A John Deere Publication
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Jan Golian applies her background in education and being a Missouri Master Gardener and Missouri Master Naturalist as a farm landlord. Making a profit is key, but so is stewarding natural resources, she says.

Agriculture, Education   November 01, 2023

Lifelong Learner


Jan Golian applies lifelong lessons to her Missouri farm.

Pull up a chair. Pour yourself an iced tea. And get ready to hear from Jan Golian about lifelong lessons she has learned as a teacher, librarian, Missouri Master Gardener, and Missouri Master Naturalist that have influenced her as a farm owner.

"Being a librarian, you have to be a lifelong learner," says Golian, Center, Missouri. "You can put that on my tombstone."

On her own. Although she now lives on a farm, Golian grew up in town. After she married her husband, David, in 1974, the couple had separate roles. He farmed and worked at an off-farm job while she pursued careers as a homemaker, teacher, and librarian.

Then came 2004, when David died suddenly from a heart attack midway through harvest. Friends quickly pitched in and harvested the crops and also helped her sell the farm's cattle.

After that, though, she was largely on her own.

"I had just earned a master's degree [in library science] from Mizzou (University of Missouri), so it wasn't a matter of knowledge," she says. "It was a matter of lack of knowledge when it came to things like negotiating a land rental contract."

Golian needed help. So, she contacted Al Kennett, a now retired University of Missouri (MU) Extension livestock specialist. He recommended she participate in Annie's Project. This national non-profit program has helped 19,000 women in 38 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands gain agricultural business skills. Areas include negotiating farmland leases, building fences, raising livestock, and other topics through classes and one-on-one meetings.

"My expertise was not in agriculture, so I needed to reach out to people who knew about it," says Golian. "They are experts and I used their information."

Golian continued to cultivate other interests in her lifelong learning quest, such as gardening. Through MU Extension, Golian formed a Missouri Master Gardener group, the Groovy Gardeners of Ralls County. This helped her learn how to build fruit, vegetable, and flower gardens, and also provided a social outlet.

One day, an elderly woman called Golian. She needed a ride to a Missouri Master Naturalist meeting because she was unable to drive at night. Golian drove and accompanied her to the meeting. Golian quickly caught the passion for nature exhibited by members. Besides being the local group's secretary and newsletter editor, involvement also spurred Golian to restore one acre on her farm to native prairie.

"So far, it's in the weep stage of the 'weep, creep, and leap' stages," she says. However, Missouri Master Naturalist involvement has prompted her to continue the restoration.

Golian also works on the group's conservation projects, such as ridding invasive plant species from a creek that flows through her farm. This helps native plants regain a foothold.

Balancing interests. Golian combined conservation ethics along with farm economics as she formed her land rental philosophy. She found renters who shared this perspective in Jody and Lisa Ketsenburg, New London, Missouri.

"Most of this farm is considered highly erodible, so we follow all practices within a conservation plan to build up the soil as much as we can and not let it wash away," says Jody.

They have also worked with Golian to build waterways and terraces on her farm.

"I trust them, because they are local and have a commitment here," she says. "Jody is also on the county soil and water board, so he knows what is going on [with conservation practices]. Even though they cost money, it is important to carry these conservation practices through."

Jody also established a variable cash rent agreement for Golian.

"Commodity prices can vary," he says. "It can be cumbersome and stressful when you are at one [rental] level and commodity prices go up and down."

The variable cash rent agreement he created for Golian provides a base payment that can still move upward if crop prices rally.

"I fit rental agreements with each landowner's objectives," he says. "Some landowners want just money and have no interest in land stewardship. That is not for me. If you want someone who will take care of your property, pay on time, and want a long-term relationship, I'm your renter."

The partnership has worked because both parties have the same goals, says Golian.

"We both have to make money raising corn and soybeans," she says, "but we also need to work together to take care of the land and birds and pollinators." ‡

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