By Wren Almitra
Jan Wobeter always had dirt under her fingernails growing up. The 67-year-old native of Traer, IA is busy. I had to schedule a time when she would be in the house to do a phone interview. “I’m not attached to the phone, I’m always outside, always doing something”, she told me. Jan has worn many hats in her life—mother, wife, nursery employee, Casey’s manager, wallpaper installer, furniture reupholsterer, refurbisher of an early 1900’s schoolhouse, co-owner of an appraisal business. Her hats as landowner and Soil Commissioner in Tama Co. recently gave her the honor of receiving the Conservation Woman of the Year award, presented by Conservation Districts of Iowa at their annual conference.
The purpose of the award is to recognize an Iowa woman for her contributions to conservation. According to Laura Crowell of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, numerous nominations were received, with Jan’s rising to the top. “Jan is an encouraging and enthusiastic advocate for Iowa conservation,” stated Laura. “As a…commissioner she has been the driving force behind many of the district’s outreach projects for county youth, as well as serving as the board’s treasurer. She and her husband Rob are excellent conservation stewards on their own land—including CRP, tree plantings, pond and extensive pollinator habitat.”
Jan married into a farming family, she and her husband Rob acquiring land owned by his family over the years. They now own 500 acres in Tama Co., the majority of which is in CRP (though that will soon be changing as some acres in the federal program are expiring and with the delay in passing a new Farm Bill, re-enrollment is not an option). In addition to the set-aside acres, the Wobeters have pollinator habitat, terraces, food plots, timber, and waterways. For their corn and soybean fields, they rent to a conservation-minded tenant who will be working with his son to start farming the Wobeter land in 2019. Jan and Rob have written into their 2019 lease to have cover crops seeded on crop ground in 2019 (they’ll be reducing the rent to help cover any extra costs associated with the seeding).
While Jan may not claim any one of the hats she has worn is more important than another, her 12 years as a Soil Commissioner (nine of those years served as the treasurer and for the majority of that time the only woman on the board) is a significant accomplishment. Though Jan will be formally stepping down from her commissioner status this year, she plans to stay on as an assistant commissioner to continue helping with programs.
Jan is an active educator, organizing local activities for youth to engage them in topics of ecology and biology. She’s rallied the conservation district to support these efforts, including a tree giveaway to children on Arbor Day. “It’s important to educate kids about the earth and land”, she says. “Plant a seed and then it grows.”
When asked if she thinks it’s important for women to serve as commissioners, Jan agreed. “It’s important to have different points of view to bring to the table”. She advises, “When starting as a commissioner, you don’t need to know everything. You learn as you go from office technicians, listening to farmers.” This is particularly poignant advice for women, as they tend to be more cautious getting involved in something if they don’t feel completely confident from the start.
WLL Team Member
Yet another hat Jan wears is serving as a member of the local Women, Land & Legacy team since it kicked-off in Tama Co. in 2007. Women, Land & Legacy is a USDA state-wide networking and education program for female landowners and farmers, coordinated through the Women, Food & Agriculture Network. Topics in Tama Co. have covered conservation, farm safety, bees, farm tours and much more. “WLL is a really important thing”, Jan stated. “It helps women feel they can do these things.” She shared that women farmers are often at the mercy of who are renting their land. Yet she advises, “you don’t have to feel pressured by your tenant, it’s your land, you’re the boss.” She suggests asking around for tips on best rent, as well as utilizing resources in the Farm Services Agency (FSA) office. “No question is a stupid question.”
When Jan was told she would be receiving the Conservation Woman of the Year award, she was floored. She asked, “are you sure?!” She acknowledged that she was doing a lot, but thought it was a lot of little things; she didn’t think they amounted to award-worthy work. “I didn’t think anybody paid attention to what I do”. People were paying attention, and it’s clear that Jan’s passion for the land and for her community will leave a lasting legacy. “I feel like I’m doing something good for the world. I love Iowa.”