Published Apr 25, 2024

Q&A With Rachel Burke

By Practical Farmers of Iowa

Get to know PFI’s beginning farmer engagement coordinator!

Rachel Burke at the welcome table for the 2024 Beginning Farmer Retreat.This edition of the Practical Farmer marks the debut of the new PFI Profiles magazine department. In this section, we’ll help you get to know more about our members, donors, staff and board – and anyone else who’s part of our network – through a mix of stories and Q&As.

For this first installment we interview PFI staff member Rachel Burke, who started as our beginning farmer engagement coordinator last March. Prior to this, Rachel served at PFI as a member of Green Iowa AmeriCorps from September 2022 until joining the staff in March 2023. Before coming to Practical Farmers of Iowa, Rachel lived in New Orleans, where she painted sets in the film and television industry.

Since starting her work with beginning farmers, Rachel has helped plan and lead a full slate of field days, socials, workshops and conference sessions for beginning and aspiring farmers. She also leads PFI’s Labor4Learning Program, which pays beginning farmers for on-the-job training with established mentor farmers.

How long have you lived in Iowa?

I moved to Iowa from New Orleans during Hurricane Ida in 2021, but this is not my first time living here. I moved to Iowa in 2005 to attend St. Ambrose University in Davenport, and stuck around for a while after my degree. I married a born-and-raised Iowan, so I often feel like an honorary Iowan.

How did you learn about PFI, and why did you choose to work here?

I first heard about Practical Farmers of Iowa when I lived in Louisiana. I told a friend I was moving to Iowa and she said, “You need to get connected to an organization called Practical Farmers of Iowa. I love them!” PFI has been on my radar since. My second introduction to PFI was through the signs that members post in their fields. I love driving across Iowa and seeing those signs planted across the landscape.

My third introduction was working for PFI as a temporary Green Iowa AmeriCorps member. Once I saw how dedicated PFI members were to supporting one another, I knew it was the place for me. I am in awe of the way our members lift one another up. They are living proof that we (humans) really are better when we come together.

What do you do as PFI’s beginning farmer engagement coordinator?

Not to brag, but I have the best job at PFI. I get to be the first contact for beginning farmers hearing about PFI for the first time. I share resources with them and connect them to other farmers in our network. I also help farmers plan field days, annual conference sessions, beginning farmer socials and more.

How do you spend your free time?

My free time is spent sewing my own clothes and painting my house.

Is there anyone at PFI or in our network you look up to?

This is a very hard question. There are so many members that I idolize. I’m a big fan of Shaffer Ridgeway. I have seen him put in immense time and work to mentor the next generation, especially when it comes to new and young farmers of color who face unique challenges. He has an unparalleled ability to encourage beginning farmers while still leaving them with realistic expectations. That is hard to do!

I adore how welcoming and nurturing Kathy Dice is to our beginning farmer members. She has a marvelous energy that is contagious. I always feel fully motivated after I speak to Kathy. Carmen Black is my favorite member to brainstorm with. She has amazing ideas for beginning farmer programs and resources. I walk away from conversations with Carmen feeling like we can take on all problems the world throws our way.

What do you enjoy growing?

I enjoy growing and tending to communities. A farmer’s medium is soil and seed, mine is relationships and networking.