Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Practical Farmers of Iowa, Part 3

Interview with Luke Gran, Practical Farmers of Iowa, Part 3

Founded in 1985, Practical Farmers of Iowa includes a diverse group of 2,000 farmers and friends of farmers. The organization’s mission is to advance profitable, ecologically sound, and community-enhancing approaches to agriculture through farmer-led investigation and information sharing. Below is part 3 of acquisitions editor Catherine Cocks’s interview with Luke Gran, the coordinator of PFI’s Next Generation program. The first two posts appeared on June 12 and June 19.

Catherine: Who are the people who want to become farmers today?

Luke: Many are the children of farmers, but a growing number are people with no family background in farming. In terms of age (again drawing on that March 2012 survey), about 30 percent are between 19 and 28, another 30 percent are between 29 and 38, about 16 percent are between 39 and 48, and about 15 percent are between 49 and 58, with the remainder older than that. It’s about 50-50 men and women, although in 2012 only 40 percent of the beginning farmers who responded to the survey were female. They bring all levels of skill and experience to farming, and many still have off-farm jobs. Some are immigrants or refugees from other countries, such as Sudan. They are looking for advice on adapting to the Iowa climate and gaining access to markets.

Catherine: What are two or three things ordinary consumers (who are not farmers or planning to become farmers) can do to help establish a new generation of farmers?

Luke: Landowners are instrumental in determining who gets access to land and how it’s farmed. In some parts of Iowa (such as many of the counties in the northwestern part of the state), 75 percent of the farmland is owned by nonresidents, people who don’t live in the county. If you own a farm but are not farming it yourself, take a look at who your tenant is and ask about his or her plans for the next generation. Think about ways you or your tenant could help a beginning farmer get started.
If you don’t own land, you can still help by buying products from beginning farmers—meat, eggs, vegetables, small grains, flowers, you name it—at farmers’ markets and cooperative grocery stores. Spend your food dollar locally; talk to the managers at your favorite restaurants, cooperatives, or grocery stores. Ask for locally grown foods and ask about the farmers who are producing them.
            You can also work with producer cooperatives to buy directly from farmers, or become a member of a CSA (a community-supported agriculture association).
            Another way you can help is by joining PFI—25 percent of our members are “friends of farmers,” not farmers—they are people who support farmers learning from each other.

Catherine: Where can people learn more about farm succession and how to get started in farming?

 Luke: The PFI website ( is a good resource. Folks who want to see full details about our beginning farmer network should check out:
Also, through PFI or local organizations you can find other farmers and develop a network, whether you’re a new farmer or an established one. Attending PFI events is a good way to build connections.
Some good books include Atina Diffley’s Turn Here Sweet Corn (University of Minnesota Press, 2012). This is a memoir of establishing organic vegetable farm near Twin Cities over the past thirty years.
I also recommend Wes Jackson’s Consulting the Genius of the Place (Counterpoint, 2011). This is a book of philosophy as well a memoir of Jackson’s life and ideas and his vision for the future of agriculture.
If you want to know more about PFI, you might take a look at Michael Bell’s Farming for Us All (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2004).

More information: Farming's New Faces

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