The farming pioneers in our four-part
series have influenced the sustainable farming movement far beyond
Iowa – even before they were serving on a national organic
farming board (Rosmann) and being featured in Newsweek magazine
(Frantzen, issue of Sept. 30, 2002). Farmers from many states –
and nations -- learned about innovative farming systems at the Thompsons’
or saw their first hoop-house for hogs at the Madsen farm. And all
four farmers in our series have been active in PFI for over 15 years.
I first experienced Sharon and Dick Thompson when they spoke at
the Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association’s conference
in the late ‘70s. I was struck by their energy and enthusiasm
that seemed to come from a decision, early on, to liberate themselves
from the conventional agriculture “box.” They were experimenting
with compost, tillage and cover crops. Their passion was matched
by their documentation, which has only gotten better and deeper
over the past 20-some years, as has their understanding of the spiritual
values that underlie their approach to farming.
They soon established a reputation for wanting to share information,
to turn their farm into a “show and tell” site for alternative
agriculture. The Regenerative Agriculture Association (a Rodale
Institute program which published The New Farm® magazine at the time)
started running stories about their work in 1982, and sponsored
the Thompsons’ field day in 1984. When talk of starting a
farmer group “interested in learning to use environmentally
sound farming practices that are profitable” turned to reality,
New Farm® lent its mailing list to the cause that became the Practical
Farmers of Iowa (PFI). The Thompsons were members of a five-person
steering committee that founded PFI in early 1985.
The fledgling PFI co-sponsored a three-day roving series of “Practical
Farming” workshops at three locations in Iowa with the RAA
in 1985. The Thompsons told their story, and Dr. William Liebhardt
of the Rodale Institute explained “The Conversion Project”
strategy to maintain income during transition away from chemical-intensive
farming. (Liebhardt was research director at the time, and is just
now completing a one-year “reprise” in that role. You'll
hear more from him later on the New Farm® web site.)
Ron Rosmann was in the audience at one of those first workshops,
and has been with PFI ever since. Also in the crowd was Vic Madsen.
He and Tom Frantzen joined PFI the next year, and started on-farm
research with PFI in 1987.
Many other sustainable agriculture groups have supported PFI in
its journey to become a national leader in farmer-oriented on-farm
research and the creative development of farmer-oriented farming
and marketing systems. The group has persisted in seeking viable
options for family-scale farms during times of accelerating consolidation
in the conventional farming economy.
To learn more, visit: http://www.pfi.iastate.edu