Published Dec 28, 2022

the Practical Farmer: Winter 2022/2023

Winter 2022 2023 Magazine CoverTable of Contents:

On the cover

Rachel and Alec Amundson, of Osage, Iowa, are among a new generation of PFI farmers exploring ways to decrease nitrogen use on their farms through a PFI-led on-farm research project.

ED photo panelFrom the Executive Director

Expanding Our Network to Create Viable Farms

PFI was founded, in part, to help farmers reduce reliance on external inputs. Key in this journey has been the quest to reduce dependence on synthetic nitrogen. Nitrogen reduction trials were some of the first trials PFI organized, following in the footsteps of PFI co-founders Dick and Sharon Thompson.

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IMG 8991Livestock

Grazing Resilience

PFI farmers are using rotational grazing to restore biodiversity and create more resilient farms.

The grass is brown and dry – cushioned firecrackers punctuating footfalls. It is the precipice of fall, but the quiet cacophony is not the crisp crackle of autumn; rather, it’s the dry crunch of another summer of drought.

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Natasha Hegmann and Peter Kerns submitted by themHorticulture

Q+A With Natasha Hegmann

Natasha Hegmann and Pete Kerns are using PFI’s new Farm Business Coaching program to examine their goals and focus their 7-year-old farm business.

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IMG 6035 CarlosWilliamsBeginning Farmers

Navigating Land Connections

PFI’s farmland access navigators help beginning farmers looking for land.

Securing land as a beginning farmer is more than a simple transaction; it’s a process of working through what’s possible and what isn’t, financially and logistically, and making a host of compromises and decisions.

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20220809 FieldDay Cook 502022 Field Days

Photo Feature

View a selection of images from the last half of our 2022 field day season.

As we wrap up the 2022 field day season, we’d like to give a big “thank you” to the farmers and landowners who opened their farms and shared their practices, challenges and ideas. From June 6 to October 8, over 1,800 people attended 40 PFI field days, visiting 36 different Iowa counties, and reached Minnesota and Illinois.

As we look back over the photos, we’re already excited for next year!

See the photo spread

Alec Amundson soil roots video screen shotCooperators’ Program

The Proof Is in the Soil

PFI farmers are testing if they can lower nitrogen rates without hurting yield on fields with long-term soil health practices.

Improving soil health has been a top priority for PFI farmers since our inception. While the terms people use to refer to soil health have changed over the years, PFI members have been leading the way since the 1980s in adopting soil health-promoting practices like ridge-till, diverse crop rotations, adding grazing livestock and planting cover crops to keep living roots in the ground.

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Bill Gordon posing on his Worthington, MN farmHabitat

An Evolving Conservation Tradition

For generations, the Gordon family has embraced conservation practices to stay resilient. Today, they continue to expand and foster that tradition for the next generation.

Located in rural southwestern Minnesota, just over the Iowa border, Worthington is a small town nestled up next to Lake Okabena, a name adapted from the Dakota word hokah-be-na, meaning “nesting place of the herons.” Spruce, pine and beech trees dot the landscape alongside rolling acres of farmland.

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Bring Me Some Apples and Ill Make You a PieMember Book Review

“Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie” by Robin Gourley -Reviewed by Will Martin

I read a book called “Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie.” It is about Edna Lewis. She grew up farming in the South and became a famous chef. The book was written by a lady named Robbin Gourley.

Read Will’s review

PFI Member Photo Album

The PFI Member Photo Album features photos submitted by PFI members from their farms. Whether you capture images of the everyday, the awe-inspiring or the curiously beautiful on your farm, send them our way and we’ll work to curate them into the album.

See the photos

PFI News

Meet Our New Staff and AmeriCorps Members

New faces in the office in field crops, habitat, livestock, human resources and AmeriCorps volunteers.

Rachel Burke – AmeriCorps Member

Rachel Burke Headshot 09.29.2022 smallRachel joined the Practical Farmers of Iowa team as a Green Iowa AmeriCorps member in September 2022. During her 11-month service term, she will help with a range of projects, including assisting the communications team, testing water quality, planting trees and developing environmental education and outreach events for our community.

Rachel grew up in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri. Her love for Iowa started in Davenport, Iowa, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in philosophy and fine art from St. Ambrose University. Rachel continued her education, and trek north, to earn her Master of Fine Arts in painting and drawing from the University of Minnesota in 2013.

Before PFI, Rachel lived in New Orleans, where she painted sets in the film and television industry. Following Hurricane Ida, Rachel made her way back to Iowa to be closer to family (and to avoid hurricanes). She looks forward to planting roots in Iowa and avoiding tornadoes. In her free time, Rachel sews, collects fabric and spends time with her husband, Jeremy, and cat, affectionately named Stinky.

Erin Carpenter – AmeriCorps Member

Erin Carpenter Headshot 11 07 2022 small1Erin joined the Practical Farmers of Iowa team as a Green Iowa AmeriCorps member in November 2022. In this role, she assists with a variety of PFI programs in addition to GIA projects such as planting trees and testing water quality.

Erin grew up on the family farm in western Illinois, where both sets of grandparents and several extended family members also farmed. She moved to Iowa to attend Iowa State University and graduated with a Bachelor’s of Landscape Architecture and a second major in environmental studies.

Following graduation, she stayed in Ames, Iowa, and worked through ISU Extension and Outreach with Iowa’s Living Roadways Community Visioning Program. Erin later took up ceramics and worked as a studio potter for several years, selling her work online, in galleries and at art fairs across the Midwest. During the pandemic, she transitioned to working in the green industry for the benefit of people and the planet.

Erin lives in Marshalltown, Iowa, with her husband and three darling tuxedo (“tuxie”) cats. In her spare time, she coaches taekwondo at Ames Parks & Recreation.

Margaret Chamas – Livestock Viability Manager

Margaret Chamas Headshot 10 17 2022 small1Margaret (re)joined the PFI staff in the fall of 2022. As the livestock viability manager, she oversees cost-share and business development projects that empower farmers to raise and market livestock in environmentally and economically sustainable and viable ways.

Previously Margaret Dunn, she served as PFI’s livestock coordinator from 2012-2014 following her graduation from Iowa State University with a master’s degree in animal science. She grew up in New York raising hobby dairy goats, which she continues (at a much larger scale, and alongside meat goats, hair sheep, beef and dairy cattle, poultry, some equines and now even some pigs) to this day, at her farm near Kansas City, Missouri.

Margaret has held a variety of roles, including most recently managing her pasture-based livestock farm and offering targeted grazing services as a Goats On The Go affiliate.

In other positions, she served as an agriculture and natural resources county extension agent in northeast Kansas; managed the livestock portion of an agri-education and agritourism operation; and has done small-scale education, outreach and contract work on her own.

Her greatest interests are in animal (particularly ruminant) nutrition and management, and she enjoys weaving that interest into efforts to make farms more sustainable and profitable.

Chelsea Ferrie – Field Crops Viability Coordinator

Chelsea Ferrie Headshot 11 07 2022 small2 400x400Chelsea joined the Practical Farmers of Iowa staff in November 2022. As a field crops viability coordinator, she assists farmers with PFI’s cost-share programs related to fertilizer management.

Chelsea attended Iowa State University, receiving bachelor’s degrees in agronomy and global resource systems. Her passion for agriculture and resource conservation led her to continue her education at Iowa State with a Master of Science in sustainable agriculture and environmental science. Her graduate research focused on updating nutrient (nitrate and phosphorus) reduction efficiencies for the best management practices listed in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy and collaborating with the Daily Erosion Project to estimate sheet and rill erosion at the watershed and field scale.

Originally from central Illinois, Chelsea now resides in Des Moines, Iowa. She enjoys traveling, being outdoors, reading, hiking and paddleboarding.

Morgan Jennings – Field Crops Viability Coordinator

Morgan Jennings Headshot 11 07 2022 small1Morgan joined the PFI staff in November 2022 as a field crops viability coordinator. Her enthusiasm for forages makes her perfect for assisting farmers with diversified crop rotations and helping them adopt cover crops through PFI’s cover crop cost-share program.

Morgan has always called Iowa home and earned her bachelor’s degree in animal science and agronomy from Iowa State University. She continued her education at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she received her master’s degree specializing in ruminant nutrition with a focus on evaluating cattle management for systems with limited perennial pasture.

Morgan is passionate about crop-livestock integration and is fond of her research involving spring corn residue grazing and its impacts on soil physical properties. Though being a Cornhusker was a great experience, she is loyal forever to the Cyclones.

Morgan loves to curl up with a good book and enjoys anything outdoors, but her favorite hobbies are fishing, biking and hiking.

Miranda Johnson – Senior Human Resources Coordinator

Miranda Johnson Headshot 08.29.2022 small 1 1024x1024Miranda joined Practical Farmers of Iowa in August 2022 as the senior human resources coordinator. Her role includes handling day-to-day human resources functions such as recruiting, onboarding, employee relations, budgeting and benefits administration, as well as planning for the future of PFI’s human resources department.

Miranda brings 10-plus years of experience in human resources and aims to consistently learn and grow her expertise. She served in AmeriCorps helping to restore a Texas state park after wildfires spread in the area. She credits this experience as a pivotal time in her life. With PFI, she has found an organization that aligns her love of nature and her HR experience.

Miranda grew up in Texas and moved to Iowa in 2013. She enjoys spending time with her husband and two sons, cooking, interior decorating, wine and live music.

Grace Yi – Habitat Viability Coordinator

Grace Yi Headshot 10 13 2022 small1Grace Yi joined the Practical Farmers staff in October 2022. As the habitat viability coordinator, Grace equips farmers and landowners with technical assistance and financial resources needed to establish and maintain wildlife habitats.

Grace earned her Master of Science in sustainable agriculture and Master of Community and Regional Planning from Iowa State University. Following graduation, she worked as a conservation planner for the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District, where she assisted farmers and landowners with a variety of conservation projects, from restoring native prairies to designing rotational grazing systems to controlling invasive species.

Grace spent her childhood in Seoul, South Korea, and her adolescence in Hawaii. While vastly different, both worlds instilled in her an appreciation for the outdoors and steered her into a career in natural resources stewardship.

Whenever possible, Grace loves visiting her family and friends in South Korea and Hawaii, as well as travelling to new places. She also enjoys cooking, checking out new eateries, working out, writing letters and walking through prairies with her husband and golden retriever on their pheasant hunts.

Please Take the PFI Member Survey!

Your responses help us understand and serve you better.

Every three years, we ask all members of Practical Farmers of Iowa to complete a survey that provides staff and board members with a snapshot of our membership, and helps guide our future programming. The information you provide us in this survey is vitally important for remaining a member-led organization.

Whether you are a farmer or non-farmer, new or long-time member, we value your input. We will ask you questions about:

  • What PFI activities you have participated in, or would like to see in the future
  • If and how you have benefited from PFI programming
  • Whether you farm, want to farm, own farmland or just like to support our work
  • What kinds of enterprises, production practices and conservation practices are on your farm
  • What your farm goals are
  • In what ways PFI can help you in the future

To help ease the administrative load of this undertaking, we’re asking all members to complete this survey online. In January 2023, the primary email address on each membership will receive an email with a link specific to that membership, requesting your input. Please check your email (including your spam folder!) to find your link to complete the survey.

If you’re unable to complete this survey online, we would be happy to administer the survey over the phone. Please call the office for assistance: (515) 232-5661.

We appreciate your effort helping to guide our farmer-led organization! Questions about the survey? Please contact Steve Carlson at (515) 232-5661 or