Califonia Bountiful

Celebrating conservation in California

January/February 2019 California Bountiful magazine

Award recognizes farmers and ranchers for environmental stewardship

More online: Watch the Lundberg family onĀ California Bountiful TV.

Lundberg Family Farms in Butte County is the 2018 Leopold Conservation Award winner. Photo: © 2019 Paolo Vescia

Landowner. Grower. Businessperson. Attorney. Mechanic. Veterinarian. When you're a farmer or rancher, you never wear just one hat. But for many, including these nominees for the Leopold Conservation Award, the title they claim most proudly is steward.

Named after Aldo Leopold, one of the most influential conservationists of the 20th century, the award recognizes landowner achievements in voluntary conservation and public education. Those considered for the award are actively committed to enhancing the land they are entrusted with now and into the future. The 2018 winner is Lundberg Family Farms of Butte County.

"We're constantly asking ourselves what's the right thing to do and how we can make the land even better for future generations," Bryce Lundberg said.

Rominger Brothers Farm of Yolo County and Sweet Haven Dairy/Rollin Valley Farms of Fresno County were finalists. In California, the award is presented by the Sand County Foundation, California Farm Bureau Federation and Sustainable Conservation. The S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation and The Nature Conservancy are major sponsors as well.

From left, Tim Schultz, Bryce Lundberg, Homer Lundberg, Eric Lundberg, Heidi Lundberg, Grant Lundberg, Anders Lundberg, Jill Lundberg, Alysicia Lundberg, Jessica Lundberg and Jesse Gibson. Photo: © 2019 Paolo Vescia

Lundberg Family
Lundberg Family Farms, Butte County

Small grain. Big future.

For more than 80 years, the Lundberg family has grown rice in Butte County. It began when Albert and Frances Lundberg moved their family from Nebraska to California to escape the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Informed by this experience, their sons—Eldon, Wendell, Harlan and Homer—founded Lundberg Family Farms with sustainability as the cornerstone. It has since become one of the largest organic rice producers in the nation.

"We see the land and soil as a living, breathing organism that needs to be cared for, and we do that daily," said Jessica Lundberg, Wendell's daughter.

Family members say they view the land as a partner integral to their success and vital to protect. In addition to controlling weeds without crop amendments by a carefully monitored pattern of drying and flooding the soil, the Lundbergs practice crop rotation and cover cropping to boost soil health.

With the long-term goal of producing 30 percent of annual electricity needs through on-site renewable energy sources, Lundberg Family Farms has invested extensively in solar power. It has also achieved a nearly 100 percent diversion-from-landfill rate for farm waste.

More than 200 species of wildlife, mostly migratory birds, rely on Northern California rice fields as a seasonal habitat. Since the 1980s, Lundberg Family Farms has partnered with local wildlife conservationists to ensure the integrity of the wetlands, helped count bird populations and even collected eggs from nests in the fields when needed.

Though the company has grown steadily, Homer Lundberg said that's not the family's ultimate goal.

"It's not the numbers that people remember, but what kind of human you are and what kind of effect you had in your community," he said. "We've always believed in leaving the world better than you found it."

From left, Robyn, John, Rachel, Bruce, Justin, Richard, Evelyne, Rick and Patty Rominger. Photo: © 2019 Paolo Vescia

Bruce, Rick and Charlie Rominger
Rominger Brothers Farm, Yolo County

Making conservation a family tradition

Protecting natural resources isn't something the Rominger family expects someone else to be responsible for. It's a management practice—and a deeply held principle—that the farmers prioritize and hope sets an example for others to follow.

Brothers Bruce and Rick, along with their late brother, Charlie, took over the family farm from their father, Rich, who served as California director of food and agriculture, as deputy U.S. secretary of agriculture and on the board of directors for the American Farmland Trust. Working to enhance the land has always been part of the family's heritage.

The fifth-generation farmers grow a variety of crops on their 6,000 acres in Yolo County, including processing tomatoes, rice, wheat, corn, winegrapes, sunflowers and onions. Their goal, they say, is to produce healthy crops while keeping the land healthy through such measures as restoring riparian corridors, installing drip irrigation to conserve water and using sheep to graze crop residue.

"It's nice to look at the land and know you're preserving this for future generations," Bruce Rominger said.

The brothers partner with state, federal and educational agencies to better understand soil health and inspire others to do the same. They and their families have dedicated their lives to farming and to improving California's agricultural legacy, working to embody some of Aldo Leopold's land ethic.

"My brother, Charlie, was such a big fan of Aldo Leopold's teachings that he named his son Aldo," Rick Rominger said. "So, to be nominated for this award means a lot to this family."

From left, Donny and Andy Rollin. Photo: © 2019 Paolo Vescia

Donny and Andy Rollin
Sweet Haven Dairy/Rollin Valley Farms, Fresno County

Cows and the creed of connectivity

Donny and Andy Rollin are third-generation dairy farmers who work under the family-held creed of connectivity: Everything they do on the farm is part of a conscious cycle of conservation.

"From the cows to the land to the water to the air, it's one big circle that we try protect," Donny Rollin said.

Building on their grandfather's legacy, the brothers are committed to producing a healthful product while conserving the resources they've been entrusted with. For example, Rollin Valley Farms in Riverdale is the first dairy in California to use a new solar-powered technology for heating the water used in sanitizing milking equipment.

In addition, water in the farm's daily operation is used multiple times—from rinsing the cows to irrigating the fields where the animals' feed is grown. The Rollins have also adopted a system that cools the cows in hot weather by spraying them intermittently with water.

"I love making the cows happy because they're the best recyclers there are," Andy Rollin said. "They eat a lot of things that would otherwise go to a landfill and in turn produce a natural product."

Like many dairies in California, Rollin Valley Farms grows corn to feed its 2,000-plus cows. What makes the Rollins' operation noteworthy is their early adoption of conservation tillage. This innovative harvesting technique leaves the previous year's crop residue—such as cornstalks—on fields before and after planting the next crop. Among its many benefits, conservation tillage reduces soil erosion and runoff, and improves air quality through fewer tractor passes over each field.

Tracy Sellers

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