Roger Wayne Wolfe, from Baltimore, passed away last week at the age 77. He loved farming, his family and sharing his passion for the soil. He was a neighbor, a friend and mentor to me.
If Hugh Hammond Bennett (1881-1913) is the Father of Soil Conservation and Louis Bromfield (1896-1956) is Conservation’s Prophet on Mt. Jeez, then Roger Wolfe (1936 -2013) is Fairfield County’s Farmland Evangelist on the Mounds.
And what a conversation those three are likely having on Heaven’s Golden Plains today. While Roger might not have had the national recognition of the other two, I can guarantee you he is holding his own in this discussion. I suspect Bennett and Bromfield are listening in amazement as he tells them how he left his farmland in a permanent agricultural easement or how his son Michael is using ridge tillage to minimize soil erosion and build organic matter or how farmers in Ohio are adopting cover crops and no-till and wash cobs and filters trips and buffers and CRP.
Take it from one who has held many a discussion with him -- to know Roger was to be a good listener. Most of the time his visits to my office or weekly phones calls would begin to end this way, “We’ll I have taken way too much of your time, but I think it’s very important that we spend time talking about these matters and that reminds me of another thing I wanted to tell you…”
Even his daughter Rev. Alice Wolfe couldn’t avoid the subject in her eulogy of her father at the funeral. “Dad was a talker. In fact he was the only person I know who had the telemarketers hang up on him.”
When he came by to visit, Roger always brought me a file or two with his latest research findings on soil erosion or drainage or prime farmland losses. I soon filled a drawer with Roger’s files and now I have two drawers filled with them. These are not just farm magazine articles. These are full-fledged research papers from The Journal of Soil and Water Conservation with titles like “Slope Position and Erosional Effects on Soil Properties and Corn Production on a Miamian Soil in Central Ohio.” Usually there is some yellow highlighter -- on the first few pages at least.
A couple of years ago I gathered some of them up and took them home to him. He brought them all back a few weeks later and reminded me that there was some good information in them that would surely make a useful article for Ohio farmers to read.
As his son Michael said to me at the funeral, “I’m sure Dad left you with some assignments.”
Yes. In particular, a year ago Roger assembled a group of the state’s most distinguished soil scientists to probe the hills of southern Ohio and find out if the erosive farming practices of the state’s earliest settlers had started to be reversed. It was so cold that day I’m sure Joe Steiger’s hands have not yet thawed. Despite the 200 photos and reams of notes I took for the project, Roger was pretty sure we needed to go back again before I wrote anything so we could get a photo to show the gullying that had taken place on one of the slopes.
He so wanted everyone to understand how precious our soil resources are. He was tireless in his efforts to get the word out. He was the master of charts and maps showing how much prime Ohio farmland had been lost to development. He made it his business to provide his soil conservation and preservation displays for many agricultural events. He would also pass out brochures about conservation programs. And he probably distributed more copies of his favorite book “Conquest of Land through Seven Thousand Years,” by W.C. Lowdermilk USDA Soil Conservation Service printed in 1948 than anyone realized there still were in existence.
For his work he was recognized with induction into the Ohio Federation of Soil and Water Conservation Districts’ Hall of Fame. He also received the Ohio Farmland Preservation Ambassador Award from David Daniels, director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, who noted it is the “the highest recognition for preservation efforts given in the state.”
Oh yes, about the mounds. Around 1990 or so Roger decided the best way to demonstrate to farmers how much soil they were losing to erosion was to set up a display at the Division of Soil and Water Conservation Park at Farm Science Review. The display consisted of a series of mounds. One pile showed the amount of erosion that comes from a year of tillage and another from two years. Roger liked the concept so well that he dedicated an acre of his own land to “Mounds of Erosion.” The mounds were huge. Signage detailed how much soil an acre of ground would lose each year and another showed how much soil a farmer could lose in a lifetime of farming.
The mounds were featured on the cover of Ohio Farmer in 1995. Roger posed for the photo with a shrug as if to say, “How else can I show you what we are losing to soil erosion every single day?”
Roger thank you for showing us. Thank you for having the passion and energy to talk our ears off about it. We will all miss you and yes I will get my assignment finished.