Steve Carlson

Next Generation Coordinator

Steve joined the Practical Farmers of Iowa team as a Beginning Farmer Consultant in December 2014. Having grown up just south of Ames in Central Iowa, Steve was happy to recently move back to the area after 10 years away.

Upon receiving a bachelor’s degree from the University of Northern Iowa, Steve went on to acquire a masters in Applied Anthropology from the University of North Texas where he focused his research on agriculture and the environment. He began working for an heirloom seed bank at UNT and developed a passion for heritage crops and seed saving. His thesis project documented hundreds of heirloom apple varieties in the Southern Appalachian Mountains and sought to understand apple growers' perceptions of climate change and the effects of their management practices on apple diversity. After the completion of his master’s degree, Steve worked as the Communications Coordinator at Decorah, Iowa's Seed Savers Exchange.

In addition to his interest in heritage crop types and seed saving, Steve has been a long-time supporter of local and sustainable food. He is a firm believer in PFI's mission of farmer-to-farmer information sharing, and he's thrilled to join the PFI team in a role that allows him to connect enthusiastic beginning farmers with the resources they need to get started.

Blog posts

Three generations of the Deal family were on-site to lead nearly 50 field day attendees on a tour of their apple house and farm on a recent September morning. While Tracy Deal orchestrated the field day logistics behind-the-scenes (and managed the youngest generation still-in-training) and Cindy Deal managed the on-farm store, brothers Chris and Benji helped their father, Jerald, run the field day.

Left to right: Tracy and Chris Deal with their two children, Jerald and Cindy Deal, and Benji Deal.

In 2017 Deal’s Orchard celebrated their 100 year anniversary as a family farm. Over the years the farm has diversified beyond apples to include pumpkins and squash, Christmas trees, sweet corn, tomatoes, a range of value-added apple products and a site for agritourism. Starting the day with freshly-made apple cider donuts, attendees heard a brief history of the farm then learned start-to-finish about their apple cider operation—including their hard cider production—before venturing out to see their pumpkin patch and high tunnel tomato production. Continue reading

On a damp afternoon in early September, 50 people gathered at the agroforestry site Red Fern Farm in southeast Iowa to learn about a variety of fruit and nut crops. Tom Wahl and Kathy Dice started the farm and nursery more than 30 years ago and now grow over 75 tree and shrub species that produce a range of common and not-so-common fruits and nuts. For a wide variety of information about the crops they grow and sell at Red Fern Farm, visit their website.

Tom and Kathy split the group in two and each took their group on a tour of a portion of the farm. Kathy’s group learned all about chestnut production and marketing, and Tom’s tour covered heartnuts, pawpaws, Asian pears, honeyberries, and American persimmons. The groups reconvened for a break, then switched tour guides.

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For more than 30 years now, Practical Farmers has remained focused on helping farmers build resilient farms and communities, primarily through on-farm investigation and farmer to farmer education. As our membership has diversified since the 1980’s, we’ve continued to build our farmer-led niche to include programming for nearly all enterprises and production practices.

PFI’s number one value is to welcome everyone, but in order to welcome everyone and their diverse viewpoints, the board of directors has been careful to get involved in agricultural policy. Still, just as we recognize the value of our members’ knowledge for teaching other producers about their practices, there’s also value in sharing this knowledge with lawmakers. One of the most effective ways to influence policy makers is for a farmer to explain face-to-face how that issue directly affects them and other Iowans. You can read more about Practical Farmers policy work here, including farm bill issues approved by the board.

Mark Peterson in D.C.

PFI’s Board President Mark Peterson recently participated in a “fly-in” to Washington D.C. organized by the National Wildlife Federation. One of the issues important to NWF is to better align crop insurance with conservation practices. Crop insurance reform is not currently a board-approved area for PFI to advocate on, but we’re always happy to assist groups such as NWF find someone like Mark who cares about the issue and wants to help on their own behalf.

I recently caught Mark on a morning too wet to plant his beans, and was able to ask about his trip to D.C.

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For the tenth consecutive winter season, beginning and aspiring farmers in Practical Farmers’ network assembled for a two-day retreat to network and make progress building their farm businesses. The location and dates vary each year in an effort to attract new farmers from around the state, landing this year at the Wesley Woods Retreat Center in Indianola, Iowa.

Most of the attendees at this year’s retreat.

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As farmers wrap up their season and plan for next, PFI’s farmer-cooperators have an additional responsibility: submit the data they collected from this year’s research trials and plan next year’s projects.

The first week in December marks the annual two-day Cooperators’ Meeting where farmer members meet to discuss these research results with each other and plan on-farm projects for the following year. In preparation for this meeting, staff members in Practical Farmers office are busy collecting this data, analyzing it and publishing the findings in detailed research reports for sharing far and wide.

In 2017, 51 farmer-cooperators participated in 71 projects that concluded or are still on-going.

2017 On-Farm Research Project Locations:

2017 Cooperators Program Map

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“Goat meat is the primary red meat consumed by the majority of the world population,” Cheryl began with, citing a Cornell University source. Although many American’s prefer beef, populations from Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and the Caribbean – as well as many specific religious traditions – rely heavily on goat meat over other red meats.

Considering that the foreign-born population in the U.S. has doubled since 1980 to nearly 13 percent of the total population (US Census Bureau, 2010 American Community Survey), Cheryl and Mike Hopkins saw an opportunity. “They’re bringing their dietary preferences with them,” she explained.

So, how do Cheryl and Mike Hopkins of Frog Hollow Farm raise and market their goats? Nearly 40 people showed up to their farm near Walker, Iowa, on a comfortable August morning to find out.

They began their 30-acre farm in 2010, where they rotationally graze Boer and Kiko goats on pasture. After retiring from careers in other industries and with kids now out of the house, Cheryl and Mike describe this new venture as their dream job. But don’t be fooled by the description of a post-retirement dream job: this is an income-generating farm and every decision the Hopkins’ make is calculated. In their seven years of operation, they’ve made many adjustments to their production and marketing in order to increase efficiency and quality.

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This past week the Iowa Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) Commissioners’ Annual Conference was held in conjunction with the National Association of Conservation Districts’ (NACD) Summer Forum, where many PFI members were well-recognized.

The conservation accomplishments of Iowa’s farmers and SWCD commissioners were on a much larger stage than normal, with an audience that included NRCS acting Chief Leonard Jordan, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, and representatives from conservation districts across the country.

Among the 100 conservation districts in Iowa and the 500 commissioners that serve them, 40 commissioners are Practical Farmers of Iowa members serving in 32 districts and a dozen more serve as assistant commissioners. The 100 conservation districts are organized into nine regions, each with one commissioner elected as the regional director. Six of the nine Iowa regional directors are PFI members.

Here’s a rundown of the PFI members who played an active role or were recognized throughout the event:

Chris Teachout awarded Conservation Farmer of the Year

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During each winter season dating back to November 2009, Practical Farmers of Iowa has been offering unique online learning opportunities referred to as Farminars. With a rich history of farmer-to-farmer education in the form of on-farm field days, farminars were a logical extension of this format for the off-season.

These interactive webinars feature both beginning and experienced PFI farmers sharing practical knowledge on a range of topics for row crop, livestock and fruit and vegetable producers. Attendees log in to listen to a live presentation over a slideshow and are able to ask questions in a chatbox. Registration is not required, all our farminars are free, and they’re recorded for later viewing.

This year we started on Tuesday November 15, holding 17 weekly farminars for 446 live viewers. Already these presentations have had 1,085 views in our farminar archive.

To date, Practical Farmers has held a total of 138 farminars that drew 5,561 live attendees. In our archives, these presentations have been viewed 49,369 times.

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Over the past several weeks, you may have noticed a flurry of research reports being published and blogged about by Practical Farmers’ staff members. This is an annual occurrence as PFI farmer-cooperators submit data from their on-farm research trials to be analyzed and published prior to the December Cooperators’ Meeting. At the two-day event happening this week, our farmer members gather to discuss past research and plan on-farm projects for the next year.

Learn about this longstanding Practical Farmers program, and the research projects conducted during the 2016 season.

research locations for fb

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Beginning and aspiring farmers all fall on a very large spectrum, ranging from something like being “farm-curious” to having nearly 10 years running a farm under their belt. That’s a wide range of experience and knowledge levels, and Practical Farmers of Iowa strives to offer programming for folks at these various points on the spectrum.

For someone early on this spectrum—from being curious about whether a farming career is the right fit for them to the point where they’re just about to take the leap on their own—not much will be as helpful for them as a glimpse into the process of running a farm. This is why PFI’s Labor4Learning program exists.

Each winter we post a list of experienced farmers in our network who will be participating in the Labor4Learning program as a “trainer farm.” These farmers plan to hire an employee, and have agreed to provide additional training on running a farm business to an aspiring farmer through this program. The trainer farms are vetted by a committee of PFI members and if the farm finds a suitable trainee, they’re compensated for the extra time they spend training.

In 2016, one of these farms was Patchwork Green Farm run by Erik Sessions in Decorah. Erik hired two individuals who were both deciding whether a farming career would be a good fit for them, and to determine what that farm would look like.

Emily Fagan and Emily Dansdill

Emily Fagan and Emily Dansdill

Emily Dansdill grew up in nearby Calmar, Iowa, and has had experience gardening and working with another local produce farm. She also works seasonally at northeast Iowa’s Seed Savers Exchange, a 980 acre farm stewarding heritage and heirloom fruits, vegetables, flowers and herbs. Emily and her husband are looking for land to pursue a culinary and medicinal herb farm.

Emily Fagan grew up in Iowa City, Iowa, before heading to Oregon for school and then later to work on a farm in Boulder, Colorado. Continuing her quest for more on-farm experience, a friend who attended Decorah’s Luther College recommended she look into Patchwork Green Farm. Emily was glad to work for Erik because of his farm’s scale compared to the previous farm she worked with, which she thought might be closer to what she wants to pursue. Continue reading