AMES, Iowa – Four women received the Women Impacting Agriculture award for their contributions to Iowa agriculture on Nov. 30 at the seventh annual Iowa Women in Ag Leadership Conference organized by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.
The Women Impacting Agriculture recognition honors Iowans who are creating a more sustainable Iowa by improving economic resiliency and stability; conserving natural resources; and being influential agricultural leaders, family members and community volunteers.
The 2022 honorees are Kellie Blair, Joanne Roepke Bode, Melissa O’Rourke and Meredith Nunnikhoven. Past honoree Marilee Jones and extension communications specialist Lisa Scarbrough recognized the honorees and presented them with awards.
Farm Credit Services of America is a partnering sponsor of the conference and recognition program.
Kellie Blair operates Blair Farms with her husband and two children in Webster County. Blair Farms grows corn, soybeans and cereal rye, while also managing a 500-head cow/calf operation and finishing 2,400 head of cattle annually. The Blair farm is committed to the long-term preservation of the family farming business by increasing productivity and profitability through efficient and environmentally conscious management. Blair is well recognized for her practices that build soil health and increase productivity of the soil, including strip-till, no-till and cover crops. Blair Farms conserves soil nutrients with extended rotations and drainage water management. On the cattle side, Blair feels it is important to work directly with the local locker to provide quality beef to local consumers. Blair is an Iowa State graduate with bachelor’s degrees in forestry and agronomy. She serves as a trustee for the Iowa State University Agricultural Endowment Board. she has contributed to carbon sequestration and smart agriculture working groups and serves as an experienced farmer in a strip-till/no-till discussion group to support others adopting similar practices. She served on the Webster County Extension Council for seven years. She enjoys ISU Extension and Outreach programs and works closely with the extension field agronomists. Blair Farms earned several awards, including America’s Best Young Farmers from Progressive Farmer, Iowa Environmental Leader Award through Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, and Environmental Stewardship Award from Iowa Cattlemen’s Association. Blair received the New Leader Award from the Iowa Soybean Association and the Growing Leaders Recognition from Iowa State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She is an active philanthropist in the agriculture industry. She hosts field days for Iowa Learning Farms to help others learn about conservation practices and is a Common Ground advocate for agriculture. In her community, Blair is actively involved in church leadership and kid’s activities.
Joanne Roepke Bode is a proud promoter of Iowa agriculture in Kossuth County. Her family operates the specialty crop business Bode’s Moonlight Gardens. After growing and selling produce for several years, Bode and her family were mentored into the pumpkin business by neighbors who were ready to retire. She is passionate about engaging with her community and youth around food and farming. She enjoys introducing people to new produce and recipes. Her social media pages educate and advocate for local agriculture by sharing daily activities on the farm. She hosts a pumpkin patch each October with several community outreach events. Bode is an Iowa State graduate with a bachelor of science in journalism and mass communication. She was actively involved in the Iowa State University Extension Lead Community Visioning Project completed in Algona in 2022 and continues working to implement the plans. Bode is a frequent attendee at Algona Chamber Coffees hosted at the Kossuth County extension office and attends Women in Ag programs when they are available. Local extension uses her farm as an example to showcase to gardeners, value-added ag operators, and traditional farmers that extension is a valuable and cost-efficient resource. In her leadership work, Bode is the organizer of the Kossuth County Farmers Market and fosters its growth. She is a past board member of the Iowa Specialty Crop Growers Association, recently joined the board of Healthy Harvest of North Iowa, and has worked with Practical Farmers of Iowa to host north Iowa horticulture meet ups. Bode is an enthusiastic asset to every committee and event in her community. She volunteers for the Frostbite Olympics and developed the Algona Young Professionals Organization with the Algona Area Economic Development Corporation. She has served on the Algona Chamber of Commerce board, and was part of a team that created the World Food Festival, an event that occurs during Algona’s Founders Day.
Meredith Nunnikhoven is the owner of Barnswallow Flowers, a sustainable fresh-cut flower farm located in Mahaska County in its 13th year. Her mission is to grow flowers with sustainable agricultural practices that focus on regenerative farming and carbon reduction. The chemical-free operation also plants cover crops to improve soil health along with using landscape fabric to retain moisture and reduce weed pressure. Supported by years of growing trials, the entire flower production is grown outdoors without hoop house support. A majority of the seedlings are germinated on the farm, reducing environmental impact. Nunnikhoven utilizes resources from ISU Extension and Outreach Mahaska County to help her floral business prosper. She is a 2023 graduate of ISU Extension and Outreach’s Annie’s Project farm management class. Barnswallow Flowers is a proud donor of materials for Mahaska County Extension floral arranging classes and Mahaska County Master Gardeners annual plant sale. She also helped start a local chapter of Women, Land, and Legacy in both Mahaska and Marion counties. She is passionate about inspiring farmers to diversify their whole-farm operation with value-added crops and products. Her love for environmentalism launched her patent-pending invention for the Barnswallow compostable vase. The vase will reduce recycling processing costs of glass, plastics and metal while being commercially grade compostable on farms and facilities. Nunnikhoven partners with Practical Farmers of Iowa to host field days, assist in government policymaking and participate in PFI’s Labor for Learning program. In partnership with nonprofit FACE of Mahaska County, the farm brings art to its rural location by hosting sculptures. Nunnikhoven connects with the community through CSA programming. Since 2018, various products provide fresh flower experiences and conservation education. The flower farm is now dedicated to her late mother, Kerrilyn Loynachan Nunnikhoven, who believed that small farm diversification was the key to succession and survival.
Melissa O’Rourke resides in Winneshiek County and recently retired from her position at Iowa State, where she served as a farm and agribusiness management specialist for 13 years. In her early career, O’Rourke taught vocational business and agriculture, mentoring youth anticipating careers in agribusiness. Later, she earned her Juris Doctor degree and practiced law in South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa representing farm operators and ag businesses in litigation and providing counsel on farm business management. At ISU Extension and Outreach, O’Rourke was a leader and innovator of several educational programs including farm transition and succession planning, human resources, farmland leasing and conservation, and beginning and early-career farming. She provided consultation for individuals and wrote many popular publications for the Iowa State Ag Decision Maker website. She received the 2021 Bob Wells Memorial Award for her many contributions to women in ag programs from the national Annie’s Project–Education for Farm Women organization. O’Rourke and her husband operated Dry Creek Acres, a registered Toggenburg dairy goat operation, for nearly three decades. She served on the American Dairy Goat Association board of directors and led an initiative to update the linear appraisal classification system to improve genetics. She also served on the American Goat Federation board. O’Rourke was instilled with the belief that volunteer service builds our communities. Recognizing the need for a nonprofit community health center to serve all persons, she established the Promise Community Health Center in Sioux Center, Iowa and served as its president. She is passionate about providing services to the immigration community and has volunteered as an attorney and advocate for the Center for Assistance, Service, and Advocacy in Northwest Iowa and Northeast Iowa Peace and Justice Center-Immigration Working Group. She also advocates for domestic violence victims and survivors of crimes via nonprofit agencies.