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Finalists for 2020 California Leopold Conservation Award Selected

Three finalists have been selected for the 2020 California 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.

In California, Sand County Foundation presents the award with American Farmland Trust, and state partners: Sustainable Conservation and the California Farm Bureau Federation.

The finalists are:

  • Burroughs Family Farms of Denair in Stanislaus County. Ward and Rose Marie Burroughs and their children raise dairy and beef cattle, poultry, eggs, almonds and olives. They have transitioned all of their operations to meet certified organic standards. They continually refine their systems to reduce water use, improve soil fertility, and increase biodiversity. Rotationally grazing cattle and chickens in their orchards to feed on cover crops (rather than mowing or using herbicides) is one way they work to create one holistic, interrelated system of farming. They’ve hosted a variety of on-farm research projects, including studying the carbon-sequestration benefits of reincorporating almond hulls back into orchards after processing.
  • Philip Verwey Farms of Hanford in Kings County. Philip and Shelley Verwey’s 9,500-cow dairy farm conserves water and energy while producing milk and electricity. Water is used several times to chill milk tanks, clean the barn and parlor, and provide the herd’s drinking needs, thanks to a watering recycling system. A covered-lagoon manure digester generates electricity for the farm’s buildings, irrigation wells and 3,000 area homes. Replacing diesel-powered feed mixers with electric mixing stations increased efficiency while reducing air emissions. The Verweys are working toward a goal of becoming a net-zero carbon dairy farm. They have also dedicated habitat for native vegetation, trees, and birds.
  • Stemple Creek Ranch of Tomales in Marin County. Loren and Lisa Poncia raise organic, grass-finished beef and lamb and pastured pork. They have planted more than 10,000 trees and installed five miles of fencing to protect riparian areas from livestock. Rotational grazing, conducted with movable fencing and solar pumps to move water into holding tanks, builds organic matter and carbon in the soil. The ranch provides habitat for over 50 species of birds, owls, ducks and bees. Stemple Creek Ranch was among the first demonstration sites for the Marin Carbon Project, a 10-year study of carbon positive practices. The sustainable and profitable ranch has hosted hundreds of educational tours for those interested in their ranching and conservation efforts.

The Leopold Conservation Award will be presented during the California Farm Bureau Federation’s Annual Meeting in December. The award recipient will receive $10,000 and a crystal award.

“This past year has highlighted California’s ongoing and intense need for innovation, on-the-ground solutions to boost our water supplies and revitalize our land,” said Ashley Boren, Chief Executive Officer of Sustainable Conservation, which has co-sponsored the award since its launch in California more than a decade ago. “The Poncias, Verweys and Burroughs have worked tirelessly to address our most pressing environmental issues, often without a blueprint to follow. We’re honored to recognize each family’s significant stewardship work, and all are deserving of the award.”

“Congratulations to this year’s Leopold Conservation Award finalists for showing how California farms and ranches of all types and sizes employ care and stewardship in producing crops, dairy foods and animal products,” said Jamie Johansson, California Farm Bureau Federation President.

“Finalists for this award are real life examples of conservation-minded agriculture,” said Kevin McAleese, Sand County Foundation President and Chief Executive Officer. “These hard-working families are essential to our environment, food system and rural economy.”

“As the national sponsor for Sand County Foundation’s Leopold Conservation Award, American Farmland Trust, celebrates the hard work and dedication of the California award finalists,” said John Piotti, American Farmland Trust 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, farmers, ranchers and foresters were encouraged to apply (or be nominated) for the award. Applications were reviewed by an independent panel of agricultural, forestry, wildlife, academic, and other conservation leaders.

The first California Leopold Conservation Award recipient, Lange Twins Wine Estates of Lodi, was selected in 2006. Rominger Brothers Farm Inc. of Winters received the award in 2019.

The Leopold Conservation Award in California is made possible thanks to the generous support of American Farmland Trust, Sand County Foundation, Sustainable Conservation, California Farm Bureau Federation, Farm Credit, The Nature Conservancy in California, The Harvey L. & Maud C. Sorensen Foundation, McDonald’s, and California LCA recipient alumni.

In his influential 1949 book, A Sand County Almanac, Leopold called for an ethical relationship between people and the land they own and manage, which he called “an evolutionary possibility and an ecological necessity.”

Sand County Foundation presents the Leopold Conservation Award to private landowners in 21 states for extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation. For more information, visit

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The Leopold Conservation Award is a competitive award that recognizes landowner achievement in voluntary conservation. Sand County Foundation presents the award in California, Colorado, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin, and in New England (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont).


Sand County Foundation inspires and enables a growing number of private landowners to ethically manage natural resources in their care, so future generations have clean and abundant water, healthy soil to support agriculture and forestry, plentiful habitat for wildlife and opportunities for outdoor recreation.


American Farmland Trust is the only national organization that takes a holistic approach to agriculture, focusing on the land itself, the agricultural practices used on that land, and the farmers and ranchers who do the work. AFT launched the conservation agriculture movement and continues to raise public awareness through its No Farms, No Food message. Since its founding in 1980, AFT has helped permanently protect over 6.5 million acres of agricultural lands, advanced environmentally sound farming practices on millions of additional acres, and supported thousands of farm families. Learn more at


Sustainable Conservation helps California thrive by uniting people to solve the toughest challenges facing California’s land, air and water. Since 1993, it has brought together business, landowners and government to steward the resources that we all depend on in ways that are just and make economic sense. Sustainable Conservation believes common ground is California's most important resource.


The California Farm Bureau Federation works to protect family farms and ranches on behalf of more than 40,000 members statewide and as part of a nationwide network of more than 5.5 million Farm Bureau members.