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Three Finalists Selected for Kentucky Leopold Conservation Award

Three finalists have been selected for the 2023 Kentucky 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 management on private, working lands.

In Kentucky, the $10,000 award is presented annually by Sand County Foundation, American Farmland Trust, Kentucky Agricultural Council, and the Kentucky Association of Conservation Districts.

The finalists are:

  • Steve and Melanie Kelley of Bardwell in Carlisle County: The Kelleys utilize no-till practices and plant cover crops to conserve soil and moisture. Their farm features 48 acres of filter strips, and 17 acres of grassed waterways and rock chutes to slow water runoff. Solar panels produce electricity and provide the farm with another source of income. Wildlife and pollinator-friendly habitat has been established on 800 acres.
  • Donald Veatch of Campbellsville in Marion County: At Donald Veatch’s beef cattle and grain farm, establishing buffer strips, and crop rotations, no-till practices and cover crops have reduced soil erosion and improved water quality. Selective harvesting and thinning overgrowth promote the quality of timber in the farm’s 125 acres of forests. Planting trees and native grasses has created habitat for wildlife and insect pollinators.
  • Michael W. Wilson of Lawrenceburg in Anderson County: Michael Wilson’s Whispering Hills Farm implements conservation practices to reduce soil erosion caused by beef cattle production. Rotational grazing his cattle prevents overgrazing, recycles nutrients, and increases plant regrowth and biodiversity. By equipping soil with greater organic matter, he’s making it more resilient to drought and extreme rainfall events.

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

The recipient will be recognized at the Kentucky Association of Conservation Districts’ Annual Convention on July 11 in Bowling Green.

“As the national sponsor for Sand County Foundation’s Leopold Conservation Award, American Farmland Trust celebrates the hard work and dedication of the Kentucky 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.”

“The Kentucky Agricultural Council is once again honored to recognize private landowners across the state who practice exceptional stewardship and conservation practices. The finalists for 2023 are an exceptional group of individuals,” said Drew Graham, Kentucky Agricultural Council Chairman.

“KACD and conservation districts promote the sound management of all our natural resources, and we are excited to recognize these well deserving landowners in Kentucky,” said Allan Bryant, Kentucky Association of Conservation Districts President. “The Association and conservation districts work daily to assist private landowners in their efforts to adopt sound soil and water conservation practices on their land that benefit us all.”

“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,” said Kevin McAleese, Sand County Foundation President and CEO.

Last year’s award recipient was Reddick Farms of Bardwell in Carlisle County.

The Kentucky Leopold Conservation Award is made possible thanks to the generous support and partnership of American Farmland Trust, Kentucky Agricultural Council, Kentucky Association of Conservation Districts, Sand County Foundation, U.S Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Kentucky Farm Bureau Federation, AgriBusiness Association of Kentucky, Farm Credit Mid-America, Kentucky Corn Growers Association, Kentucky Department of Agriculture, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association, Kentucky Pork Producers, Kentucky Soybean Promotion Board, Kentucky Tree Farm Committee, Kentucky Woodland Owner’s Association, and University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

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 27 states for extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation. For more information on the award, visit

Kelley Family Ky

Steve and Melanie Kelley family of Bardwell in Carlisle County

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Donald Veatch family of Campbellsville in Marion County

Mike Wilson

Michael W. Wilson family of Lawrenceburg in Anderson County

THE LEOPOLD CONSERVATION AWARD 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 Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin, and in New England (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont).

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.

KENTUCKY AGRICULTURAL COUNCIL is a 501(c)(3) organization consisting of some 80 agricultural organizations representing all sectors of Kentucky agriculture. The membership is composed of commodity groups, state and federal agricultural organizations, agricultural trade organizations and the state’s institutions of higher education that serve Kentucky agriculture. The KAC functions as an umbrella group and hub for its members, disseminating information and promoting coordination among all agricultural organizations and sectors. Since 2006, the KAC also has served as the “steward of strategic planning” for the future of Kentucky agriculture and Kentucky’s rural communities.

KENTUCKY ASSOCIATION OF CONSERVATION DISTRICTS is a 501(c)(3) organization consisting of Kentucky’s local conservation districts and watershed conservancy districts. KACD encourages the exchange of information relating to the administration and operation of conservation districts and watershed conservancy districts; to affect cooperation between districts and agencies and organizations concerned with any and all phases of soil and water conservation; to promote the welfare of conservation districts and watershed conservancy districts and the people therein; and to maintain strong and active membership in both KACD and the National Association of Conservation Districts.

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.