Aldo Leopold was a man ahead of his time. Not many folks were thinking about land restoration and soil health back in the 1930s.
Leopold was a landowner, forester and conservationist. He’s best known for A Sand County Almanac, a book he authored while restoring a worn-out piece of farmland along the Wisconsin River.
He also wrote gems like: “The landscape of any farm is the owner’s portrait of himself,” and “It is the individual farmer who must weave the greater part of the rug on which America stands.”
Sand County Foundation is a national nonprofit organization whose name is a nod to Leopold’s literary opus. By working at the intersection of agriculture and environmental improvement, Sand County Foundation engages landowners in responsible stewardship. It created an award named for America’s foremost conservation thinker in 2003.
What better way to inspire other landowners to adopt conservation practices than to share the stories of the farmers, ranchers and forestland owners who do it best?
The Leopold Conservation Award recognizes landowners in 24 states for their efforts to improve soil health, water quality and wildlife habitat. Award recipients have run the gamut of American agriculture: large and small, conventional and organic, first- to seventh-generation farmers and ranchers, with nearly every type of livestock and crop.
Their fields, forests, wetlands and pastures are home to big game, migrating birds, beneficial pollinators and human visitors looking to connect to rural landscapes. Whether milking cows in Vermont, raising hogs in Missouri or growing vegetables in California, each is a real-life example of how conservation and production agriculture can go hand-in-hand. Their innovations prove that conservation practices are environmentally and economically beneficial.
Several of the award recipients serve as mentors for historically underserved farmers and ranchers as part of Sand County Foundation’s Land Ethic Mentorship program. This budding program is scaling up conservation practices across the nation.
The Leopold Conservation Award also builds bridges between agriculture and environmental organizations, government, industry and academia to advance conservation on private lands. A number of state Farm Bureaus serve among the influential partners and sponsors of the award in states including California, Kentucky, Maryland, Montana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah and Wisconsin. Their help in shining a spotlight on conservation on working land is what is most important. The Utah Farm Bureau has been a partner with the Sand County Foundation since 2007, awarding its first Leopold Conservation Award to the Harold Selman Ranch in Box Elder County.
The award recipients are demonstrating to their fellow landowners what is possible. They also show the general public the vital role landowners play in addressing our nation’s most pressing environmental issues. Too often agriculture is framed as the sole problem rather than a key part of the solution.
Farmers, ranchers and forestland owners manage the lion’s share of the land in the contiguous U.S. The Leopold Conservation Award recognizes that we cannot make meaningful environmental progress without their leadership.
That’s what Aldo Leopold suggested all those years ago.
Nominate a farmer, rancher or forestland landowner at sandcountyfoundation.org/applyLCA. Interested in bringing the Leopold Conservation Award to your state? Send an email to Lirving@sandcountyfoundation.org. The Utah award is presented in partnership with American Farmland Trust, Utah Farm Bureau Federation, Western AgCredit and Utah Cattlemen’s Association. The deadline for applying for the Utah Leopold Conservation Award is August 1, 2022.
Casey Langan is communications director at the Sand County Foundation. Watch and read the stories of the farms and ranches who received the Leopold Conservation Award in 2021 at www.sandcountyfoundation.org/LCA21.