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Marty Williams Receives Oklahoma Leopold Conservation Award

Marty Williams of Red Rock is the recipient of the Oklahoma Leopold Conservation Award®.

The award honors farmers, ranchers, and forestland owners who go above and beyond in their management of soil health, water quality and wildlife habitat on working land.

Marty, a farmer from Noble County, was revealed as the award recipient at the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts’ Annual Meeting on February 26. He and his wife Crystal receive $10,000 for being selected.

Sand County Foundation and national sponsor American Farmland Trust present the Leopold Conservation Award to private landowners in 27 states. In Oklahoma the award is presented annually with ITC Great Plains, Noble Research Institute, Oklahoma Conservation Commission, Oklahoma Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, the award recognizes farmers and forestland owners who inspire others with their dedication to environmental improvement. In his influential 1949 book, A Sand County Almanac, Leopold called for “a land ethic,” an ethical relationship between people and the land they own and manage.

Oklahoma landowners were encouraged to apply (or be nominated) for the award early last year. Applications were reviewed by an independent panel of agricultural and conservation leaders. The first Oklahoma Leopold Conservation Award was presented to Jimmy and Ginger Emmons of Leedey in 2017. Last year’s award was presented to Smith Family Farms of Elk City.

The Leopold Conservation Award in Oklahoma is made possible thanks to the generous contributions from American Farmland Trust, ITC Great Plains, Noble Research Institute, Oklahoma Conservation Commission, Oklahoma Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Sand County Foundation, the Emmons Family, Oklahoma State University, Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts, and McDonald’s.

For more information on the award, visit


Marty Williams’ journey has long been intertwined with his land ethic.

Growing up in Noble County, his father instilled in him the importance of sustainable agriculture. Marty’s academic pursuits in plant and soil science at Oklahoma State University further fueled his desire to make a difference as a sixth-generation farmer. His upbringing and education taught him that soil rich in biodiversity is good for both crops and a balanced ecosystem.

Upon graduating, Marty and his wife Crystal rented land and equipment from his father and formed Frontier Farms. Early on, Marty made the bold and strategic choice to embrace no-till farming practices while growing a rotation of wheat, corn, soybeans, and grain sorghum.

The traditional practice of tilling soil disrupts soil structure, exposes it to erosion, and releases carbon. Over time he coupled no-till with growing cover crops to further revitalize the soil. Instead of leaving the soil bare between traditional cash crops, the presence of cover crops like cow peas, oats, and canola provides a protective blanket to the soil that retains moisture and prevents erosion, while enriching it with organic matter.

Marty’s commitment to enhancing soil health goes beyond traditional measures. His envisions a future where soil teems with life, from the largest worms to the smallest microbes each playing its role in a nutrient cycle. This belief has led him to convert marginal farmland back to its indigenous grassy state.

Beef cattle are grazed at Frontier Farms. After Crystal saw an opportunity to begin selling beef directly to customers, she headed up that effort and grew it into an important diversified revenue stream - further proof that innovation and adaptability are more than just buzzwords for the Williamses.

One achievement that stands out at Frontier Farms is the conversion of 320 acres of farmland into a protected wetland. By collaborating with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to reestablish native flora, the wetland provides habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife. This transformation reveals Marty’s understanding that conservation is not just about preserving, but regenerating nature to its most functional form.

Marty’s integration of state-of-the-art precision agriculture technology allows him to assess plant health in real time and apply nutrients with incredible accuracy, ensuring that crops receive just what they need and nothing more. His farming practices and strategies have piqued the interest of agricultural experts from as far away as China.

From the start of his career in agriculture, Marty’s leadership was evident. He has served notable stints with the Noble County Conservation District Board and the Oklahoma Farm Bureau. He donates his land, equipment, and time to research with Oklahoma State University’s Department of Soil Sciences where he mentors the next generation of agriculturalists.

Marty also serves as a strategic advisor for the Gulch Foundation’s Rainmaker Farm, which documents the benefits of implementing regenerative practices on 160 acres of diverse crops, rotationally grazed pastures, and pollinator gardens.

Perhaps what’s most telling about his true nature is the unique support group he helped form for fellow farmers and ranchers dealing with the fiscal and mental struggles caused by turbulent commodity markets and unpredictable weather.

Marty admits his own path has not been without challenges, yet he has positively shaped the contours of Oklahoma’s landscape with his farming practices while touching countless lives through his teachings, guidance, and a commitment to better his community.


“These award recipients 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 Williams 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.”

“Marty and Crystal Williams of Frontier Farms have a true passion for land stewardship. Their land management practices provide continual improvement of their lands across multiple land resource uses,” said Hugh Aljoe, Noble Research Institute Director of Producer Relations. “The Williams’s contributions include serving as leaders in their local community, as well as across the state, and inspiring others to be better conservationists and land stewards.”

“Responsible land stewardship is something all successful farmers and ranchers implement in their operations, but few understand it as deeply as Marty Williams” said David VonTungeln, Oklahoma Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture President. “His embodiment of agriculture’s greatest traditions and his care and respect for the land and natural resources with which he has been entrusted are an example for agricultural landowners both in Oklahoma and across the country.”

“Frontier Farms has gone above and beyond in their implementation of conservation practices and contributions to conservation education,” said Jeanne Hamilton, Oklahoma State Conservationist for the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service. “Marty and Crystal Williams’ dedication to exploring new conservation practices is inspiring, and their willingness to host hands-on demonstration events at their farm is helping Oklahoma farmers and ag students alike see the value of these conservation programs in practice.”

“Stewardship of the land, water, wildlife, and young people of Oklahoma come naturally to Marty and Crystal Williams. Marty has served many years on the Noble County Conservation District Board. He and Crystal’s public service spans many farm and family organizations,” said Trey Lam, Oklahoma Conservation Commission Executive Director. “They will most assuredly leave their farm and Oklahoma better than they found it.”

“ITC Great Plains congratulates Marty Williams for being selected as the 2023 Oklahoma Leopold Conservation Award recipient,” said Dusky Terry, ITC Great Plains President. “Our longtime commitment to supporting land stewardship and conservation efforts provides us with the opportunity to work collaboratively to benefit the communities we serve. We applaud Marty for his dedication to environmental responsibility. Marty’s work embodies the fundamentals of the Leopold Conservation Award and we’re proud to help recognize his commitment.”

View his conservation success story

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, 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 6.8 million acres of agricultural lands, advanced environmentally sound farming practices on millions of additional acres, and supported thousands of farm families.

ITC GREAT PLAINS is a transmission-only utility operating in the Southwest Power Pool region. The company operates approximately 470 circuit miles of transmission lines in Kansas and Oklahoma. ITC Great Plains maintains regional offices in Dodge City, Topeka and Wichita, Kansas, and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. ITC Great Plains is a subsidiary of ITC Holdings Corp.’ the largest independent electric transmission company in the U.S. For further information, visit ITC is a subsidiary of Fortis Inc., a leader in the North American regulated electric and gas utility industry.

NOBLE RESEARCH INSTITUTE is the nation’s largest nonprofit agricultural research organization, serving ranchers and farmers with research, education and mentorship for regenerating soil health to improve their land, livestock and livelihood. Since 1945, Nobel Research Institute has been a leading, trusted resource in agricultural research and education dedicated to land stewardship. Demonstrating our ongoing commitment to regenerating our nation’s grazing lands, Noble actively manages 13,500 acres of working ranchlands to provide real-world insights and applications for farmers and ranchers.

OKLAHOMA CONSERVATION COMMISSION provides assistance to Oklahoma’s 84 conservation districts and the public to foster a sense of stewardship and conservation management of Oklahoma’s renewable natural resources. This is accomplished through soil and water conservation, land use planning, small watershed upstream flood control, abandoned mine land reclamation, water quality monitoring, environmental education, and wetlands conservation.

OKLAHOMA FARM BUREAU FOUNDATION FOR AGRICULTURE was formed to enhance awareness and understanding of agriculture’s contribution and importance to the state of Oklahoma.

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.

USDA NATURAL RESOURCES CONSERVATION SERVICE (NRCS) is a federal agency committed to helping private landowners care and make healthy choices for the land and water, while using them productively. Through voluntary incentive-based programs, the NRCS works directly with farmers, ranchers, forest owners and other land stewards to provide technical expertise and financial assistance to make conservation work on private lands.