Kerry Gawalt and Stephen Leslie, who operate Cedar Mountain Farm in Hartland, are Northeast Region finalists for the 2022 Leopold Conservation Award, the winner to be announced in a few weeks, according to a letter from the sponsor, leopoldconservationaward.org.
The prize is a $10,000 grant and a crystal award.
Conservation organizations that sponsor the award include Sand County Foundation, New England Forestry Foundation, Wildlands + Woodlands, and the American Farm Trust. The Leopold Conservation award is named for Aldo Leopold, whose 1949 book, A Sand County Almanac, outlined what became modern conservation ideas and methods. The first award was made in 2003.
The Cedar Mountain couple, who first met while working on a dairy farm in the Upper Hudson Valley, share finalist status with Bread and Butter Farm in Shelburne, Vermont and Wheel-View Farm in Shelburne, Massachusetts. It’s the second time Cedar Mountain has been a finalist. The sponsor urged them to renew their eight-page application a second year. The application also requires three letters of recommendation.
Cedar Mountain operates on 60 acres within the 260-acre conservation land developed by Donella Meadows as an “intentional community” with group housing, meals and cooperative sustainability organization. Leslie said they are milking 30 cows at present, and produce grass-fed beef and free-range chickens.
In 2017 Cedar Mountain was named “Top Farm in Vermont” by the USDA’s National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and was runner-up as “Vermont’s Dairy Farm of the Year” in 2013.
Gawalt and Leslie have long been advocates for environmentally friendly farming, including no-till agriculture production, climate change mitigation and accommodation, and soil health.
“We see it as non-violent direct action for conservation,” Leslie told the Mountain Times.
If they win, Gawalt said they have a long list of investments for the prize money, including upgrades and glass cases for their popular farm stand, and an automatic watering system for their cows.
“That’s farming,” Leslie said. “If you get your hands on any extra money, you pour it right back into your farm.”
Lance Irving, national program director for the organization, said the Leopold award “recognizes and celebrates extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation by private landowners”.
By Curt Peterson