More than 25 farmland owners are featured in a new book, “The Future of Family Farms: Practical Farmers’ Legacy Letters Project,” just published by University of Iowa Press. The book gathers families’ letters and stories about the land they cherish – how they acquired it, what they treasure most about it and their hopes for its future.
Some of the writers descend from families who have owned a particular patch of earth since the 1800s, while others became landowners more recently, one as recently as 2015. Some are no longer farmland owners at all because after careful thought about what matters most to them, they sold their land to the next generation of farmers.
Farmland succession issues are affecting many people
“We are pleased that so many farmland owners are willing to share their stories,” says Teresa Opheim, director of the Farm Transfer Program for Practical Farmers of Iowa. “They are leaders in tackling farmland succession issues which are affecting so many people. Much of America’s land is owned by those ages 65 and older. Now more than ever, it is time to think seriously about the legacy you want to leave with your farmland.”
Included in the volume is the story of Dale Nimrod whose mother raised her three children on their southwest Iowa farm after their father died. Dale deeply appreciates the support the small town of Stanton and the local church gave the family. Years later, the Nimrod children decided the best way to pay back the community was to, as Dale says, “find a nice young family who would appreciate the land, the community and the church and would invest themselves in caring for all three.”
Finding the right farm family, putting together a good plan
Finding the right family involved sleuthing and then putting together a generous and innovative financing plan. “It is a misperception, I think, that selling to the highest bidder is the only way to be fair when disposing of property,” Dale says.
The authors all discuss their hopes for their farmland legacy, including Cindy Madsen who farms near Audubon with her husband Vic and son Eric. “Thirty years from now, I want people to remember that . . . we tried to improve the soil to pass on to future generations. I also want people to know that the farm was profitable. And that we got along well in managing and working the farm.”
Favorite memories are included in the book as well, including favorite crops raised, children’s antics on the farm, dealing with volatile weather and more.
Timely, important new book to help families plan for future
The book is receiving national attention. “’The Future of Family Farms’ is a timely and important new book,” says Julia Freedgood of the American Farmland Trust, based in Washington, D.C. “The Practical Farmers stories are both moving and relevant, reinforcing the need for families not only to have shared commitment but also a vision and plan for the future – whether they’ve been farming for more than a hundred years or are beginning farmers.”
According to Jim Habana Hafner of Land for Good, based in New Hampshire, “PFI and its members are an inspiration! They remind us all that family, community and stewardship are at the heart of farming. Their stories are a call to action to everyone who ‘belongs to the land’: Start the conversation today about your farm’s legacy.”
Practical Farmers of Iowa strengthens farms and communities through farmer-led investigation and information-sharing. Values include welcoming everyone, creativity, collaboration and community, viable farms now and for future generations, and stewardship and ecology. Founded in 1985, farmers in PFI’s network raise corn, soybeans, livestock, hay, fruits, vegetables and more. Visit practicalfarmers.org.