Among the winners at the Culpeper Soil and Water Conservation District’s (CSWCD) annual Conservation Awards dinner in Culpeper last month were three Rappahannock County farms and their owners: Sperryville’s Richard and Jeannie McNear of Greenwood Farm and Monira Rifaat of Manor Farm, and Washington’s Bruce and Susan Jones.
The annual event honors residents of the district’s five member counties who have demonstrated leadership in the stewardship of local soil and water resources, with district-wide awards for Educator of the Year, Forest Stewardship, Conservationist of the Year, Wildlife Habitat and, in each of the counties, a Bay-Friendly Farm Award.
The 2013 Conservationist of the Year Award was given to Richard and Jeannie McNear, owners of Greenwood Farm in Old Hollow. On the McNears’ 975-acre farm, all surface water is excluded from cattle; steep mountainside forestland is excluded from grazing to protect timber and provide wildlife habitat; springs have been developed and piped into water troughs; and more than 100 acres of native hardwoods have been planted for a riparian buffer through the CREP program.
“I’m honored to have received it,” said McNear this week. “I’ve been doing conservation for a long time,” he added, noting that he’s been particularly happy with his cattle operation over the last couple of years, as he combined government-assisted conservation methods — excluding livestock from streams and forest habitat with fencing — with a rotational grazing approach that preserves soil and grass quality and cuts down on the need for feed, fuel, fertilizer and pesticides.
Acknowledging that significant numbers of “traditional” farmers in Rappahannock and throughout the Piedmont “don’t want any part of the government on their land,” McNear says the holistic-management approach “helps water resources, really helps me graze . . . and hopefully some of our results will convince those with doubts.”
For instance: “I hope next year to double my herd,” McNear says.
The 2013 Wildlife Award was given to Bruce and Susan Jones of Rappahannock, whose 180-acre farm and privately developed nature preserve on Long Mountain is focused on “growing wildlife.” The primary focus is on supporting pollinators, grassland birds and birds of prey. Land management practices include a variety of native grassland plant species promoted and reintroduced for the purpose of supporting wildlife; grassland plots kept in early successional states through a mixture of bush-hogging and prescribed burns; and fallen trees replanted in strategic places as hunting perches.
The Clean Water Farm Award Program recognizes farms in the commonwealth that utilize practices designed to protect water quality and soil resources. Within the Chesapeake Bay watershed, the program is known as the Bay-Friendly Farm Award, and the 2013 Bay-Friendly Farm Award for Rappahannock County was given to Dr. Monira Rifaat, owner since 1980 of Manor Farm near Sperryville, where she has been running cattle since 1987.
Manor Farm has 283 open acres under conservation and rotational grazing systems, and all surface water is protected under CREP. Dr. Rifaat has focused on rearing cattle humanely and hormone-free, and has had an intensive rotational grazing management system for nearly 20 years.
The mission of Culpeper Soil and Water Conservation District is to promote the stewardship of soil and water and the conservation of our natural resources by educating and providing technical assistance to manage, protect and enhance the land and water for the benefit and enjoyment of the citizens of Culpeper, Greene, Madison, Orange and Rappahannock counties. Rappahannock County is represented on the conservation district’s board by directors Evelyn Kerr and Monira Rifaat, and associate directors John Genho and Richard McNear.