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Ward & Rosie Burroughs, Burroughs Family of Farms Receives California Leopold Conservation Award

Ward and Rosie Burroughs, and the Burroughs Family of Farms have been selected as the recipient of the 2020 California Leopold Conservation Award®.

Given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, the award recognizes farmers, ranchers and forestland owners who inspire others with their dedication to water quality, soil health and wildlife habitat management on private, working land.

In California, the prestigious award is presented annually by Sand County Foundation, American Farmland Trust, Sustainable Conservation and the California Farm Bureau Federation.

The Burroughs were revealed as this year’s recipient during the California Farm Bureau Federation’s virtual Annual Meeting. The Denair area farm family receives $10,000 and a crystal award for being selected.

Ward and Rosie Burroughs and their children are co-owners of five diversified, sustainable farms in Stanislaus County that produce organic almonds, beef, chicken and eggs, dairy, olives and hay. Exceeding organic standards, the family continually refines and enhances their systems to reduce water use and improve soil fertility. This system prioritizes biodiversity, and seeks to replenish groundwater aquifers, as well as enhance watershed and ecosystem health, while supporting their growing and diverse family enterprises.

“California’s environment and communities are facing some challenges, not the least of which are a global pandemic and another year of destructive wildfires,” said Ashley Boren, Chief Executive Officer of Sustainable Conservation, which has co-sponsored the award since its launch in California in 2006. “The Burroughs family’s efforts to incorporate sustainability into every level of their operation is a testament to their willingness to experiment, adapt and craft new solutions. California agriculture sustains our state, our country and the globe, and families like the Burroughs model the forward-thinking conservation and environmental ethos we need not just to survive, but to thrive.”

“We appreciate the opportunity to join with the Sand County Foundation, Sustainable Conservation and American Farmland Trust in recognizing the daily efforts of California’s farmers and ranchers to protect and enhance our working landscapes and natural resources,” said Jamie Johannson, California Farm Bureau President. “The Burroughs family is to be commended for their diligent efforts in this regard. They well deserve acknowledgement of their good work through the Leopold Conservation Award.”

“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, 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.”

“Recipients of 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.”

Earlier this year, California farmers, ranchers and forestland owners were encouraged to apply (or be nominated) for the award. Applications were reviewed by an independent panel of agricultural and conservation leaders.

Among the many outstanding landowners nominated for the award were finalists: Philip Verwey Farms of Hanford in Kings County, and Stemple Creek Ranch of Tomales in Marin County. The 2019 recipient was Rominger Brothers Farms of Winters.

The Leopold Conservation Award is made possible thanks to generous contributions from American Farmland Trust, Sand County Foundation, Sustainable Conservation, California Farm Bureau Federation, Farm Credit, The Harvey L. & Maud C. Sorenson Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, McDonald’s and California Leopold Conservation Award alumni.

For more information on the award, visit


There are family farms, and there are farm families. Then there’s the Burroughs Family of Farms.

“Family of farms” refers a unique business partnership of three siblings (and their spouses) working with their parents. These interconnected farms are co-managed by Ward and Rosie Burroughs with their children: Zeb and Meridith Burroughs, Christina and Brian Bylsma, and Benina and Heriberto Montes.

Ward and Rosie took over his father’s conventional dairy and beef farm 45 years ago. Today, the Burroughs produce and market grass-based meats and eggs, organic olive oil, raw organic almonds and gouda style cheese made with organic milk. Using sustainable management strategies and conservation practices, they’ve thrived despite market challenges and growing pressures on California’s natural resources.

One of the ways they protect and enhance the soil, air and water is by growing cover crops. Continuous ground cover with alternative crops suppresses weeds, improves soil structure, sequesters carbon and attracts beneficial insects and native pollinators. For organic crop production, it also provides nitrogen in lieu of chemical fertilizers.

The symbiotic relationship of soil, grass and animals is maximized on their three dairy farms through rotational grazing. Pastures are quickly grazed then given three weeks of rest. When cattle are responsible for “harvesting” their own feed, costs of labor, equipment and fuel are reduced. The Burroughs rotate cattle and chickens through orchards at specific times of the year to graze on cover crops rather than mowing or using chemicals. Applying their nutrient-rich manure directly to the soil is another benefit of this uncommon, but innovative practice.

Another way the Burroughs convert waste products into soil fertility is by creating compost for cropland from dairy manure and dried onion and garlic skins, which increase carbon in the compost.

French drains are installed in boggy areas of pastures to channel excess water into holding ponds. The water is later recycled to irrigate pastures during the summer. This reduces manure runoff from pastures during heavy rains. Erosion is also reduced by planting hedgerows of rosemary, lavender, butterfly bush and other native grasses around crops. The hedgerows also provide windbreaks, attract beneficial insects, and act as a barrier to keep out unwanted chemicals from neighboring farms.

The Burroughs’ investments in conservation have bolstered biodiversity, renewable energy and wildlife habitat on their farms. They work with a biologist who collects native grass and wildflower seeds (including blue wild rye, pine bluegrass and California poppy) and assists with restoration plantings on their owned and leased land. Solar energy powers most of their irrigation for almond groves.

As the Burroughs Family of Farms transitions to its fourth generation, they credit conservation with buffering their diversified and thriving farms against the vagaries of climate change and water availability. As they work to replenish aquifers and improve ecosystem health, they are proud to promote the preservation of California’s farmland.

As they share their land ethic with their children and their customers, the Burroughs consider themselves blessed to be independent, yet collaborating with each other to create something larger than they could have created on their own.



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.


The California Farm Bureau Federation works to protect family farms and ranches on behalf of nearly 34,000 members statewide and as part of a nationwide network of more than 5.5 million Farm Bureau members.


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