Tom Wahl and Kathy Dice Receive 2015 Sustainable Agriculture Achievement Award from Practical Farmers of Iowa

For Release: January 16, 2015

Ames, Iowa – Tom Wahl and Kathy Dice of Wapello have been chosen as the recipients of the 2015 Sustainable Agriculture Achievement Award, granted annually by Practical Farmers of Iowa to an individual or couple that has shown dedication to sustainable agriculture, generously shared their knowledge with others and been influential in efforts to foster vibrant communities, diverse farms and healthful food. The award will be presented to Tom and Kathy during Practical Farmers’ 2015 Annual Conference, “Mapping Our Future,” in Ames.

Tom and Kathy own and operate Red Fern Farm, an agroforestry farm and nursery that specializes in nut and berry crops as well production of tree nursery stock and medicinal forest plants. The farm, which Tom and Kathy purchased in 1986, is also the site of ongoing research on a variety of tree crops and forest farming systems.

“One of our goals is to promote sustainable agriculture. We are passionate about the role of perennials in creating sustainable farms,” says Tom, referring to their central tenet of keeping the ground covered and fostering biodiversity both above and below ground.

Long-time family friend and Practical Farmers’ staff member Nick Ohde will present Tom and Kathy with their award on Friday evening. “Growing up I spent many evenings over at their farm. They heavily shaped my view of sustainability, long before I had ever heard that word,” Nick recalls. “I realize now,” he says, “they really are pioneers. Not in the sense of trying to hold on to or recreate some long-lost past, but that they are bravely building the path to a better world, to a better life for their family and community. They are truly rethinking what sustainable agriculture means.”

Tom and Kathy describe that their definition of sustainable agriculture has three parts. First, agriculture must provide the things society needs: food, fiber, fuel and heat, building materials, medicine and more.  Next, agriculture must provide farmers with a high quality of life.  “This is not important just for today’s farmers,” Tom explains, “but also we must be able to recruit future generations to farming.” Finally, a sustainable agriculture must not degrade our resource base – “Healthy soil, clean water and air, biotic and human communities should thrive as a result of agriculture.”

Tom and Kathy’s thoughts on sustainability, and how to create a sustainable farm, didn’t happen all at once.  Both come from a conservation background, having worked for their local county conservation boards, and their thoughts on sustainable agriculture have evolved over time, just as their predominant farm enterprises have changed over time. They used to run a sizable pasture poultry operation but now fruit, nut and berry sales prevail along with sales of nursery stock.

While the farm currently has about 75 species of crop trees and shrubs—including paw paw, persimmon, Asian pears, heart nut trees and aronia berries—chestnut trees are a cornerstone of Red Fern Farm. “Chestnuts are almost the perfect food,” Kathy describes, “They have very high quality protein and are low in fat.” Tom’s interest in the tree started at an early age, when a grade school teacher described the how this majestic and important American tree species was nearly wiped out by a fungal blight. The story of near extinction stuck with Tom for a long time.

Many years later Tom and Kathy were attending a Practical Farmers’ Shared Visions event where a call for integrated cropping systems using perennial plants really resonated with them. That was an “Aha! moment” for them, and Tom realized chestnuts and other trees could be the perennial crops. Farm conversion to agroforestry began shortly thereafter.

Tom says that Practical Farmers of Iowa and Holistic Management have been important as they’ve developed their farm and thoughts about sustainability. Tom and Kathy have excelled as leaders in Practical Farmers of Iowa by conducting on-farm research and hosting many field days and demonstrations.  Red Fern Farm is the site of on-going agroforestry research looking at practical forest farming systems that can work in Iowa. Additionally, Tom and Kathy host many farm tours each year for a variety of special interest and school groups.  They are active in several professional societies dedicated to agroforestry and sustainable agriculture.

Tom and Kathy will be presented the Sustainable Agriculture Achievement Award at the Scheman Building in Ames at 5pm Friday, January 23rd as part of PFI’s Annual Conference event.

A complete list of past award recipients can be found below.


Founded in 1985, Practical Farmers of Iowa is an open, supportive and diverse organization of farmers and friends of farmers, advancing profitable, ecologically sound and community-enhancing approaches to agriculture through farmer-to-farmer exchange, farmer-led investigation and information sharing. Farmers in our network produce corn, soybeans, beef cattle, hay, fruits and vegetables, and more.  For additional information, call (515) 232-5661 or visit www.practicalfarmers.org.


Drake Larsen | Practical Farmers of Iowa | (515) 232-5661 | drake@practicalfarmers.org

Past Sustainable Agriculture Achievement Award recipients:

  • 2014: Susan Jutz
  • 2013: Matt Liebman
  • 2012: Fred Kirschenmann
  • 2011: Tom and Irene Frantzen
  • 2010: Ron Rosmann and Maria Vakulskas Rosmann
  • 2009: Vic and Cindy Madsen
  • 2008: Kamyar Enshayan
  • 2007: Francis Thicke
  • 2006: Paul Johnson
  • 2005: Denise O’Brien
  • 2004: George Beran
  • 2003: Rich Pirog
  • 2002: Rick Exner
  • 2001: David Williams
  • 2000: Mark Honeyman
  • 1999: Jean Wallace Douglas
  • 1998: Neil Hamilton
  • 1997: Dennis Keeney
  • 1996: Michael Duffy
  • 1995: Dick and Sharon Thompson
  • 1994: Richard Cruse
  • 1993: Larry Kallem
  • 1992: Jerry DeWitt
  • 1991: John Pesek
  • 1990: Alfred Blackmer