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Teachers in the Classroom and on the Land

On this year's Teacher Appreciation Day and Teacher Appreciation Week we celebrate farmers and ranchers who have made a difference in the classroom and on the landscape.

Meet four recipients of the Leopold Conservation Award from Kansas, Wisconsin, South Dakota, and Massachusetts who were also teachers off the farm and ranch.

MICHAEL THOMPSON was a kindergarten teacher for a dozen years before returning to the farm. The avid learner and experimenter discovered a new way to make his family's northwest Kansas farm economically and environmentally resilient.

Now he shares his passion for conservation and soil health with thousands of people each year at local, statewide, regional and international conferences and field days.


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JOE AND CHRISTY TOMANDL are at the head of the class when it comes to conservation. Education and agriculture have always gone hand-in-hand for these former high school agriculture teachers who pursued their own dairy farm dreams.

In addition to owning and managing three Wisconsin dairy farms, Joe drew on his ag education roots to spearhead a national grazing apprenticeship program. As its executive director, he oversees more than 200 approved training farms in 15 states.


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NEIL BIEN is a conservation-minded cattle rancher who also taught high school biology and served on the State Wildlife Commission. He found it impossible to remove himself from either of his core vocations.

The former South Dakota Biology Teacher of Year required his students to read Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac because it taught patience with the environment and land. On his own ranch he has preserved 100 nature wetlands, and restored 15 wetland basins.


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JOHN AND CAROLYN WHEELER completed their master's degrees after selling their dairy herd in 1988. Both maintained teaching careers while they transitioned their Massachusetts farm into a grass-fed beef business.

The couple admits their career paths and their plans for Wheel-View Farm took unplanned and unpredictable turns. They welcome tours of high school and college students to the small agricultural museum they maintain on their farm.


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Sand County Foundation works to inspire and empower a growing number of private landowners to ethically manage natural resources in their care, so future generations have clean water, abundant wildlife habitat, and opportunities for outdoor recreation.

Sand County Foundation's Leopold Conservation Award celebrates the voluntary efforts of farmers, ranchers, and forestland owners who improve soil health, water quality, and wildlife habitat on their working lands. To read and watch more the inspiring stories of landowners who have received this recognition, click here.