Published Apr 22, 2021

Connecting From Home

By Sally Worley

Late last summer, PFI’s creative communications team mused on ways we could bring people together meaningfully and help them feel connected – virtually – during our biggest event, our annual conference. Typically, this event provides a reunion for returning attendees and a warm welcome for first-timers. How could we emulate these feelings when not together in person? The communications team decided to emphasize the homey, welcoming atmosphere of PFI, along with the benefits of attending a conference from the coziness of home. Thus, “Coming Home” was born.

Friday Business Meeting7

Gathering virtually for our 2021 annual conference PFI members, staff, speakers and others made meaningful connections, expanded their networks and continued the spirit of learning that is a hallmark of our premier annual gathering.
In this view, staff, board members, PFI’s AmeriCorps crew and PFI members – including Paul Ackley (second row, second from the right), who received PFI’s 2021 Sustainable Agriculture Achievement Award with his late wife, Nancy – attend the business meeting on Jan. 22, 2021.

During this conference, we hoped to help people feel at home with their PFI community. And with your participation, the conference certainly did deliver. Our first full-length movie, “Livestock on the Land,” showed people how important livestock is to sustaining farms and communities across Iowa. Sessions helped us learn how to improve our farms, and showcased your homes, including Donna Prizgintas and Lonna Nachtigal cooking delicious animal “extras” into homemade delicacies. Happy hours that lasted later than scheduled let many of us catch up and talk about life’s biggest challenges and opportunities. Our keynote speaker, Sarah Smarsh, helped us put into perspective how alike we are, regardless of whether the place we call home is rural, urban, familiar or new. And the storytelling that capped the event with moving, thought-provoking and humorous homespun tales captured our full attention.

The result was magical. People created genuine connections with each other, and we were able to see people who wouldn’t have been able to make it to an in-person event, such as Tim Welsh who joined from Thailand. We also got to catch up with Tomoko Ogawa, a former PFI staff member and a good friend of many PFI members, who joined from Switzerland with her husband, Simon, and son, Takeo. Thanks to all of you who joined in to make this conference the homecoming it was. If you missed it, we missed you, but I have good news – abridged stories from the capstone conference storytellers can be found on pages 17-28 of this magazine. Additionally, recordings of conference sessions, “Livestock on the Land,” the keynote and the storytelling feature are all available on our YouTube channel.

During the conference, we also honored Paul Ackley and his late wife, Nancy Ackley, who received Practical Farmers’ 2021 Sustainable Agriculture Achievement Award. In his acceptance speech, Paul delivered a powerful ode to his home:

“Rural Iowa has been the place I wanted to call home as far back as I can remember. I knew it was when I was a student at Iowa State, and nearly two years in the United States Army reinforced that desire. In February 1969, as my planeload of returning service men from the Vietnam conflict approached the runway at Oakland Army Terminal, Oakland, California, not a human sound was audible in the cabin. No talking, no shuffling noises and no one reached into overhead luggage racks. All eyes were looking out the windows to get a look, or just a glimpse, of home ground, even if it was just an airport runway. Coming home.”

You can hear Paul’s full acceptance speech on YouTube, and can read about his and Nancy’s many inspiring accomplishments on our website.
Whether via “Live from the Farm,” or “Catching Up,” I look forward to connecting with you soon.

Written cozily from home,

Sally Worley