the Practical Farmer: Spring 2023
Table of Contents
- Field Crops
- 2023 Annual Conference
- Sustainable Agriculture Achievement Award
- Beginning Farmers
- Member Book Review
- Member Photos
- PFI News
On the cover
One of Dayna Burtness’ Hampshire hogs enjoys hugs while feasting on Albert Lea Seed’s Big Rack Wildlife Mix. Dayna and her husband, Nick Nguyen, raise pastured pigs at Nettle Valley Farm in Spring Grove, Minnesota, and use Holistic Management to guide their decisions. Photo courtesy of Cailee Gates.
Relationships are the “Magic Sauce”
PFI is a unique network of farmers and supporters who believe in learning, innovative research, business development and risk management approaches like cost-share programs to help farmers build resilient farms and communities. The amount of work we’re accomplishing together as a network is astounding, and we’re starting to see the needle move toward resilient, regenerative agriculture.
Planting for the Future
Inspired by his land’s potential, and the benefit to future generations, Tim Swinton is turning former row crop ground into a diverse system with trees, prairie, pasture and goats.
Tim Swinton’s 11-acre farm just outside Clemons, Iowa, is surrounded by rolling fields of corn and soybeans. To the north a short ways, Middle Minerva Creek cuts through this patchwork of crop fields, flanked by the dappled green of trees growing along its banks. Just northeast of town, the creek joins South Minerva Creek, forming a triangle of trees before the conjoined waterway winds south and west of town in a sinuous green loop.
Cover crop seed businesses are helping farmers like Ryan Gibbs improve their farms, communities and the environment.
Cover crops are many things. During the cold months of winter and early spring, they’re like green shrouds and sponges, safeguarding soil from scouring winds while living roots soak up nutrients left unused by summer crops.
Doing the Math to Grow a Farm
Finding their purpose in farming, first-generation farmers Carly and Ethan Zierke are focusing on finances as much as growing skills to ensure a stable future.
“This is the kind of math you need to know to farm?!” Carly Zierke asked herself as she sat through her first farm finance course at the Organic Farm School in Clinton, Washington, in 2021. The instructor was showing the class of beginning vegetable farmers, which included Carly and her husband Ethan, what an actual farm cash flow looked like.
View a selection of images from our annual conference held in Ames, Iowa, on Jan. 19-21.
Fresh Off the Farm
For over 50 years, Dean and Judy Henry have sought to build community around their pioneering U-pick farm.
When they planted their first strawberries over 50 years ago, they were students at Iowa State University with no land, experience or mentors to help guide them.
When hungry pollinators emerge in early spring, they’re finding vital early-blooming flowers, trees and grasses on PFI member farms.
SIP Class of 2024
Meet the newest class of participants in PFI’s Savings Incentive Program.
Holistic Management is helping some farmers make space to pause and reflect.
About 12 years ago, life for Dayna Burtness had gotten to the point where her days were a draining toil: After working in her vegetable fields all day, she found herself too tired to cook dinner. Supper, for a time, was string cheese dipped in Nutella with a 2-liter of Coke.
“The Farmer’s Lawyer” By Sarah Vogel
In “The Farmer’s Lawyer” – part true-crime drama, part memoir, part history – Sarah Vogel gives us a front-row seat to an inspiring tale of how a few determined advocates helped turn the tide for hundreds of thousands of farmers in that hard time.
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.
Meet Our New Staff
We have new additions on our habitat, education and communication teams.
Brad joined Practical Farmers of Iowa in January 2023 as the habitat viability manager. His work involves leading PFI’s habitat viability programming and partnerships to help farmers and landowners create habitat successfully at different scales.
Brad has a fisheries and wildlife biology degree from Iowa State University. He worked in Lee County, Iowa, as a roadside management specialist before spending the last 31 years with the McHenry County Conservation District in northern Illinois. During his time there, Brad held several positions ranging from restoration ecologist to natural resources manager. He has conducted biological surveys on fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles and has done extensive work on white-tailed deer and their impacts on habitats.
Throughout his career, Brad has helped create and enhance a variety of habitats, from streams and wetlands to prairie and woodlands. Over the last 10 years, Brad has been deeply involved in evolving the district’s agriculture program from a focus on conventional to regenerative agriculture. Brad was successful at creating a lease to bring bison to a conservation area and developing the Joint Grassland Venture, which allows for late-season cutting of hayfields, a practice that benefits grasslands and grassland bird habitat.
Brad has served on the Illinois Prescribed Fire Council as a board member and president. He has conducted over 700 prescribed fires and given several professional presentations on prescribed burning. He also holds professional credentials as a prescribed burn manager and a certified wildlife biologist.
Brad enjoys all things outdoors, including hunting, fishing, birdwatching and working on the family farm near Greenfield, Iowa. Brad and his wife Kris also spend time kayaking, hiking and biking. They have three adult children who live in three different states, so getting their family together is always a priority and a challenge. Brad enjoys reading, spending time with friends and having lively discussions in his spare time.
Valeria joined the PFI staff in winter 2023 as the Latino engagement coordinator in PFIs farmer-led education team. In this role, she helps the department plan and facilitate networking and education events for Spanish-speaking famers and growers.
A long-term resident of central Iowa (Des Moines and Ames), Valeria has a master’s degree in soil science and a bachelor’s degree in agronomy and global resource systems, both from Iowa State University.
Prior to her current role, Valeria was an agricultural specialist at Iowa State for the Three Sisters Project. Her agricultural interests are in soil health, regenerative agriculture and ethnobotany. She enjoys understanding the connections between people, culture and agriculture. Her love and appreciation for agriculture started in high school, although her family claims it started as a toddler who would eat handfuls of soil from her mother’s flowerpots.
In her free time, Valeria enjoys anything crafty, reading and spending time with her loved ones. She resides in Ames with her partner,
Elizabeth joined the Practical Farmers staff in 2023. As the media relations coordinator, she works to generate media coverage for PFI and its farmers, manages the organization’s group of farmer spokespersons and fields all media inquiries.
Elizabeth will be graduating from Iowa State University in May 2023 with a degree in agriculture and life sciences education, with a focus in communication, and a minor in animal science. During her undergraduate career, she held internships with the Office of Iowa Secretary of State, the World Food Prize Foundation and Corteva Agriscience.
She also worked at an agricultural cooperative and a local meat processing facility. These experiences gave her a unique outlook on agriculture and the diversity within the industry. Elizabeth is passionate about supporting all farmers, amplifying their voices and sharing their stories with the world.
Originally from Dyersville, Iowa, Elizabeth enjoys live music, trying new recipes, fishing, true crime podcasts and relaxing with her dog, Willie.
Emily joined Practical Farmers of Iowa as the senior digital marketing coordinator in February 2023. In this role, she manages all aspects of PFI’s website and develops strategies to grow PFI’s digital communication networks.
A native of northeast Iowa, Emily has degrees in marketing and technical communication from Iowa State University. Prior to working at PFI, Emily spent her career helping a variety of nonprofits build community, manage projects and expand their impact. While the titles of her roles have varied, leading communications strategies has always been a key component of each one.
Emily currently lives in northeast Iowa’s Driftless Region with her husband and son. In her free time, she enjoys exploring new places, spending time outdoors and getting lost in a good book.
Carly joined the Practical Farmers of Iowa staff in March 2023. As digital content coordinator, she handles all aspects of PFI’s social media channels and email newsletters to communicate with PFI’s more than 6,000 members as they build a more regenerative agricultural system.
Carly attended the University of Iowa, receiving bachelor’s degrees in journalism and mass communication and art. She serves on the Decorah Farmers Market board and is a member of the marketing committee. She also manages a producer-written monthly local food column, “Field to Fork,” for the Driftless Journal.
Originally from Marquette, Iowa, Carly now resides in Decorah, Iowa. She and her husband Ethan run a small, diversified vegetable farm that grows a full range of market vegetables.
“Livestock on the Land” Upcoming Iowa Film Screenings
“Livestock on the Land,” PFI’s feature-length documentary, was recently accepted into the Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival and will be screening on Saturday, April 15 at 10:32 a.m. and 6:25 p.m. at Collins Road Theatres in Marion, Iowa. Nick Ohde, who led a team of PFI staff members in creating the film, will be on hand for a Q&A with audience members after each screening. In addition, the film will screen at the inaugural Farm to Film Fest in Washington, Iowa, on May 20. See farmtofilmfest.org for more details as the date approaches.
The film debuted at PFI’s 2021 virtual annual conference and has since appeared at eight film festivals across Iowa and the Midwest. In 2022, it won multiple awards, including an Award of Achievement at the Iowa Motion Picture Association Awards, the Critic’s Choice Award at the Iowa Independent Film Festival and Best of Fest at the Oneota Film Festival. It has also screened on farms and other venues across the state; been played in classrooms as a primer on regenerative agriculture; and been viewed on YouTube nearly 250,000 times.
The concept of regenerative agriculture has generated a lot of buzz, with ample talk about soil and carbon, cover crops and pasture and the role of livestock on farms. But clean water and healthy soil are only part of resilience. Community is the other side of the equation, and as audiences have seen with the film, livestock are central threads connecting people and bolstering our rural communities.
What sets “Livestock on the Land” apart from other documentaries about regenerative grazing is this focus on people, and the message that if we want an agriculture that works for our people, we have to work together to build it. If you haven’t seen the film, or wish to watch it again, you can view it online at practicalfarmers.org/livestock-on-the-land – or see it in person at one of these upcoming Iowa screenings