The past few weeks I have had the opportunity to travel and interview the winners of the Ohio Conservation Farm Family Award for 2010. You will be able to read a profile of the farms in the September issue. The winning families will be honored at Farm Science Review Sept. 23 at the Lawrence G. Vance Soil and Water Conservation Park. The program was started in 1984 by Andy Stevens who was the Ohio Farmer editor at the time and Larry Vance, who was the chief of the Division of Soil and Water Conservation at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
At first it was called the Conservation Farmer Award. When I became editor in 1991 and toured the winning farms for the first time, I was impressed by the fact that conservation was not something that these folks did for one year. The contours, waterways, filter strips, stream fencing, heavy-use pads, wildlife areas, drainage systems, woodlands and conservation reserve areas had taken several lifetimes to install. Stewardship for them was a way of life that had been passed along from their parents and grandparents. It was something that the next generation was putting to work as part of their production practices and business ethic. It was not the work of one conservation farmer.
It seemed to me that it would be more appropriate to call it the Conservation Farm Family Award and Larry Vance was quick to agree. I’ve got to admit, the title doesn’t fit into headlines as handily, but I still think it’s a more accurate description.
This year’s winners are no exception. In the sweltering heat of the July sun, the Welch family gathered around me in the shade in front of the family homestead established in 1867. One by one the sons and daughters told their tales of picking up rocks and clearing brush. Their grandson chimed in with a story about waving a National Guard helicopter away from the manure lagoon, which apparently looked like a nice place for an emergency landing from the air.
It was just as hot when I visited Stanley and Joann Moore and their family in Harrison County and heard about how the Soil and Water District’s supervisors had just toured the farm to see what eight generations had accomplished with pasture rotation, feeding pads and watering. The family’s fit to the land is summed up so well by Rick Moore’s favorite line, “We are livin’ dream.”
I enjoyed a cooler morning seated at the kitchen table with Martha Gerber Rittinger and her grandson Ethan Gill. She told me about the time she spent as a young woman helping her grandfather and keeping records for his farm. She said she had learned about farming from being around him and conservation was always a part of the way he worked.
Gail Keck interviewed the Kinney family from Logan County and John Buck from Marion County. Both of them talked about the things they had learned from their fathers and grandfathers. Like the others they also added their own work to help preserve the land they farm.
We asked each of these farms to sum up their conservation philosophies. It comes as no surprise that all of them mentioned the value of passing along the land to the next generation in a little bit better condition than it was when they took over.
Conservation is a family affair.