the Practical Farmer: Autumn 2022
Executive Director Note
Earlier this summer, I got to brainstorm with my colleagues as we started to set a multiyear vision for the newly minted farm viability department. This department provides personalized support to help farmers achieve their goals and long-term viability. One question we pondered, which I think about a lot – and which you all probably think about a lot, too – was: What does our vision, “an Iowa with healthy soil, healthy food, clean air, clean water, resilient farms and vibrant communities,” actually look like on the landscape?
Like many farmers near the Missouri River in 2019, father-son farming team Lee and Arthur Wisecup found themselves looking for something creative to do with some of their farmed acres as flooding in March and May disrupted normal operations. Seeking to improve soil health, suppress weeds and learn how to work with cover crops, Lee and Arthur decided to plant a multi-species cover crop mix on 500 of their 1,600 acres near Missouri Valley, Iowa.
Life is made up of countless decisions, moments that branch our paths this way and that. Occasionally, we encounter a crossroads that leads to dramatic and instant outcomes. But between these momentous occasions, we walk through an ether of small choices and seemingly random events. While dramatic shifts and inflection points matter, most of life accrues through the little choices we make. This is a story of the small decisions – and a serendipitous interaction – that led to something wonderful in Ames, Iowa: local peppers in a delicious burrito.
Farmland Owner Legacy Award
For over 30 years, Chris Henning has worked in partnership with her tenants to implement conservation practices that safeguard the soil in her fields – and communities downstream. With a willingness to question, try new practices and work through hard conversations, she demonstrates the impact engaged landownership can have on the landscape.
When Jeff Sindelar starts talking honeyberries, a few things happen. First, he encounters a nearly ubiquitous response: What’s a honeyberry? The prompt is his cue to effuse about the little-known fruit he and his wife, Deb Sindelar, grow at Deb’s Berry Farm, the business they operate near Newhall, Iowa. Jeff’s enthusiasm then spreads – igniting curiosity and excitement among those listening. How can a berry elicit such emotion?
Over the last few years, Sam has watched with interest as fellow on-farm research cooperator Dick Sloan, of Rowley, Iowa, has conducted multiple trials exploring neonicotinoid pesticide seed coatings – commonly referred to as seed treatments – and whether they offer any benefits for soybeans. After seeing the results of Dick’s trials, Sam finally decided in 2021 to test seed treatments on his own farm.
Chad Hensley had to leave the state. He wasn’t fleeing the law; he simply needed to get his cattle processed. Farming near Lamoni, in southern Iowa, the closest federally inspected plant with reliable openings for him was in Kansas City, Missouri, about 115 miles away. Now, thanks in part to legislation championed by members of Practical Farmers of Iowa, a new processing plant is opening its doors fewer than 5 miles from the pastures where Chad’s Pineywoods cattle graze.
Following a long career in government at both the state and national levels, he currently serves as the Polk County administrator, where he has kept busy since 2021 managing daily county operations and handling financials. We had a positive conversation about John’s work in agriculture, his vision for Iowa agriculture and how he defines a “friend of farmer.”
Member Book Review
When James Rebanks’ “Pastoral Song” was first published under the British title “English Pastoral” in 2020, there was an overwhelming response from many readers that it should be required reading in every school. It does indeed include important information, but this book should not be read as an assigned educational task. This book should be read for the pleasure of the language it contains and the images and feelings it conjures. This is a personal and reflective piece of extraordinary work from an ordinary farm, both remarkable and deeply relatable to anyone with an agricultural background.
Welcome Our Newest Staff
Andy Ball joined the Practical Farmers of Iowa staff in June 2022. As finance director, Andy works to further PFI’s strategic vision, mission and goals in concert with the PFI community. This effort includes leading financial aspects of administration, budgeting, reporting, grants management and policy development.
Andy views his contribution in terms of empowering PFI staff to achieve their individual mission goals. This approach requires an in-depth knowledge of all departments and operations, and he knows that it’s a neverending effort. He considers finance a “team sport” and appreciates input and advice from all community members.
The Midwest has been Andy’s home for many years, and he earned an undergraduate degree from Drake University and an MBA from the University of Iowa. After 15 years at a computer software company where he worked in sales, marketing and international operations, Andy embarked on a non-profit career that has included working for three human service organizations as well as the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden.
When not working, Andy likes to spend time with his family and watch financial news. He also enjoys hiking and exploring central Iowa’s bike trails, as well as sampling local food truck fare.
He makes weekly trips to an 18-acre farm in Taylor County, Iowa, that he’s restoring to native condition. It was once an oak savanna, and a number of noble pre-settlement oaks still shade the plot. His plans include eliminating invasive species (for which he received a Resource Enhancement and Protection grant) and developing natural prairie.
Vanya North joined the PFI staff in August 2022 and currently serves as the habitat education coordinator.
Her first career after high school was as a logistics coordinator for a rodeo supply company in Missouri. After eight years in that role, she decided to pursue conservation. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in environmental geography from the University of Arkansas in 2014, she took an AmeriCorps position in southwest Virginia as an environmental educator before working a series of seasonal positions in environmental restoration and as a small-farm assistant and environmental interpreter.
Vanya completed a second AmeriCorps term in southwest Washington as an invasive species technician and worked seasonally as a park ranger and period actress for a history museum based on the Oregon Trail before returning to Arkansas to earn a Master of Science in geography in 2022. Her research focused on sustainability in the global cement industry, looking at inequities in resource allocation.
After work, Vanya enjoys curling up with her latest embroidery project, a cup of tea and her pets. On days off, she enjoys anything outdoor-related such as exploring a new hiking trail, kayaking and visiting new vineyards.
Bri Postlewait joined Practical Farmers of Iowa in June 2022. As the content coordinator, she writes and edits copy for a range of PFI communication pieces, as well as co-curates PFI’s social media platforms, email newsletters and website to expand Practical Farmers’ reach and impact by driving food and farming narratives that showcase resilient agricultural systems.
Bri is originally from Missouri and is a descendent of dairy farmers on both sides of her family. Prior to working at PFI, she received a Bachelor of Arts in English and creative writing from the University of Iowa, and a Master of Arts in creative writing, with a focus in poetry, from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
She lives in Iowa City, Iowa, with her partner, Scott, and her cat. Bri is an avid trail runner, home herbalist and urban gardener. She enjoys writing, reading, thrifting, camping and foraging for wild plants.