Iowa Farm Environmental Leadership Awards
Left: Chuck Gipp, Director of the Iowa DNR, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad; James McHugh, Boone County Farmer; Iowa Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds; Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey

“Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare.”

– Angela Duckworth, Grit

I was reminded of the above quote yesterday when I attended the Iowa Farm Environmental Leadership award ceremony at the Iowa State Fair. This is an award organized by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship  that recognizes those who go above and beyond on their farms to address soil health and water quality. These are individuals who are not only enthusiastic about conservation, but also work to incorporate it into their farms.

In Iowa, we are not short of enthusiasm for efforts to protect and build soil health as well as protect our public waterways. What is more rare are those who are standout individuals who take extraordinary measures to protect the land. This is seen among those who have won the IFEL award. They are not farming for the present, but farming for the vitality of their ecological and social communities for the future.

Previous research shows that farmers are motivated by many non-economic factors, such as a connection to the land (Ryan et al. 2003). This connection to the land and to community serves as a strong motivator for positive action around conservation. The IFEL award winners I saw yesterday were not just enthusiastic about the idea of land stewardship, but they were also determined to put their beliefs into action on their land.

Starting a new management activity is never easy. I am frequently told by farmers across the State of Iowa that to change one thing on the farm is to change everything. Duckworth (2016) describes the process for developing a passion for a certain idea or practice as having four components. These are: interest, capacity to act, a sense of purpose, and hope. When all of these aspects come together, great things tend to happen. Duckworth states, “To be gritty is to hold fast to an interesting and purposeful goal. To be gritty is to invest, day after week after year, in challenging practice. To be gritty is to fall down seven times, and rise eight.” Those who lead in conservation efforts around the State of Iowa have this grit.

The winners of the IFEL award put an effort into learning about new approaches to conservation, they are constantly experimenting on their farms, and openly sharing their story with others. They take a risk in trying something new with the potential of failing – even with the neighbors watching. These farmers have the knowledge about what they are doing and the belief that what they are doing is important. I am incredibly inspired by the IFEL award winners I got to know yesterday.  I hope you are inspired by them, too.

To read more about the 2016 Iowa Farm Environmental Leadership Awards, follow this link.

Ryan, Robert L., Donna Erickson, Raymond De Young. 2003. Farmers’ Motivations for Adopting Conservation Practices along Riparian Zones in a Mid-western Agricultural Watershed. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management 46(1): 19-37.