Matunuck Oyster Farm’s Perry Raso is one of five finalists for the first annual New England Leopold Conservation Award, for business owners who inspire others with their dedication to ethical land, water and wildlife habitat management.
This is the first year the $10,000 award will be presented. It will be awarded during The Eastern States Exposition (The Big E) in September in West Springfield, Massachusetts.
Raso is one of the new breed of oyster farmers who study the science of the sea. He has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Rhode Island in aquaculture and fisheries technology.
But there is no substitute for getting your hands dirty. Raso founded Matunuck Oyster Farm in 2002 on a seven-acre commercial aquaculture lease, on Potter Pond in East Matunuck, and opened his shellfish hatchery there.
He was nominated for the conservation award for educating others on the environmental benefits of shellfish aquaculture: Oysters remove nitrogen-containing particles from water, which increases the oxygen available for other living things.
Raso also operates Matunuck Vegetable Farm, which, like the oyster farm, supplies his popular South Kingstown restaurant, Matunuck Oyster Bar.
Sand County Foundation, the New England Forestry Foundation, and American Farmland Trust-New England will give the award, named in honor of conservationist Aldo Leopold. His 1949 book, “A Sand County Almanac,” called for an ethical relationship between people and the land they own and manage.
The other finalists are:
Guy Choiniere of Highgate Center, Vermont. His Choiniere Family Farm has conservation practices that build healthy soils and protect water quality. The certified-organic dairy farm uses an innovative compost bedding system for its grass-fed cattle. In addition to a 50-foot vegetated buffer along the farm’s frontage with the Rock River, Choiniere has planted 5,000 trees to reduce soil erosion. Keeping nutrients on the farm and out of the river benefits water quality and the farm’s financial viability.
Steve and Lora Goss, of Pike, New Hampshire. Their StoneFen Farm uses regenerative grazing and stockpiling practices to raise grass-fed beef cattle. They worked with federal, state and local conservation agencies to reduce runoff into the Connecticut River by installing grassed waterways and concrete low-water crossings. They used prescribed thinning and harvesting to create a productive forest. The couple, who farm with their son and his wife, have also planted a habitat for pollinator insects.
Bill Hull, of Pomfret Center, Connecticut. Hull is a leader in forest management, timber harvesting, and the manufacturing and marketing of wood products. He has pieced together an extensive land holding in multiple states since buying his first woodlot as a teen. He founded Hull Forest Products, Inc., whose mission is to preserve working forests, grow trees, and manufacture wood products and sustainable building materials. His forests provide bird and wildlife habitat, and stimulate the rural economy.
Linda Rinta, of West Wareham, Massachusetts. Rinta grows cranberries, blueberries and beach grass at her family’s third-generation farm. Water usage has been reduced on her farm with a renovated irrigation system. She has advocated for providing pollinator habitats beside cranberry bogs and solar arrays. Rinta raises honey bees and has planted acres of habitat for insect pollinators and native bees. Cape American Beachgrass is grown as a nursery product on the farm’s wetlands and sandy areas.
The finalists “highlight the work our farmers, foresters, and forestland owners are doing every day to protect land, provide clean water and air, combat climate change and produce safe, wholesome, high quality food and fiber for their communities,” Nathan W. L’Etoile, New England director of American Farmland Trust, said in a news release.
“For New England’s inaugural Leopold Conservation Award, we’re pleased the finalists represent not only a variety of land-use types but also geographies, with properties ranging in location from coastal Rhode Island to far northern Vermont,” said Bob Perschel, New England Forestry Foundation executive director, in a news release.
Earlier this year, owners of forestland and farmland in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont were encouraged to apply (or were nominated) for the award. Applications were reviewed by an independent panel of agricultural and forestry conservation leaders.
For more information on the award, visit leopoldconservaitonaward.org.