Vermont's Choiniere Farm Recognized with New England Leopold Conservation Award
At a conference on November 18, Guy Choiniere, a 4th generation dairy farmer from Highgate Center, Vermont, was presented with the 2021 New England Leopold Conservation Award. The award recognizes landowners who inspire others with their dedication to land, water and wildlife resources in their care. During the award ceremony at the Regional Conservation Partnership Network Gathering, Guy dedicated the award to his father, Henry, who started the farm’s conservation journey.
The 600-acre Choiniere Family Farm, owned by Guy and Beth, their son Matt and daughter Hannah, embraces conservation practices that build healthy soils and protect water quality. Their certified-organic dairy farm uses an innovative compost bedding system for its grass-fed cattle. In addition to a 50-foot vegetated buffer along the farm’s frontage on the Rock River, Choiniere has planted 5,000 trees to reduce soil erosion. Keeping nutrients on the farm and out of the river benefits water quality and the farm’s viability.
“At VHCB we were excited to nominate Guy for the award, and then to learn in November that he had won it. This recognition is well-deserved and represents many years of dedication by the family, beginning with conservation of the land by Guy’s parents in 1997, which helped facilitate the intergenerational transfer of the property to Guy and Beth. The extensive conservation practices over many years under Guy’s management have transformed the property to a model of modern conservation-minded farm management, greatly enhancing soil health.” -- Gus Seelig, Executive Director, VHCB
At a time when the future of small dairy farming is challenging, Guy’s leadership and willingness to share his methods, challenges and successes with farmers, decision makers and the public has educated hundreds of people on how to work in harmony with nature and have a thriving business. By example, the Choiniere Family Farm demonstrates agricultural practices synchronized with the ecology of the Lake Champlain Basin. At the heart of all Guy does is his family’s vision for the future health of the land and the wellbeing of all its inhabitants.
“The Choiniere family exemplifies the essence of the Leopold Conservation Award. Protecting their land from future development is an important step, but the Choinieres have done so much more,” said Allen Karnatz of the Vermont Land Trust. “Four generations of the family have cared for this land and each generation is leaving it better. Not only is their farm benefiting from their careful land stewardship, the whole farming community benefits because Guy is so eager to share his expertise. His enthusiasm is contagious.”
Justin Tuthill, Vermont USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Acting State Conservationist said “The Choiniere’s commitment to conservation planning and protecting soil and water resources is an inspiration to NRCS, and Guy has been an instrumental and passionate spokesperson for the important role of soil health in Vermont.”
The Sand County Foundation together with national sponsor American Farmland Trust present the Leopold Conservation Award to private landowners in 23 states for extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation. The $10,000 award comes with a glass trophy and recognizes the extraordinary efforts of conservation minded farmers and foresters. In his influential 1949 book, A Sand County Almanac, Aldo 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.”
“American Farmland Trust was pleased to help present this award to Guy Choiniere and the Choiniere Family Farm. We are thrilled that a dairy farm so devoted to conservation, agriculture, and improving water quality has been chosen as the first New England Leopold Conservation Award recipient from Vermont,” said Nathan L’Etoile, New England Director of American Farmland Trust. “Not only does Choiniere Family Farm hold itself to a high standard, but Guy devotes his own time to teach tomorrow’s watershed stewards and elementary school students around Lake Champlain the importance of conservation practices to keeping our lakes and rivers clean.”
The Sand County Foundation made a video about the Choiniere Family Farm that was shown during the award presentation. The farm was also the subject of this video, Why Conservation Matters in Vermont: Choiniere Family Farm with Guy Choiniere. Guy Choiniere serves on the board of the Friends of Northern Lake Champlain, a non-profit focused on improving water quality. Prior to that, he served on the Franklin County Natural Resource Conservation District’s Board. Because of Guy’s civic engagement and conservation commitment, the Choiniere Family Farm was recognized with Vermont’s Conservation Farmer of the Year Award in 2009, and received the Northeast Organic Farming Association-VT Sustainability Award in 2010. In 2018, Guy and the Choiniere Family Farm were awarded the National Conservation Planning Partnership’s Hugh Hammond Bennett Award for Conservation Excellence.
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