Half of you participated, and the feedback you shared provides a trove of indispensable data that helps us see how we are doing serving your needs, as well as how we need to plan for the future. Our soon-to-be complete strategic plan had goals around building community:Screen Shot 2021 02 01 at 10.33.14 AM


Here are some comments from the survey regarding community:

“Having a network of farmers and researchers to reach out to is invaluable.” – Seth Watkins, Clarinda

“The recent Holistic Management workshop was exactly what I needed to find colleagues and potentially important friendships to help me move forward.” – Shami Morse, La Vista, NE

“These connections have kept us inspired and connected, and helped us feel purposeful in sharing and receiving knowledge and working towards a revitalized rural landscape.” – Kayla Koether, Decorah

“The PFI community has become like a second family. It’s fun to keep in touch with people from around the state. PFI members always seem willing to share what they are doing, what works and what doesn’t.” – Eric Madsen, Audubon

“Friends that I’ve met through PFI have mentored me, helped me design soil plans, lent me tools and generally have been some of the most supportive folks in my corner.” – Monika Owczarski, Des Moines

“I have new friends through PFI whose presence bring me joy, and their farming practices and philosophies have helped in the evolution of my farm.” – Jon Yagla, Iowa City

“Through PFI, I have made lifelong friends I can call on at any time.” – Steve Weis, Osage

“They have helped me build the confidence and skills to diversify my farm enterprises.” – Josh Nelson, Belmond

“All of my peer farmer friends are PFI members, and I met them through PFI. I did not come from a family farming background or grow up in Iowa, even, so I have not had that tradition or support or credibility to draw from. PFI in many ways has served that role for me, giving me a place and community in Iowa agriculture among people who were born here and have long family farming traditions. I have always felt embraced.” – Jordan Scheibel, Grinnell

“PFI’s community fosters a great deal of learning and fellowship in working on positive changes to our farm’s future. These connections make the work seem possible, and the sharing of ideas is so valuable.” – Peg Bouska, Iowa City

“They make us feel like we are not alone in trying to change how we farm. Others are going through the same struggles trying to improve their operations.” – Rory Worthington, Pleasantville

“PFI is a critical support network for our farming family. We chose to move home to Iowa in large part because we were familiar with PFI’s resources and knew we’d feel well supported with PFI!” – Natasha Hegmann, Elkport

“The PFI community has affected nearly every aspect of our farming life and was critical in establishing our social circle.” – Jill Beebout, Chariton

In March, we held three visioning sessions at which 33 members elaborated on some of the questions we asked in the survey. Members let us know that strengthening and expanding PFI’s community should be a top priority. They have a deep personal connection to Practical Farmers, and have developed multiple lasting relationships through PFI. Practical Farmers members expressed a sense of belonging and support that helps them innovate and make changes. They appreciate that PFI is a big tent, with room for all who have an interest in agriculture.

Here are a few quotes from visioning session participants:

“PFI is a social support system for those willing to try something new or something old.” – Beth Larabee, Ames

“Without PFI, I wouldn’t have the sense of community that I do. Without that sense of community, especially when you’re starting out, it can be lonely and you question yourself all the time. This makes it harder to make decisions. Without PFI, I’d be behind in terms of knowledge. I’d have to learn on my own without the PFI community to learn from. I’d just be behind in general.” – Wendy Johnson, Charles City

“The community that I’m connected to through PFI is one of the reasons I’m farming, and remained in Iowa to farm.” – Molly Schintler, Mechanicsville

One question we wanted clarity on was about what PFI’s role should be in creating community across Iowa, beyond our supportive membership network. Suzanne Castello, of Grinnell, expressed what visioning session participants felt PFI’s role is in building healthier communities: “As PFI forwards the causes of mid- and small-sized farms, it is actively contributing to community. The more mid- and small-sized farms there are, the stronger Iowa’s communities are.” We heard that by helping all kinds of farmers, PFI makes positive ripple effects in rural communities.

PFI community, thank you. I hope these quotes from fellow members inspire you as much as they do me. Together as a community, we are changing agriculture for the better.