Published Apr 25, 2024

Partnering to Achieve Our Mission

By Sally Worley

Practical Farmers’ mission to equip farmers to build resilient farms and communities is an important one. Given the landscape in the Midwest, creating resiliency in the food and farm system is a tall order.

Fortunately, there are many organizations we partner with to better realize our mission. These partnerships are crucial to making the change we want to see. With limited time and resources, partnership simply makes sense.

Farmers, of course, are vital partners in our work. Farmers set our priorities; serve on governance committees; lead events; conduct research; serve as mentors; implement new on-farm practices; and are spokespeople in the media. We have a goal to partner with additional farmers as we “equip a deep bench of leaders to make change,” one of the strategic directions from our strategic plan.

One way farmers partner with us is by conducting on-farm research. See an example of this in the “Putting Soil to the Test” article where farmers are looking at whether cover crops affect the number of days suitable for fieldwork.

Another way is by hosting events on their farms to build community and share knowledge. In 2023, farmers in our network welcomed fellow farmers and supporters at 43 field days across Iowa and neighboring states.

We ask farmer hosts for feedback to make sure we’re being a good partner – for instance, by helping with logistics so they can focus on showcasing their operation to attendees.

Dayna Burtness, who hosted a field day on pastured pigs in 2023, shared this advice to future event hosts: “Do it! I was a little uncertain about biosecurity and parking, but Amos (PFI’s senior livestock education coordinator) and the PFI staff took care of everything. It ended up being the best, most joyful day of my season yet.”

Farmers: If you are interested in deepening your partnership with Practical Farmers, please let us know!

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Dayna Burtness (left in light blue) and Amos Johnson (with hat on right).

We also strategically partner with other groups to harness our collective efforts. These partnerships range from local community organizations – like Healthy Harvest of Northwest Iowa – to state and federal collaborations.

For example, PFI is partnering with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restore oxbows in Iowa. With Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and Iowa Valley Resource Conservation and Development, we’re working to deploy Iowa’s Local Food Purchasing Assistance program, which buys table food from farmers and distributes it to underserved communities.

We’re working with the Center for Rural Affairs to increase Latino farmer education and engagement. We’re also partnering with a range of companies that specialize in consumer packaged goods to help them meet sustainability goals – which include helping farmers reduce the burden of increasing conservation on their farms. But this list is just a sampling of PFI’s active partnerships.

There is so much to do that it’s imperative we work together. There’s no need for competition. My colleagues and I are extremely proud of our work, but not proprietary about it. We openly share how we do our work and seek out partners to collaborate with (we keep farmer data private and secure). Our partners generously do the same.

At a recent PFI board meeting, board members discussed how we can better understand existing partnerships and forge new ones. Kristine Lang, a board member from Brookings, South Dakota, suggested we do a social network analysis of our partnerships. This tool would help us understand and harness patterns in our relationships with individuals, organizations and groups, thus illuminating partnership gaps and opportunities.

As spring ushers new growth to emerge from the soil, so too will we be looking at how we can grow our partnerships to harness the impact of our work. If you would like to talk about further partnering with Practical Farmers, please contact me at sally.worley(at)practicalfarmers(dot)org!