Wheel-View Farm of Shelburne, Massachusetts has been selected as the recipient of the 2022 New England Leopold Conservation Award.
Given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, the prestigious award recognizes those who inspire others with their dedication to land, water and wildlife resources in their care. John and Carolyn Wheeler, the owners and operators of Wheel-View Farm, receive $10,000 and a crystal award for being selected.
Sand County Foundation and national sponsor American Farmland Trust present the Leopold Conservation Award to private landowners in 24 states for extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation. In New England the award is presented with New England Forestry Foundation; Wildlands, Woodlands, Farmlands & Communities; and American Farmland Trust-New England.
“Aldo Leopold was a farmer, forester and revered conservationist educated right here in New England,” said Robert Perschel, Executive Director of the New England Forestry Foundation. “Since most of our farms include both agricultural land and forest land it is fitting that the Wheelers were selected as this year’s honorees of this legacy.”
“We are pleased to present this award to Wheel-View Farm and the entire Wheeler family. I am thrilled that a diversified farm so devoted to conservation agriculture, and the community has been chosen,” said Nathan L’Etoile, New England Director of American Farmland Trust. “Their commitment to the land, their community, and agriculture is a prime example of what New England farmers are upholding each and every day.”
“These award recipients are examples of how Aldo Leopold’s land ethic is alive and well today. Their dedication to conservation shows how individuals can improve the health of the land while producing food and fiber,” said Kevin McAleese, Sand County Foundation President and CEO.
“As the national sponsor for Sand County Foundation’s Leopold Conservation Award, American Farmland Trust celebrates the hard work and dedication of the Wheelers,” said John Piotti, AFT President and CEO. “At AFT we believe that conservation in agriculture requires a focus on the land, the practices and the people and this award recognizes the integral role of all three.”
Earlier this year, owners of forestland and farmland in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont were encouraged to apply (or be nominated) for the award. Applications were reviewed by an independent panel of agricultural and forestry conservation leaders.
The New England Leopold Conservation Award is made possible through the generous support of American Farmland Trust, New England Forestry Foundation; Wildlands, Woodlands, Farmlands and Communities; Sand County Foundation, Farm Credit East, David and Ann Ingram, and the Yale School of the Environment.
To view all of the recipients chosen for the New England Leopold Conservation Award since 2019, visit www.sandcountyfoundation.org/NewEngland.
In his influential 1949 book, A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold called for an ethical relationship between people and the land they own and manage. He wrote it was “an evolutionary possibility and an ecological necessity.”
Sand County Foundation presents the Leopold Conservation Award annually in 24 states with a variety of conservation, agricultural and forestry organizations. For more information on the award, visit www.leopoldconservationaward.org.
About Wheel-View Farm
John and Carolyn Wheeler have deep roots in more ways than one.
As kids they roamed pastures and forests looking for wildlife and exploring rocks, trees and vernal pools. They grew up on neighboring hilltop farms near a town named Shelburne.
Before Shelburne got its name, locals called it Deerfield North Pasture. Unlike the fertile, flat fields of nearby Deerfield, this hilly area has always been deemed better for grazing.
John and Carolyn’s career paths and their plans for Wheel-View Farm took unplanned and unpredictable turns, but their focus has always been to use the land as it’s best suited.
Before buying a dairy farm from Carolyn’s parents in 1979, they milked cows with John’s family early in their married life. After selling the herd in 1988, John and Carolyn got off-farm jobs in teaching and insurance, and completed master’s degrees. They raised cut flowers and bulbs for commercial markets in New York and Boston, and rented their pastures to a neighboring dairy in the 1990s.
The Wheelers bought a few Scottish Highland cattle in 2002 with plans to sell grass-fed beef. John and Carolyn both had studied integrated pest management and knew keeping their pastures clear of invasive species would be a constant struggle. They sought cost-share assistance through the Grasslands Reserves Program to remove overgrown juniper, barberry, and pine trees.
Some areas had to be cleared using bulldozers. Wood chips were used as mulch to cover the soil’s surface and prevent erosion. Lime was spread and a mix of grasses and clover was seeded on the pastures. The Wheelers still rely on a Bush Hog, hand-mowing and judicious use of herbicides to stem the spread of spread of multi-flora roses and barberry bushes.
Today, cattle graze grassy areas where junipers once stood. John and Carolyn’s rotational grazing system improves pastures with natural fertilizer from cattle, and by leaving enough grass standing to ensure it grows back quickly and stays productive. To prevent erosion, the area used as pasture during the winter is harrowed and reseeded after it becomes muddy and roughed up by hooves.
The Wheelers diversified their farm’s income stream after buying a nearby peach and apple orchard. As neighboring farms became available, John and Carolyn purchased them to grow more hay for their growing beef herd. The beef business grew from a few cattle to 180 head in just a few years. The Wheelers sell beef to stores and restaurants, and via mail-order. They also sell direct to consumers from an on-farm store built in a shed.
Welcoming and educating visitors to the farm comes naturally to John and Carolyn. Both maintained teaching careers and advocated for conservation and agricultural causes during their farm’s evolution.
They have always viewed themselves as temporary caretakers of Wheel-View Farm. Carolyn’s ancestors settled in Shelburne in 1896, John’s came before them in 1752. With an eye to the farm’s future, about a third of their 350 acres have been enrolled in an agricultural preservation program. When eligible, these land stewards intend to apply for all of the farm to not be developed and remain in agriculture for perpetuity. Just as you’d expect in an area once called Deerfield North Pasture.