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Good stewards

January/February 2018 California Bountiful magazine

Award recognizes farmers for commitment to conservation



Few people are connected more closely to the earth than farmers and ranchers. And that's just one of the reasons they recognize the value of good stewardship of the land, water and other natural resources under their care.

The Leopold Conservation Award pays tribute to landowner achievements in voluntary conservation and public education. Those considered for the award all work hard to produce the farm products people rely on while protecting the environment for future generations.

The 2017 Leopold Conservation Award was presented posthumously to C. Jeff Thomson of Kern County. Andy and Donny Rollin of Fresno County and Lundberg Family Farms of Butte County were finalists. All are being recognized for their commitment to stewardship and sustained economic viability while also being innovative and active in their communities.

In California, the award is presented by the Sand County Foundation, California Farm Bureau Federation and Sustainable Conservation. The S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation and the Nature Conservancy are major sponsors as well.


Photo: © 2017 Paolo Vescia


C. Jeff Thomson
Thomson International, Kern County

Conserving water and restoring wetlands

As chairman of Thomson International, a grower-shipper-packer of watermelons and onions, and a grower of peppers, potatoes and carrots, C. Jeff Thomson worked the same land his family has farmed since the 1890s. With his children becoming the fifth generation of Thomsons to farm, his wish was to leave a legacy that would continue for future generations, a goal he worked toward until his death last October.

Thomson was noted as a leader in finding innovative ways to conserve on the farm. He was an early adopter of water-saving sprinkler irrigation, switched to subsurface drip tape on certain crops to dramatically reduce water use and turned to soil- moisture probes to gather accurate data on the water needs of plants.

"We've always tried to make each and every drop of water count," Thomson told California Bountiful in 2016, when he was a finalist for that year's award.

Thomson was also an early adopter of integrated pest management, an environmentally friendly approach to pest control.

In addition, Thomson worked to ensure his land was a safe haven for migratory birds. He practiced crop rotation to help provide cover and insects as a food source for a variety of bird species, as well as to improve soils.

"I have had a lifelong mission to enhance the soil and the land we farm," Thomson wrote.

He also served in leadership of the Tulare Basin Wetlands Association and the Tulare Basin Wildlife Partners, working on such projects as restoring acreage to seasonally flooded wetlands to benefit waterfowl and plans to reintroduce tule elk into grassland habitat west of Bakersfield. He established 850 acres of restored wetland on his own property in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and California Department of Fish and Wildlife, where a diverse community of native plants flourishes and provides habitat for huge numbers of birds, including threatened species.


Photo: © 2018 Paolo Vescia


Andy and Donny Rollin
Sweet Haven Dairy/Rollin Valley Farms, Fresno County

Caring for cows and the environment

Third-generation dairy farmers Andy and Donny Rollin take many steps to protect resources on and around their farm, for the well-being of their cows, their own families and their communities.

Their grandfather established Sweet Haven Dairy in the 1920s and their parents moved the 350-cow operation to Riverdale in 1975. Today, the farm milks more than 2,000 cows daily. The brothers run the dairy, now known as Rollin Valley Farms, with a conscious awareness of each step in the cycle of milk production.

"Everything we do for our place is connected," Donny Rollin said. "From the cows to the land to the water to the air, it's one big circle that we try to protect."

The Rollins use the latest research-based practices to grow, harvest and store the corn and wheat grown on the farm for feed, such as utilizing drip irrigation, judiciously applying nutrients and crop treatments, and storing feed with a barrier film that reduces volatile gases from escaping into the environment.

The dairy is the first in California to use a new solar-powered technology for heating the water used in sanitizing milking equipment. The brothers also employ an innovative cooling system to keep cows comfortable in hot weather by spraying them intermittently with water, which reduces the water used by 50 percent.

"I love making the cows happy because they're the best recyclers there are," Andy Rollin said. "They eat a lot of things that would otherwise go to a landfill and in turn produce a natural product."


Photo: © 2018 Paolo Vescia


Lundberg Family
Lundberg Family Farms, Butte County

Providing a safe haven for birds

The Lundberg family has grown rice in California for more than 80 years, since Albert and Frances Lundberg moved here from Nebraska. The next generation, brothers Eldon, Wendell, Harlan and Homer Lundberg, founded the Lundberg Family Farms brand in 1969 to begin selling rice and packaged foods directly to customers.

Informed by family experiences with the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, the company has been conservation-minded since its inception. Much of their land is farmed using organic production methods, and they have invested in solar power and achieved a nearly 100 percent diversion-from-landfill rate for farm waste. With an eye toward improving soil health and air quality, the company tills the rice straw left behind after harvest into the soil.

The company also uses winter cover crops to improve soils and provide habitat for nesting waterfowl. Since the 1980s, Lundberg Family Farms has worked with several partners to collect duck eggs in the fields before the start of spring fieldwork, so the eggs can be hatched, resulting in the release of 30,000 ducks into the wild. The company also preserves the environment for millions of migratory waterfowl that find food and shelter in the rice fields each year.

Though the company has grown steadily, it's their impact on the future that the family hopes is their legacy.

"It's not the numbers that people remember, but what kind of human you are and what kind of effect you had in your community," Homer Lundberg said. "We've always believed in leaving the world better than you found it."

Tracy Sellers and Shannon Springmeyer 


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