Published Apr 22, 2021

Vision and Action: Our New Strategic Plan

By Sally Worley

Nelson Mandela said, “Action without vision is only passing time. Vision without action is merely day dreaming. But vision with action can change the world.”

In 2020, Practical Farmers of Iowa worked to create a good dose of vision paired with action in our most recent strategic plan, which runs from 2021 through 2023. As a member-based organization, it is crucial that we listen to our members as we create our strategy. Members contributed in myriad ways, from our behemoth member survey to visioning sessions, one-on-one interviews and board representation.

When asked on the member survey what PFI could do differently, members provided some valuable specific ideas we are acting on. However, the most common response was, “Keep up the good work!” It became clear that members value much about PFI’s current farmer-led approach and program offerings. With this in mind, we approached our strategic planning knowing we would remain committed to our core work while focusing on how we could improve and broaden our impact.

Grounding Architecture

As we embarked on this round of strategic planning, we found that our existing mission, vision, values and guiding principles were still relevant, so we kept them the same. These are familiar to many of you, but their importance makes them worthy of including here.

Mission: Our mission describes why we exist.

Equipping farmers to build resilient farms and communities.

Vision: Our vision describes the ideal future we’re working toward.

An Iowa with healthy soil, healthy food, clean air, clean water, resilient farms and vibrant communities.

Values: Our values articulate our attitudes and behaviors.

  • Welcoming everyone
  • Farmers leading the exchange of experience and knowledge
  • Curiosity, creativity, collaboration and community
  • Resilient farms now and for future generations
  • Stewardship of land and resources

Guiding Principles: Our guiding principles provide a framework for how we do our work.

  • Farmers lead our programming.
  • We focus on providing extensive opportunities for members and others to network (such as field days, pasture walks, farminars, conferences, workshops, etc.).
  • We secure extensive media featuring farmers and our projects.
  • On-farm research and demonstration is a core part of our programming.
  • We partner with agencies, organizations and universities that can effectively help us achieve our goals.

Planning for Growth

With a strong message and guiding architecture to steer most of our everyday work, we focused our strategic planning on ways we could build on our strengths and explore new areas of growth. This strategic plan comprises two main components: a practical vision and strategic directions.

The practical vision differs from our organizational vision, which encapsulates the long-term change we aspire to make, by operating on a shorter timescale. In contrast to our master vision, which has no specific endpoint, we aim to realize this practical vision in three years. Results we want to see include:

  • Jeff and Gayle Olson with Gusto edit1

    “If we are serious about mutual respect in a big tent, we can’t NOT include diverse voices representing a multitude of ethnicities, enterprises, farm sizes and more. This makes us better at what we do.” – Gayle Olson, J & G Farms, Winfield, Iowa, from board and staff strategic planning session

    Many voices driving Iowa’s agriculture narrative

  • Effective leaders creating positive change for our food and farm systems
  • PFI well-positioned for success, impact and growth
  • Robust markets for a diversity of farm products
  • Healthy environments stemming from responsible land stewardship
  • Thriving rural communities filled with resilient and profitable farms
  • Farming as a desirable occupation, and new farmers are equipped to succeed
  • A diverse and inclusive PFI network

Strategic directions are practical, substantial actions that draw on our strengths and remove barriers as we work to achieve our practical vision. With these, we want to:

  • Mike Malik presenting at orcharding short course at PFI conference

    “Farmers want to do better things but are leery of changing practices they use because their margins are tight and they don’t want to risk lowering yields. Having another farmer talk to them about their experience really does move the needle on creating positive change.” Michael Malik
    Long Lane Orchards, Solon, Iowa, from member survey

    Equip a deep bench of leaders to inspire change towards a diverse and vibrant landscape

  • Strengthen our network to foster deeper connections, a sense of shared community and partnerships that help spread PFI’s vision
  • Drive the food and farming narrative and amplify diverse viewpoints
  • Pave a path to prosperity for regional food and farm businesses
  • Grow organizational capacity for long-term impact

Preserving Flexibility for Action

If you compare our practical vision and strategic directions to our previous strategic plan, you will find that our current plan lacks specific metrics.

This is by design. The board of directors approved this plan to describe the overall direction we want to go and actions we want to take to get there. From there, staff created a corresponding implementation plan that details specifics. This approach gives us more flexibility to keep the plan relevant and actionable.

Hopefully this short-term vision resonates with you, and you see pieces that excite you to participate in. If you do, that means we captured your feedback well for how we can work together to make a better Iowa.

If you would like to learn more about our practical vision, strategic directions or implementation planning, please contact me at and I’ll be happy to share more details with you. I would also love to hear your thoughts and questions. We are excited to dig in and get to work with all of you to bring change for the better to Iowa and beyond.