The Choiniere Family Farm in Highgate Center has won the 2021 New England Leopold Conservation Award, named after influential conservationist Aldo Leopold.
Dairy farmers Guy and Beth Choiniere received $10,000 and a crystal award.
Leopold’s 1949 book, “A Sand County Almanac,” is a seminal work in the conservation movement, calling for an ethical relationship between people and the land they own and manage.
The Choiniere farm, located four miles from Canada, has been in the family since 1945, and includes 242 acres of farmland and 70 acres of woodland. The Rock River and its tributaries cross the farm.
Guy Choiniere’s parents, Henry and Raymonde, placed a conservation easement on the land and sold its development rights before transferring the farm to Guy Choiniere and his wife, Beth, in the 1990s. A generation later, Guy and Beth Choiniere’s children, Matt and Hannah, farm with them, selling beef, milk, pork, chicken, eggs, honey and baked goods at a store on their farm.
Keeping nutrients out of the river
After taking over the farm, Guy Choiniere began addressing environmental issues with assistance from the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. The plan he developed remains a work in progress today.
To prevent soil erosion and improve water quality, the Choinieres planted 5,000 trees along the banks of the Rock River, and conveyed a 51-acre river corridor easement that designates an area where the river can meander naturally. The land can still be farmed in the corridor, but the river will not be dredged. There is also a permanent 50-foot buffer along 12,000 feet of the river’s bank that is naturally vegetated.
Choiniere also switched from conventional liquid manure storage to a compost bedded pack system to keep nutrients on the farm and out of the river, where they could do damage. During the winter, the cows are fed hay in large hoop bars designed to mimic being in the pasture. Excess hay provides bedding and catches manure before being trod down into compost.
When the cows start grazing again in May, pigs are let into the bars to root around and speed along the composting process before it’s spread on the fields as fertilizer. Choiniere helps other dairies implement the same system for handling manure.
“Recipients of this award are real life examples of conservation-minded agriculture,” Kevin McAleese, Sand County Foundation president and chief executive officer, said in a news release. “These hard-working families are essential to our environment, food system and rural economy.”
The Sand County Foundation presents the Leopold Conservation Award annually in 23 states, together with other conservation, agricultural and forestry organizations.
In New England, the award is presented with New England Forestry Foundation; Wildlands, Woodlands, Farmlands and Communities; and American Farmland Trust – New England.
By Dan D’Ambrosio, Burlington Free Press
Contact at 660-1841 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DanDambrosioVT. This coverage is only possible with support from our readers.