Dan and Lorna Wilson, who farm with their family near Paullina in northwest Iowa, are the recipients of the 2016 Sustainable Agriculture Achievement Award, granted each year by Practical Farmers of Iowa. The award goes to an individual or couple who have shown dedication to sustainable agriculture, generously shared his or her knowledge with others, and been influential in efforts to foster vibrant communities, diverse farms and healthful food.
The award will be presented to the Wilsons at a dinner on Friday, Jan. 22, during Practical Farmers' 2016 annual conference, "Farmers Teaching Farmers," which runs Jan. 22-23 in Ames.
Long-time leaders in on-farm research, hosting many field days
Dan and Lorna own and operate Seven W Farms, where they farm with two of their sons and one of their daughters. The Wilson farm has been in the family for three generations. Dan began farming there with his father in 1972, and the Wilsons' children are the fourth generation to farm the land. Together, the family raises organic row crops, pastured pork and chickens, grass-fed lamb and beef, and free-range eggs.
Dan and Lorna have been long-time leaders in farming by conducting on-farm research, hosting many field days over the years and serving as mentors to beginning farmers. Dan has also just completed a nine-year term on PFI's board of directors, a portion of which he served as president. He is a strong advocate of PFI's farm transfer work.
Gail Hickenbottom of West Des Moines, who also serves on the PFI board, says the Wilsons deserve to be recognized by this award because they "lead by example, are respected by their peers" and embody the Practical Farmers mission to strengthen farms and communities through farmer-led investigation and information-sharing.
Balancing the need of their land with the needs of their business
"Dan and Lorna have played a vital role for on-farm research through the PFI Cooperators' Program," Gail says. "They also realize the needs of the land. For them, the practice of rotation is an important benchmark for long-term sustainability."
Gail adds, "The Wilsons balance the needs of the land with the needs of their business. The Wilsons are always willing to discover new markets for their crops and livestock products for increased profitability, while at the same time of remembering the importance of the environment." Lorna says it's that entrepreneurial spirit that has enabled them to diversify their farm: "We have a passion for business and a passion for new ideas."
Ensuring that the next generation comes back to the farm
One of the central tenets of Dan and Lorna's farming philosophy has been to ensure that the next generation comes back to the farm. The importance of this philosophy is reflected in their farm name, Seven W Farm, which includes a "W" for Dan, Lorna and each of their five children.
"We have to be really serious about bringing the next generation back on the farm," Lorna says. "As we older farmers get ready to quit, we need someone to pick up where we left off. The older generation needs to have that passion to allow the next generation to explore new ideas. If they don't give up control, then it's not going to work."
Building community in rural communities is a big part of sustainability for Dan and Lorna. "You need to build relationships so everyone is on the same page," Lorna says.
Loss of people from rural areas is big challenge to sustainable ag
One of the biggest challenges to sustainable agriculture, Dan says, is the loss of people from rural areas. He believes that finding a way to stop and reverse this trend is critical, and says the local foods movement offers promise for building community. "Iowa should be growing food for Iowa – and Iowa should be processing food for Iowa. We shouldn't be sending these jobs out of state."
Dan and Lorna were surprised when they learned they have been selected to receive the award. "We're just ordinary people trying to do the right thing," Lorna says. "We feel strongly that we need to honor the land, honor our families and honor the animals, because we all come from the same creator."
The Wilsons have been members of Practical Farmers of Iowa since 1989, and think it will continue to be central to enacting their vision of sustainable agriculture. "PFI is going to play a huge role in this process," Dan says. "Making communities more vibrant and farms more viable is what Practical Farmers was made to do."
Dan and Lorna will be presented the Sustainable Ag Achievement Award during the PFI Potluck Party, which runs from 7 to 10 p.m., at the CPMI Event Center (2321 North Loop Drive) in Ames. PFI strengthens farms and communities through farmer-led research and information-sharing. Values include: welcoming everyone; creativity, collaboration and community; viable farms now and for future generations; stewardship and ecology. Founded in 1985, farmers in the PFI network raise corn, soybeans, livestock, hay, fruits and vegetables and more. Visit practicalfarmers.org.
Here's a complete list of past award recipients:
•2015: Tom Wahl and Kathy Dice
•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 Blackme