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Four Finalists Selected for New York AEM-Leopold Conservation Award

New York State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball announced that four finalists have been selected for New York’s Agricultural Environmental Management (AEM)-Leopold Conservation Award. New York’s longstanding AEM Award partnered with the nationally recognized Leopold Conservation Award® program in 2020 to honor a farm and its nominating Soil and Water Conservation District for their efforts to promote and protect the environment through the preservation of soil and water quality while helping to ensure farm viability for future generations.

Commissioner Ball said, “New York State is a leader in the fight against climate change nationwide, and our farmers are key in helping us to progress toward our climate goals while protecting our land and water and growing food for families to put on the table. The four finalists selected for this year’s AEM-Leopold Conservation Award exemplify the best of what we see across our state, who are leading the way in implementing conservation practices on their farms and in their communities. I congratulate our finalists and thank them for inspiring others in the agricultural community in New York to follow their lead.”

Kevin McAleese, Sand County Foundation President and Chief Executive Officer said, “These award finalists 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.”

Given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, the Leopold Conservation Award (LCA) recognizes farmers, ranchers and forestland owners who inspire others with their dedication to land, water, and wildlife habitat management on working land. The award is presented to landowners in 24 states.

Awarded in partnership with the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, the AEM-LCA award honors a farm and its nominating Soil and Water Conservation District for their efforts to promote and protect the environment through the preservation of soil and water quality while helping to ensure farm viability for future generations.

The finalists for the 0222 AEM-Leopold Conservation Award are:

  • Echo Farm of Essex in Essex County: Dillon Klepetar’s Echo Farm grows a variety of livestock, fruits, and vegetables to support a food service catering company headquartered at the 173-acre farm. Echo Farm has partnered with the Essex County Soil and Water Conservation District, including participation in AEM and the Climate Resilient Farming Program, and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS), to implement no-till crop farming, prescribed rotational grazing, water management practices, and other carbon-sequestering methods to grow fertile soils and regenerative landscapes. Land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program provides habitat for a variety of birds and wildlife. Echo Farm’s soil conservation efforts on the land have additionally improved angling opportunities in nearby waterways.
  • Greenfield Farms, LLC of Skaneateles in Onondaga County: The Greenfields are fourth-generation farmers growing 1,400 acres of corn, soybeans, hay, wheat, and oats. Located in the Skaneateles and Owasco Lake watersheds, Greenfield Farms has worked with the Skaneateles Lake Watershed Agricultural Program (SLWAP) and the Onondaga County Soil and Water Conservation District to adopt systems of conservations practices involving nutrient management, no-till, cover crops, buffers, basins, and waterways, to improve nutrient cycling, reduce erosion, and build soil health. The Greenfields have been volunteer leaders in the community for years, including their work in building SLWAP in the early 1990s, lending their experience and guidance to fellow farmers about AEM planning and adopting conservation practices, and sharing their farm example widely with watershed neighbors through outreach about agriculture and environmental management.
  • Humbert Farms of Clyde in Wayne County: Mark and Lisa Humbert have been leading by example and working with industry partners, the Wayne County Soil and Water Conservation District, and USDA-NRCS to advance nutrient management and soil health with their corn, soybean, and wheat crops for years. Buffer strips, cover crops, and reduced tillage all help with their goal of not allowing soil to leave their 3,500 acre farm by air or water. Through these practices, the Humberts avoid unnecessary applications of fertilizers, make the most of nutrients and organic matter from manure imported from neighboring farms, bolster soil health, and improve crop yields. The Humberts have also hosted several demonstration days and trainings with the Wayne County Soil and Water Conservation District and USDA-NRCS.
  • Lawnhurst Farms of Stanley in Ontario County: The Jensen family utilizes conservation crop rotations, vertical tillage, cover crops, and drag-hose manure incorporation to improve soil health, reduce compaction, recycle nutrients, and prevent erosion on 2,300 acres of cropland that support their 1,800-cow dairy. The farm’s anaerobic digester turns manure and other organic waste into enough electricity to power 420 homes per day while mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. Many of these advancements have been aided by the Ontario County Soil and Water Conservation District, the Cornell Pro-Dairy Program, and industry partners. Further, Lawnhurst Farms frequently hosts tours for local elementary schools and collegiate environmental science students.

Earlier this year, New York State Soil and Water Conservation Districts were encouraged to identify and nominate the best examples of conservation success in their district. Applications were reviewed by an independent panel of agricultural and conservation leaders.

Sand County Foundation, a national nonprofit conservation organization, will present the $10,000 cash award with the support of New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, American Farmland Trust, Cornell Cooperative Extension, The Ida and Robert Gordon Family Foundation, Farm Credit East, New York State Agribusiness Association, Audubon New York, and USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Dale Stein, New York State Soil and Water Conservation Committee Chair said, “I'd like to congratulate our four finalists and their Soil and Water Conservation Districts for being recognized as environmental and agricultural leaders in New York State. The AEM-Leopold Conservation Award celebrates the very best in conservation and environmental stewardship, and showcases farms that are using AEM best management practices to make changes to their farms to meet the challenges of climate change and sustainability. I look forward to honoring our finalists and winners later this summer.”

John Piotti, American Farmland Trust President and Chief Executive Officer said, “As the national sponsor for Sand County Foundation’s Leopold Conservation Award, American Farmland Trust celebrates the hard work and dedication of the New York award finalists. 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.”

The annual award will be presented later this summer. The farm honored will also be featured in a video promoting their award-winning conservation practices.

The first recipient of the New York AEM-Leopold Conservation Award was Sang Lee Farms of Peconic in Suffolk County. Last year’s recipient was Table Rock Farm of Castile in Wyoming County.

For more information on the award, visit



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


New York State’s annual Agricultural Environmental Management Award winners are chosen from nominees submitted by County Soil and Water Conservation Districts from around the state. The first Agricultural Environmental Management Award was presented in 2002; prior to that, the award was known as the Agricultural Stewardship Award. New York State’s AEM framework is a model for the nation as a voluntary, incentive-based approach to protect natural resources and meet the economic needs of the agricultural community.


Sand County Foundation inspires and empowers 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.