Member Profile: Penny Perkins Launches Eco-preneurial Business
Penny Perkins is the first "graduate" of the WFAN eco-preneur mentorship program, funded by the Iowa Women's Foundation. After two years of support, from fellow mentees and mentor Danielle Wirth, she has launched a full-time ecological restoration and management business, working with landowners to realize their conservation goals. Here is her story.
Tell us about your business.
A growing number of landowners see the value of managing their land for various ecological purposes (to provide better hunting habitat, more species diversity, better recreational opportunity) or optimizing their land for a sustainable future. Some examples include timber production, agroforestry options, or growing food for the family. My values and experiences line up to help landowners achieve these goals, so I created FTF (For the Future) Restoration. I work with landowners to create the best plan to achieve their goals. The company is located outside of the Des Moines metro area. Currently I have a Facebook page and can be reached at 515-537-9309.
What drew you to eco-restoration as a career?
As a kid I was drawn to spending time outdoors, and by chance I was connected through a volunteer network with the Illinois Nature Conservancy to two groups of people who did volunteer restoration on weekends. One of the groups was the Jubilee Prairie Dawgs at Jubilee College State Park near Peoria, Illinois, and the other the Peoria Wilds group, which rotated between several parks in Peoria Park District in Central Illinois. I ran with what I had for experience and went to college at Southern Illinois University to get my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in forestry
How has your business grown, and what have been some of your most helpful resources?
FTF Restoration has gone through several transformations since the beginning. It started with me running a chainsaw doing timber stand improvement (TSI) and transformed to writing management plans, marking timber for sales, coaching landowners how to do their own restoration work, taking soil samples, and amending soil nutrient levels. I help identify what is standing in the way of landowners making their land sustainable and see if I can help them overcome those challenges. The most helpful resource I have right now is my network. Even though I mostly work independently in the field, my network is still my team that makes me better at what I do.
Who are some of your mentors?
There are so many people who have played a role in guiding me forward. I started restoration work in 1993 under Hal Gardner, the leader of the Jubilee Prairie Dawgs, who was mentored himself by Irene Cull, who was influenced by Aldo Leopold. After I started working with my first landowner, I was accepted into WFAN's eco-preneurial internship program, funded by a grant from the Iowa Women’s Foundation. There, I was connected with Danielle Wirth. Danielle has been my guiding light since then and has helped develop my network here in Iowa.
What are your plans for the future of the business?
I will continue to network and get more clients lined up. It’s the clients who will determine the growth and direction of the company, because I am here to serve landowners’ needs and help them become more sustainable. What obstacles stand in the way will determine how I progress. As we line up a timber sale, the trees will be marked so that the forest gets healthier and provides better sales for the future. As I line up clients with cost share dollars through EQIP and REAP (through my Natural Resource Conservation Service TSP certification) I will be working with the landowner to assure that they have a solid plan in place to deal with invasive species that are released with the canopy opening.
Any advice for other women considering entrepreneurial careers?
Find a mentor and keep learning.