Agricultural Systems Education for Grassroots Sustainable Agriculture Educators

Progress report for ENC22-219

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2022: $89,794.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2025
Grant Recipient: Practical Farmers of Iowa
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:
Sally Worley
Practical Farmers of Iowa
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Project Information


This proposal builds on Practical Farmers of Iowa’s (PFI) exceptional understanding of the food and agriculture system. Staff bring a multitude of experiences and education to the team ranging from formal agronomy or animal science educations to lived farming experience. Several staff at PFI have formal educations in sustainable agriculture specifically, which benefits the organization’s capacity to think critically about farming and conservation practice adoption within the context of opposing forces and philosophies. Our farmer-led organization recognizes, for instance, that despite strong environmental stewardship ethics, market realities are unavoidable and maintaining profitability is essential. To reinforce PFI’s institutional farming knowledge, we propose the development of a sustainable agriculture field course for staff that includes visiting key agricultural stakeholders. Then, to build on the knowledge gained from the field course, PFI staff and board will participate in scenario planning activities that help forecast potential programming needs. Staff will also participate in a grassroots training to enhance outreach and networking efforts. To build off of the success of our current project funded by SARE-PDP – “Expanding and Diversifying Farmer-Educator Capacity through Ambassador Academies” – we’ll continue to provide coaching and speaking opportunities to farmer-leaders trained in that grant. We’ll also build that network of farmer-leaders by holding additional communications trainings; and increase its impact by developing relationships with media and other farmer networks. The outcome of this work will be a team of staff and farmers better equipped to educate others and promote sustainable practices for wider adoption and food system resiliency.

Project Objectives:

Once developed, the curriculum materials (slides, handouts and reading lists) for the field course will be available for ongoing use. Staff (n~30) will participate in a three-day field course visiting various agriculture stakeholders and covering three perspectives of agriculture (ecological, economic, social). PFI’s board of directors and staff will participate in a scenario planning exercise (n~42) resulting in recommendations and insights to inform the next three-year strategic plan for the organization. Staff will participate in a grassroots training (n~30) and have access to a summary handout of strategies and tips. Farmers in the membership will attend three communications trainings (n~24) and encouraged to follow-up with additional coaching for specific outreach opportunities. The farmer outreach coordinator will develop relationships with journalists and farmer networks (n~25) that will lead to earned media and speaking opportunities featuring farmer-leaders.


Educational approach:

Sustainable agriculture education course:

PFI has transitioned its sustainable ag course schedule slightly to accommodate when works best for staff to fully engage in this process. Rather than do a three-day course at once, we’re reorganizing the course into three separate modules:

  • History of agriculture: Full-day course on the history of agriculture in Iowa on April 16, 2024. This course will be broken into modules based on time periods. Each module will include 30 minutes of presentation followed by 20 minutes of discussion. The modules are:
  • Pre-Colonization, Original Peoples and Wildlife
  • Settlement to WWII
  • Green Revolution: Capitalization and Consolidation of Agriculture
  • Green Revolution: Community Impact
  • Farm Crisis
  • Origins of PFI
    • Presenters include agriculture researchers, farmers and an Indigenous peoples scholar.
  • Soil and water unit (June 3, 2024): This unit will look at the characteristics of Iowa’s soil and water and the interconnections with agriculture
  • Modern agriculture solutions (July 9, 2024): Full day field trip focusing on modern agriculture and ways to work toward PFI’s vision: an Iowa with healthy soil, healthy food, clean air, clean water, resilient farms and vibrant communities.

Farmer media and presentation training:

We held a media and communications training on November 2, 2023 that was targeted toward horticulture producers. They learned about the role of media; tips and techniques to speak to the media; and had opportunities to practice both for the radio and in front of a video camera. There were five farmers at this training. Elizabeth Wilhelm, PFI's media relations coordinator, and Christine Zrostlik, PFI's communications and marketing director, led the training. They aim to keep the group size 10 farmers or less at future trainings, because having a small group allowed for full engagement and plentiful practice for those who attended. 

A media training for field crop farmers is in the planning stage for summer 2024. The training will focus on tips for communicating regenerative ag practices (cover crops, no-till, diversified crop rotations, etc.) to the media. 

Farmer media relations

This project focuses on peer learning as well as building relationships with the media in order to increase the visibility of innovative farmers in Iowa. Elizabeth Wilhelm, PFI's media relations coordinator, built relationships with journalists during the reporting period that resulted in more than 30 reporters attending in-person events.

In addition, PFI worked to get more than 470 members featured in the media in 2023, and 60 members to speak at non-PFI events. 

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Farmer media and presentation training

Help farmers speak effectively to the media and in presentations


The first media and presentation training trained five horticulture farmers to speak about their operations and goals successfully to the media as well as in presentations to a broad constituency. Farmers learned the history of media, the role it has in our lives, and practical strategies to prepare for effective media interactions. They had the opportunity to practice in different mediums, including in front of the camera.

Educational & Outreach Activities

30 Consultations
1 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
315 Published press articles, newsletters
60 Webinars / talks / presentations
1 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

470 Farmers participated
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.