Cross-Country Ownership and Sustainable Partnerships

aerial view of green fields

Larry Roadman grew up in Maryland, currently lives in Maine and owns a multi-generation farm halfway across the country in Grundy County, Iowa. His situation is far from unique. Increasingly, people who don’t come from farm backgrounds are choosing to own and operate one. Roadman’s ownership journey has involved many turns. Along the way, he has built strong partnerships with family, tenants and farm managers to operate in a way that is both economically and environmentally sustainable.

A 116th Interest in an 80-Acre Plot

Roadman does have ties to his Grundy County farm ground. In 1874, Roadman’s great-grandfather John left Pennsylvania for Iowa. There, he met his wife, Lusetta, and settled on the 408 acres that comprise a portion of the Roadman property today.

The farm passed down to Roadman’s grandfather, who later divided the ground between his six children, one of whom was Larry’s father. By then, the ownership stake for each family member had dwindled significantly. But keeping it in the family mattered deeply to Roadman; in his formative years, he traveled by train to spend time on the farm.

“All of a sudden, we had 116th interest in an 80-acre plot. After spending a lot of time narrowing down the ownership, we finally got it back into my immediate family at the turn of the millennium.” - Larry Roadman, Owner

An 11-Year-Old on a Train from Baltimore

“My grandparents and parents essentially made an investment in sustainability back in the 1950s,” said Roadman. “I was 11 years old when they sent me to Iowa to live with my grandparents on the farm. I spent a month there over three summers, working with them daily, and that’s where my deepest connection to the farm was established.”

The farm left such an impression that, as adults, he and his sister entered a 25-year land contract to buy other descendants’ ownership shares. The Roadmans consolidated their land holdings in 2002. Since the 1920s, just two families, three generations each, have lived on the property. The current farm operator, Kyle Dudden, has been there since 1995.

Finding the Right Farm Manager

The family also relies on Hertz Farm Management to support the operation with boots on the ground in Grundy County. “Hertz improved the corn and soybean rotation by working with the farm operator to win continuing corn and soybean seed contracts,” Roadman said. “At one point, the farm also had livestock.”

“But I found it hard as an absentee landowner to deal with livestock and the buildings they require,” explained Roadman. Morgan Troendle, the second farm manager at Hertz to work with the Roadmans, said a decision had to be made about what to do next with the livestock side of the operation.

“A lot of our recommendations for the farm come out of the family’s vision, then applying our knowledge of conservation and production practices to align with the family’s goals.” - Morgan Troendle, Farm Manager at Hertz

Urban Planning and Prairie Strips

Christian Roadman, Larry’s son, was a graduate student at the University of Michigan at the time. “Our son was in Ann Arbor getting his master’s degree in urban planning, which isn’t quite related to agriculture, when I get an email from him citing an article on prairie strips,” explained Roadman. “And in the email, he asked, ‘Dad, can we do this?’” 

Hertz set up a meeting with Dan Jaynes from the USDA, the University of Northern Iowa Tallgrass Prairie Center and Iowa State University’s Science-Based Trials of Rowcrops Integrated with Prairie Strips (STRIPS).

The Family That Decides Together

Christian and his brother, Keene, were included in that initial meeting. “It was a great meeting, especially since we weren’t able to give our boys the experience that I had as an 11-year-old,” said Roadman. “It’s what got us into prairie strips.” 

They worked out the benefits of adding strips of prairie along contours in crop fields, including retaining nutrients, minimizing erosion and runoff and creating wildlife habitat. The family also received clear counsel about the economic impacts of strips and how to make the numbers work.

In addition to the prairie strips, they implemented a saturated buffer system to filter tile drainage and minimize the impact of runoff into ditches, streams and rivers.

The Importance of Partnerships in Replicability

Reflecting on the importance of partnerships, Roadman noted that the business of sustainability ultimately comes down to replicability.

“We’re in the space of replicability and I think that’s why the partnerships are so important to us,” said Roadman. “Replicability, the ability to do well on a small scale and to have individuals see something and replicate it, that’s what’s really exciting, and the partnerships are the ones who make the information accessible and have the ability to see things that can make differences on the scale of small- to medium-sized forms.”

“I will say that, in most cases, the best success rate for having the family hold onto a farm is for each generation to have some tie to it or interest in it.” - Morgan Troendle, Farm Manager at Hertz

Roadman’s commitment to preserving his family’s agricultural legacy has not only withstood the challenges of fractional ownership but has thrived through strategic collaborations.


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