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Women Landowners in Emmet County

Rasmussen has seven decades of connection to the land

October 27, 2017
Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer ( , Estherville News

Editor's note: This is the first in an Estherville News series profiling women landowners. If you or someone you know would like to be photographed and featured in this series, please contact the newspaper office.

In Iowa alone, women own about 14 million acres of farmland.

According to the Iowa State University Extension, half of all Iowa farmland is owned by women. Seventy-five percent of transferred land will go to women. And women over age 65 own one-third of that land. In the next two decades 70 percent of all United States farmland will change hands, and three-fourths of that will go to women.

Article Photos

Barb Hall and Kathryn Gamble wrote and photographed the book Women and the Land, highlighting 25 Iowa women who owned the land.

Jeanine Rasmussen, 88, is one of those woman landowners. Jeanine grew up in Armstrong, and married Bud in 1948. They had 48 wonderful years together before Bud died of cancer 21 years ago, Jeanine said.

The family's land heritage began with Bud's father Alert Rasmussen, who immigrated from Norway at the age of 17. He was a hired man on a large Illinois farm, and his wife, Gurine, came from Norway and was hired on at the same farm. In 1941, Alert and Gurine bought a half section in Lincoln Township at $68 per acre and moved into the home place on the south edge of the township in 1943.

Jeanine, from her homestead of 12 acres overlooking the East Fork of the Des Moines River, said, "I'll stay here until they drag me off."

Jeanine still does her own mowing. "I like to get out and mow, but I don't like all the sticks," she said.

Son Kim Rasmussen and his wife, Nona live on the original home place, which Kim farms. Jeanine and Bud had six children: Twins Joy and JoAnn, Kim, Scott, Judy, and Jon. JoAnn and her boyfriend Bruce Berkland were killed in a small plane crash in 1972 on their way to a John Denver concert in Sioux Falls. They were 23. Joy lives in the Sioux City area with her husband, who, like her, is deaf. The entire family learned sign language so they could communicate with them.

On the day of the interview, Jeanine was having her Christmas gift installed. Her children purchased a sink and toilet to create a half bathroom on the main floor for her. Having a main floor restroom is something that helps her children feel more comfortable having their mother live alone in the house, Jeanine said. The fact that Kim lives two miles away as the crow flies and comes to scoop her snow and otherwise check on her is another factor.

"I'm busy. My kids have to call and make an appointment to see me," Jeanine said.

One of these tasks is creating a quilt for the Dolliver quilt auction next month. "Last year my quilt brought $700," Jeanine said.

Jeanine said she has hog lots as neighbors on all sides, and the odor has reduced her quality of life. However, as she looked over the river and the expanse of farmland in various stages of harvest, she said, "But I still own this view."

The nonprofit Women, Food and Agriculture Network (WFAN) reaches out to women through a program called Women Caring for the Land. The program piloted in 2008, and more than 2,500 women have participated. The typical participant is a woman over age 65 who owns farmland, but has never worked in the fields. Many have inherited land they're suddenly tasked with managing. Many were farm wives, but most were left out of the decision-making process.

The program is funded in part by a Conservation Innovation Grant from the Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service. The program is designed to teach women how to practice conservation with a focus on soil health.

Through a program it runs called the National Resources Conservation Service, the USDA provides technical and financial assistance for soil health efforts, such as with the three-year grant to Women Caring for the Land.

The USDA found that women landowners also own more of the state's rented farmland. While the act of renting land doesn't necessarily mean a tenant won't care about investing in conservation, a spouse or daughter who inherits the land might be intimidated to start telling an experienced tenant farmer how to do his job.

In the U.S., the average age of all farmers is 60, according to the most recent census of agriculture, and one-third of farmers are 65 years or older, many with plans to retire in the next two years.



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