Flinchbaugh’s Orchard & Farm Receives Pennsylvania Leopold Conservation Award
January 09, 2023
Watch the Flinchbaugh's inspiring conservation story
Flinchbaugh’s Orchard & Farm of York County is the 2022 recipient of the Pennsylvania Leopold Conservation Award®.
Given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, the prestigious award recognizes farmers, ranchers and forestland owners who inspire others with their dedication to land, water, and wildlife habitat resources in their care.
The Flinchbaugh family was revealed as the award’s recipients at the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg. They receive $10,000 and a crystal award for being selected.
“The Heinz Endowments’ sustainability program promotes community health and vitality through sustainable food systems, and as part of this work we are pleased to cosponsor the Leopold Conservation Award. We believe the Leopold Conservation Award, and the outstanding leadership in agriculture that it recognizes, plays an important role in encouraging the continued growth of Pennsylvania’s sustainable agriculture movement,” said Andrew McElwaine, Vice President of Sustainability for The Heinz Endowments.
“The prestigious Leopold Conservation Award recognizes outstanding agriculturalists committed to ensuring a viable future of the next generation of ag,” said Tom Truitt, Horizon Farm Credit CEO. “We’re honored to partner with the Sand County Foundation on this annual honor, and congratulate Flinchbaugh’s Orchard & Farm for all they are doing to implement innovation practices on their operation.”
“The Flinchbaugh family exemplify Aldo Leopold’s dedication to caring for the land, water, and the ecosystem as a guiding principle in operating their business,” Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said. “They are a shining example of their customers, their neighbors, and their fellow farmers of growing food, and growing a family business in a way that doesn’t sacrifice the resources we all share, but prioritizes conserving and improving those resources for the future.”
“The Flinchbaugh family provides us with a comprehensive example of how farmers build upon their environmental stewardship successes. The Flinchbaughs have taken the lead in conservation practices and continue to serve as an example of environmentally and community-minded innovation,” said Pennsylvania Farm Bureau President Chris Hoffman. “The commitment to being good stewards and good neighbors shines through in their overall success of their orchard and farm.”
“Recipients of this award 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 Flinchbaugh family,” 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.”
Pennsylvania landowners were encouraged to apply (or be nominated) for the award in early 2022. Applications were reviewed by an independent panel of agricultural and conservation leaders.
Among the many outstanding Pennsylvania landowners nominated for the award were finalists: Dotterer Farms of Mill Hall in Clinton County, and Troy Firth of Spartansburg in Crawford County. The 2021 Pennsylvania Leopold Conservation Award was presented to Brubaker Farms of Mount Joy in Lancaster County.
The Leopold Conservation Award in Pennsylvania is made possible thanks to the generous support of American Farmland Trust, The Heinz Endowments, Horizon Farm Credit, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, Sand County Foundation, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, EDPR NA Distributed Generation, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts, and The Nature Conservancy.
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 25 states for extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation. For more information, visit www.leopoldconservationaward.org.
When it comes to conservation and commerce, Flinchbaugh’s Orchard & Farm is an agricultural showcase.
A retail farm market, picnic pavilion, and seasonal events attract thousands of visitors. While there, three generations of Flinchbaughs educate their guests on how conservation benefits their food, water, and environment.
Cover crops, grass buffers, no-till practices, and precision agriculture technology are central to how their crop fields and orchards are managed. Siblings Mike and Andrew Flinchbaugh, and Julie Keene, are continuing the stewardship practices begun by their recently retired parents, Ritchie and Sonia.
The Flinchbaughs have long partnered with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service to conserve water, soil, and energy resources on their farm and on leased cropland. They grow 2,000 acres of corn, soybeans, wheat, hay, and milo, and another 52 acres of specialty crops: fruit, pumpkins, tomatoes, and flowers. For decades the family has leased cropland at the historic, county-owned Horn Farm, where they help provide public educational opportunities at the Horn Farm Center for Agricultural Education.
To improve their soil, the Flinchbaughs became early adopters of no-till farming in the 1980s. No-till mimics a forest floor, with many different layers of organic matter coating and cooling the soil’s surface. Organic matter boosts the soil’s ability to absorb and retain water, limiting runoff from heavy rain and melting snow. Rather than relying solely on manure and fertilizer to stimulate crop growth, no-till increases the amount of soil microbes that cycle nutrients.
The Flinchbaughs also plant a variety of cover crops every fall to increase soil fertility and biodiversity. Keeping living roots in the soil year-round with cover crops of winter rye, winter radishes, and turnips, provides an anchor against soil erosion, while controlling weeds, insect pests, and plant diseases.
Precision agriculture technology is used to maximize production with minimal nutrient application. Fertilizer, seed, and pesticide application is guided by Global Positioning Systems. This technology automatically turns the application equipment on or off to ensure there is no overlap, thereby reducing waste and runoff.
The Flinchbaughs achieve efficiency and resiliency with an Integrated Pest Management program on their specialty crops. The program is an environmentally sensitive approach to managing pests by combining biological, physical, and chemical tools in a way that minimizes economic, health, and environmental risks.
The adoption of high-density apple production is another way the Flinchbaughs are willing to take risks to increase their economic and environmental resiliency. This innovative approach improves fruit quality and labor efficiency. To break into the large grocer market, Flinchbaugh’s Orchard & Farm took the calculated risk of investing in a modern system that supplies increased quality and quantity of apples to supply their buyer’s demands.
To sustainably grow apples and peaches for the retail and wholesale markets, water is conserved using drip irrigation technology. Just as crop fields are rotated to increase soil fertility, the Flinchbaughs rotate their orchards every 15-25 years. The first fruit trees were planted shortly after Ritchie’s grandparents Jacob and Minnie Flinchbaugh bought the farm in 1951.
The Flinchbaughs maintain grass buffers along creeks and grassed alleyways between rows of fruit trees to absorb runoff, improve water quality, and provide bird and wildlife habitat. Mike, Andrew, and Julie each serve on local and regional committees that promote agricultural conservation. Their combined efforts have established Flinchbaugh’s Orchard & Farm as a well-known community hub.
LEOPOLD CONSERVATION AWARD PROGRAM is a competitive award that recognizes landowner achievement in voluntary conservation. Sand County Foundation presents the award in California, Colorado, Illinois, 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). www.leopoldconservationaward.org
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. www.farmland.org
HORIZON FARM CREDIT is an agricultural lending cooperative, part of the national Farm Credit System, owned by its member-borrowers. The Association has more than 22,900 members and over $5.9 billion in loans outstanding. Horizon Farm Credit serves Delaware, Pennsylvania, and parts of Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia by providing farm loans for land, equipment, livestock and production; crop insurance; and rural home mortgages. Learn more at www.horizonfc.com
PENNSYLVANIA FARM BUREAU is the state’s largest farm organization, representing farms of every size and commodity across Pennsylvania. www.pfb.com
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. www.sandcountyfoundation.org
THE HEINZ ENDOWMENTS is devoted to the mission of helping our region prosper as a vibrant center of creativity, learning, and social, economic and environmental sustainability. Core to our work is the vision of a just community where all are included and where everyone who calls southwestern Pennsylvania home has a real and meaningful opportunity to thrive. http://www.heinz.org/