The Bouska sisters receive the 2020 Farmland Legacy Award

Teresa Opheim blog, featured, news

Left to right: Sally, Carol, Peg and Ann Bouska) On October 20, 2020, four sisters who own Highland Farm in Northeast Iowa received the Farmland Legacy Award from Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI). The award has been presented yearly since 2013 to non-operator landowners who work to sustain farm businesses, long-term soil productivity, environmental quality and vibrant rural communities, including helping the next generation start farming.

Teresa Opheim, Director of Climate Land Leaders and former Executive Director of Practical Farmers of Iowa, presented the award. Here are her remarks.

Good evening everyone!

Carol Bouska, Peg Bouska, Sally McCoy and Ann Novak are terrific winners of the Farmland Legacy Award for a couple of basic reasons:

  • Their care for each other.
  • Their care for the planet.

First, their care for each other. These four sisters’ parents deserve a lot of credit, because ALL FOUR are consistently considerate, caring and compassionate with me and the other Climate Land Leaders with whom we work. That’s not luck of the draw. Their mother and father done good.


It is really easy to tell families “to talk with each other about farm succession issues.” It is far harder to do so.

According to Kathy Ruhf, a farm transitions expert with Land for Good, “The hard issues [such as communicating with your family] are the soft issues. Turning over a farm to the next generation is more about family relations than it is about transferring title to the land. Setting goals as a family, clarifying values and communicating well are all critical to a successful transition.”

The details, then, are not that complicated, and there are a host of qualified attorneys and financial planners to help.

But no one else can do the hard work of communications and relationship care than you and your family. Carol, Peg, Sally and Ann have worked hard at it. It can’t have been easy, and I’m sure there have been many bumps along the way. But they go ahead and tackle whatever issues and are very clear that their relationship with each other is paramount.

They have taken the time and energy to do what a lot of families will not – or cannot – do.
They have regular calls. They communicate via email regularly. Every sister has a say; decisions are not made independently.

They took the time to have a retreat to explore their farm memories and write them in farm legacy letters. They shared those letters to celebrated each other and their legacy.

They hired an independent facilitator to help them set goals.

They attend conferences and zoom meetings and share what they’ve learned with each other. I loved watching them file into a conference on perennial agriculture a year or so ago. They used that conference to meet up, learn and continue their journey together.

Their father was born on and died on the farmland they inherited. They have experienced family tragedy, and the land there served as a way to bring them together and honor the dead. They are exploring together various scenarios for their own. Demise – not easy to think about – but necessary if you want to leave a land legacy when you are gone

And they have fun together.

So these soft issues are really the hard issues, and we need more examples of how to do it right. All of this takes:

  • Time<
  • Patience with each other
  • Leadership skills
  • A willingness to continue to learn
  • An understanding when they need outside help
  • A respect for and joy in each other.

Carol, Peg, Sally and Ann are also excellent Farmland Owner award winners for their CARE FOR THE PLANET

Because of our lack of will to limit our greenhouse gas emissions, we are altering our planet so radically and so quickly, there is and will be a great deal of suffering. For farmers unable to accommodate 12-inch rains. For urban people who live in stifling inner city heat. For those who live in coastal areas that will be flooded out. For much of the Western United States, going through years of drought and trials by fire. For all life with whom we share this sphere.

As the Bouska sisters know, those who have the good fortune of owning farmland have a critical role to play in caring for the planet. In the massive research effort Project Drawdown, researchers have found that 16 of the top 25 solutions to reverse climate change – to draw down that carbon – involve food and land use.

The Bouskas are ready to get started. This past year they came together to set an ambitious goal: to turn their 450 acres into a regenerative farm. The changes they will be making over the years on their farm will:

  • Keep the soil covered.
  • Increase diversity on the land through plants and animals;
  • Keep roots in the ground year around;
  • Work to minimize disturbance of the soil.

Recently I listened to a dynamite talk by Katharine Wilkinson, from the Project Drawdown that I mentioned, and she described the leadership we most need in this time. That leadership will focus on:

  • Compassion
  • Connection
  • Creativity
  • Care
  • Collaboration.

I thought of Carol, Peg, Sally and Ann when she talked.

Says Wilkinson: “We are a miracle. Our task and opportunity are to face a seemingly impossible challenge and act in service of what is possible. We have an invitation to build a human society that participates in the planet’s living systems in generous and cooperative ways.”

Because Practical Farmers of Iowa is such a practical group, I want to end by bringing us down from the zoomed out google earth view of planetary health — of that amazing sphere we call earth – back to zoom in on the Bouska’s 450-acre Highland Farm in Northeast Iowa.

These women are doers.

They hadn’t walked their land since they were young, so Peg and Carol went out and did that. Without COVID, Sally and Ann would have been there too.

I asked if we could film them doing the land walk, and they agreed, in hopes that others will do the same.
They’ve explored their soils this year, and last week Carol grabbed some samples, sending the video to her sisters with an explanation of what she was seeing.

They just filmed their tenant planting the first cover crop on their land.

They joined the inauguaral cohort of Climate Land Leaders. Their 2020 goals include:

  • Getting a regenerative ag design completed (Paula is here)
  • Working with their renter Tom to put in 162 acres of cover crops
  • Exploring adding prairie strips to their farm
  • Hire a forester to help them manage their woodlot

We look forward to seeing what their Highland Farm looks like 10 years from now! Another generation will see it 50 years from now!

Carol, Peg, Ann and Sally, I am pleased to present you with….

The 2020 FARMLAND LEGACY AWARD

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