Local soil health champions receive conservation awards

Ryan BlosserBridgewater brothers Kevin and Steve Craun and Augusta County farmer Ryan Blosser recently received the fourth annual Carl G. Luebben Soil Health and Water Quality Awards for their contributions to conservation in the Commonwealth.

Sponsored by Houff Corporation, the award is named for Luebben, a former Houff salesman known for his passion for agronomy, sustainable systems, soil health research and mentorship of conservation professionals.

The Craun brothers are fourth generation dairymen who operate Hillview Farms, Inc., a 435-acre dairy with 150 milking cows, 150 replacement heifers, and 100 head of beef cattle in the southwestern corner of Rockingham County near Bridgewater. They are true “soil health champions” who have a well-established cropping system that includes alfalfa in the rotation and take care to closely balance residue management to build organic matter.

Other notable Best Management Practices (BMP’s) include no-till planting, cover crops, manure storage, and side-dressing nitrogen. Numerous practices have also been installed on pastures to promote herd health, cow comfort and forage production.

Kevin and Steve sell their beef and milk through local CO-OPS, which showcase locally grown food from farmers who cherish the land and its sustainability. They have opened their operation to numerous school groups, production tours, and conservation agencies to provide a closer look at these practices. The brothers also serve on various boards and Kevin is a former Shenandoah Valley SWCD director and board chairman.

Blosser is the owner operator of the Dancing Star Farm where he grows a high-quality, chemical-free vegetables with limited tillage. Blosser plants highly diverse crops in permanent rows that are tilled while the rest of the soil remains untouched. The residue remaining on his fields increases organic matter and crop rotation breaks up pest cycles without chemicals. His soil health building practices offer added benefits of increasing water holding capacity, reducing runoff, leaching, and erosion. Blosser also uses a swale system to filter water, leaving it cleaner than when it entered the farm.

Blosser runs a very successful Community Supported Agriculture program (CSA) on just 1.25 cultivated acres and focuses on giving back to the agricultural community. He is an executive director for Project Grows, a non-profit group that hosts summer camps and field trips to teach children about gardening while providing food for the community. He is also involved with the Shenandoah Permaculture Institute, which teaches citizens about this form of intensively-planned, environmentally restorative agriculture.

The Crauns and Blosser received their awards at the Virginia Farm to Table Conference, hosted by Virginia Cooperative Extension and USDA-NRCS, at Blue Ridge Community College on December 6. Carl’s son Dan was on hand to participate in the presentations. Carl Luebben, who passed away in October 2015, previously served on the Rockingham County Virginia Farm Bureau Board and the Shenandoah Valley Soil and Water Conservation District.

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