Holmes SWCD celebrates 75 years of service, innovation

Holmes SWCD celebrates 75 years of service, innovation

Image Credit: Dave Mast

Seventy-five years in any organization is a long time and something worth celebrating, and on Tuesday, Nov. 15, Holmes Soil & Water Conservation District and a large contingency of the agricultural community of Holmes County gathered in the Expo Center at Harvest Ridge to celebrate 75 years during the annual meeting and banquet.

The evening showcased a video of many of the people instrumental in building and growing Holmes SWCD over the years, with presentations from Gary Mast, Michelle Wood, Dean Slates, Phyllis Young, Bob Hunter and others providing insight into the past 75 years.

The event also celebrated the winners of the annual Tom Graham 5th Grade Farm Tour essay and poster contests, but this night belonged to celebrating an organization that has served the county and agricultural community for three quarters of a century.

Longtime SWCD board member Harold Neuenschwander said looking back is gratifying but looking forward is the exciting part.

“We talk about great organizations, and they are filled with great people with great visions,” Neuenschwander said. “We’ve seen that tonight, and Holmes Soil & Water is better for that.”

He said the district has partnered with many people and organizations over the years that have opened the door for the SWCD to expand its services. He talked about valuing the many organizations that fund the programs they provide.

He said because of the innovation of the SWCD, other entities outside of Holmes County have looked to it for guidance and leadership in developing similar programs elsewhere.

“We see how things change and get better and new ideas come along, and that excites me,” Neuenschwander said. “That comes because of great leadership throughout the years. With our staff and leadership, we surely will come up with new and inventive ideas, and Holmes Soil & Water will continue to be strong.”

Current SWCD administrator Trevor Berger, who took over for Wood, said the possibilities surrounding everything Holmes SWCD can offer the agricultural community in Holmes County are endless, and he is excited by his team and the way this farming community bands together to create growth opportunities.

“We’ve got a good board. We have the right staff, and while we’d love to have more hands, we have a great group with a great talent base, so we have a world of possibilities when it comes to creating some fantastic conservation practices,” Berger said. “Our focus now is staying a step ahead so we aren’t just doing what we’ve been doing the past 75 years just because it’s what we’ve always done. Yes, it works, but we need to stay focused on the big picture of what is coming next and how we can advance the district and help our community for the next 75 years in collaborating both inside and outside Holmes County.”

The SWCD doled out several awards during the evening.

Among them was Wood, who served as administrator for 22 years at Holmes SWCD. Berger said Wood set an example of what dedication and devotion to serving others and promoting conservation and agriculture should look like in a community.

Berger said Wood was instrumental in developing the aerial cover crop program and the Alpine Dairy Water Quality Treatment program, as well as many other endeavors.

“These types of programs and community outreach take a great leader,” Berger said to Wood. “You were that leader. The foundation you helped build will continue to make us successful far into the future.”

Wood said working alongside some of the best people possible in the office and in the field was as much to credit as anything and said the agricultural community in the county proved area farmers were willing to do whatever is necessary to improve soil and water quality and best farming practices.

“It’s been a privilege and honor serving our partners and friends,” Wood said. “I know our district will continue to do great things.”

The Conservation Farm Award was presented to Triple R Ranch.

This award goes to one farm in each county that demonstrates best conservation efforts. Presenter Josh Britton said Triple R Ranch owner Matt Rohr went above and beyond in 2022, improving his beef cattle farming system by permanently seeding nearly 70 acres of crop land, transforming it into pasture.

He said he addressed erosion issues and added more than 9,900 feet of fencing that provided for better and more consistent grazing for his cattle, moving cattle from area to area with rotational grazing every five days. He also added eight watering facilities with heavy use pads and 4,672 feet of pipeline to distribute pressurized water.

The Friend of Conservation Award was presented to Scott Myers of Woodlyn Acres. Myers provides nearly 90% of the organic seed utilized during the SWCD aerial cover crop program, and he and his family have gone to great lengths to create conservation practices whenever possible.

Karen Gotter, SWCD Killbuck Creek Watershed coordinator, said Myers has been instrumental in the program’s success.

“Our farming community understands the need to keep a varied crop rotation and to keep a living cover on the soil as much as possible,” Gotter said. “Their efforts are rewarded, not only when we can share how many loads of sediments are kept out of our streams, but we hope they see how it benefits their fields and their bottom line.

“Scott Myers is a champion of that asset. He has farmed across Ohio since 2001 on a family farm that began in 1936 with his father Fred and his four sons. He is a true believer in creating a living cover for soil improvement.”

She said practicing these principles has made Myers a go-to from an organic farmer’s perspective on real-world conditions in the ag community. She said he has stepped up in many ways through his YouTube channel and participation in the annual 5th Grade Farm Tour.

The SWCD also appointed Neuenschwander and Christie Stitzlein to serve as elected board members for a three-year term.