“You just never know what is going to happen in life, so be prepared.”
These were the words of advice Reonna Slagell-Gossen’s parents told her often as she was growing up on their farm north of Weatherford, Okla. They also told her she needed to learn as much as she could, about as many things as she could, so she would be ready for anything.
Harold and Ella Slagell encouraged all three of their daughters, Darla, Ranae, and Reonna to earn college degrees, which they did. They also taught them to be hard workers and self-sufficient. Those seeds of wisdom and worth were planted deeply in each girl, and they have seen the fruit of their parent’s advice harvested on more than one occasion.
On June 25, 2006, Harold suffered a brain aneurism in church, at the age of 81. A full-time farmer up to that point, Harold had been spraying weeds in his peanut field just the night before. Damage from the aneurism rendered him incapable of walking, much less farming. Ella’s health was also significantly affected by Harold’s condition.
“When dad had his aneurism, he had peanuts in the ground that needed to be taken care of,” says Reonna.
“I’m a wheat farmer,” says Bryan Gossen, Reonna’s husband. “I didn’t know anything about peanuts. We didn’t know what we were going to do.”
Thankfully, the community of Weatherford, neighboring farmers and family, all pitched in to help take care of that crop of peanuts.
“They all showed up on Nov. 24 to help harvest the peanut crop,” Gossen remembers. “Then on Nov. 25, another guy showed up to plant wheat. They were all amazing.”
“We couldn’t have made it without God and all the wonderful people that helped us,” they both say.
Reonna, the youngest Slagell daughter, and Bryan live in Corn, Okla., making them geographically the logical choice to look after both parents and help take care of the farm during this transition. Reonna’s oldest sister, Darla, and her husband, Duane Zook, live on a farm near Garden City, Mo., with their two children. Ranae, and her husband, Ron Almos, and their two children live in Lenexa, Kan.
“While Bryan and I do most of the day-to-day stuff,” Reonna says, “everyone in the family has special skills they brought to the table that helped us get through the past couple of years.”
An already close family, Reonna says the experience has brought everyone even closer and more appreciative of each other.
Caring for her parents and the farm would be a full-time job for anyone, but Reonna already has a 40-plus-hours-a-week job. She is the science coordinator and professor at Redlands Community College in El Reno. Bryan works full-time at the Western Equipment dealership in Weatherford, along with a farming business with his brother.
Many rural families are finding themselves in the same plight as the Slagell family: current full-time jobs, aging parents and a farm or ranch to care for, with some major decisions needing to be made.
Reonna says her parents had a trust set up so the farm would be transferred to them in the event of their death. However, she had to have the trust revised because the original version didn’t account for mental incompetence. Harold was incapable of speaking and making decisions, yet the girls didn’t have any legal authority to operate the farm, even though they had the skill and knowledge.
Reonna had been keeping the books for her father for many years, so she was well versed on the business. Once the trust had been amended, the Slagell girls and their husbands all got together and decided to let the leased farm land go, but to do everything they could to take care of the original 320 acres on the family farm Harold had purchased in 1965.
“I was born and raised right here,” Reonna says. “I was Daddy’s ‘boy.’ He took me everywhere with him and taught me about everything he did.”
When Reonna says “everything,” she means it. Her father showed her how to drive tractors, weld, overhaul a transmission, and other farm-related tasks.
“He made me learn why things worked, not just how they worked,” Reonna says. In fact, Harold taught her so much about plants and animals, her love for nature led her to earn a degree in biological science.
One of the values she treasures most is that her father taught her a true love for the land.
“He taught me how to care for the land,” Reonna says. “He taught me about rotating crops and caring for the soil.
“It helped me to understand the land and now it means so much to me,” she says, “This farm has always been what brought our family closer. My heart is here, and I am blessed to have a husband with a farming background.”
“This land is part of us,” Bryan adds. “As long as we are able, we are going to keep farming it.”
Harold regularly sought input and advice from the county Extension agent and Deer Creek Conservation District, as well as the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
The Slagell family has raised beef cattle and even some dairy cows on their land. They have practiced crop rotation with soybeans, mung beans, corn, wheat, cotton, canola, peanuts, and milo. They installed conservation practices such as terraces, drop pipes, dams, and cross fencing.
Bryan and Reonna continue to work with the various entities to continue the conservation legacy on the land. Harold has a conservation plan on file with the NRCS office in Clinton. Reonna worked with District Conservationist Steve Kelly to install a water-saving center pivot irrigation system through an Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) cost-share project.
Bryan and Reonna recently decided to switch to no-till farming. They planted their first crop of soybeans in the spring of 2008.
“Dad has always been entrepreneurial and wanted to try new things,” Reonna says. “And he has always been a strong conservationist. That’s why I wanted to try the no-till method.”
Reonna says since they were reorganizing the farm operation and going to have to replace some of their equipment anyway, she looked into no-till as a possibility. After attending several no-till conferences and farm tours, she and Bryan felt like no-till was something they wanted to try. Once the soybeans are harvested, the Glossens will plant wheat in the no-till fields this fall.
“We know it will take a few years before our yields are up,” Bryan says. “But it saves a lot of time, fuel and water. I think it’s really going to work for us.”
“We have never held the kids to this place,” says Reonna’s mother, Ella. “But I am so happy that Bryan and Reonna are keeping it going so it can still be a gathering place for the family.”
While most of Ella’s time is now consumed with taking care of Harold, she still enjoys working in her flower gardens and being as involved as possible in the farm activities.
Smiling, Ella comments, “The best crop this farm ever raised was our three girls.”
Reonna Slagell-Gossen doesn’t just practice conservation on her family farm; she preaches it in her daily life.
In her college classroom she conducts training sessions for the Oklahoma Conservation Commission’s Blue Thumb program. She serves as a council member of the Great Plains Resource Conservation and Development Council in Cordell, Okla. She is a key member of Oklahoma Women in Agriculture, and involved in producing their fifth annual statewide Women in Agriculture & Small Business Conference, which will be held on Sept. 18 & 19, 2008 at the Moore Norman Technology Center located at SW 134th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue in Oklahoma City.
Reonna has been involved in the annual statewide conference since its inception, hosting the first conference at Redlands Community College.