Tama SWCD highlights local stewardship with annual awards

Mike Snider of Traer named 2020 Friend of Conservation

A view of Mike Snider’s farm in rural Traer. Snider was named Tama Co. SWCD Friend of Conservation Award recipient for 2020. Snider’s farm features grassed waterways and boasts incredible crop residue after harvest. Photo courtesy Mike and Amy Snider

Tama County Soil and Water Conservation District recently celebrated its 2020 and 2021 conservation award winners with an official announcement.

Friend of Conservation Award

The District’s Friend of Conservation Award is presented annually to Tama Countians who make over-the-top efforts to promote the stewardship of the county’s soil and water resources.

Mike Snider of Traer (2020) and the Tama County staff from ISU Extension & Outreach (2021) are the Friends of Conservation Award recipients this year.

Snider served as a district commissioner from 2005 through 2012. He has served his peers as a true example of a land and water steward. Besides practicing conservation in his own farming operation, Snider has been a huge advocate for cover crops and mentored many producers fitting cover crops into their Conservation Toolbox.

Jim and Penny Dolezal of Dolezal Honey Bees in rural Tama – Tama Co. SWCD’s 2020 Local Production Award recipients. Contributed photo

Tama County’s current Extension & Outreach staff includes Cheryl Bruene, Jenny Hulme and Sara Sorensen. The local Extension staff has been instrumental in Tama County Women, Land and Legacy since it began in 2007, securing event speakers and providing exceptional leadership. Tama County 4-H has been dedicated to the education of environmental issues through youth and adult programming like Monarchs on the Move, Native Bee Challenge and the National 4-H Agri-Science Summit. With staff direction, Tama County Master Gardeners have planted three pollinator gardens demonstrating how small plots can attract birds, butterflies and bees. Signage and labels at each location help to identify plants and educate on the benefits/importance of pollinators. Since the 2020 derecho, the Extension staff has been working to help replace trees that were lost during the storm, organizing tree seedling distributions in 12 Tama County towns and tree planting training.

Local Production Award

2016 saw the inaugural year for this award, created to recognize Tama Countians involved in farm-to-table production.

The 2020 recipents were Jim and Penny Dolezal of Dolezal Honey Bees in rural Tama. Jim was interested in beekeeping for several years before purchasing his first bees about seven years ago. The Dolezals’ initial 10-hive venture yielded a five-gallon bucket of honey. They have grown their operation to over 100 hives in and around Tama County and now typically harvest several thousand pounds of honey each year. Most of their off-site yards are requested for pollination services, including a local apple orchard. They also manage hives for the Meskwaki Nation. Their beeswax is rendered, and Penny enjoys crafting their operation’s wax into candles, soaps, lotions and other products. Dolezal honey and other items are available at local farmers markets throughout the summer and online. The Dolezals are members of the Iowa Honey Producers, and they founded and administer Tama County Beekeepers. This group of local beekeepers benefits from peer communication, equipment exchange and the power of bulk input purchases. Jim has mentored Iowa Honey Producers scholarship recipients to further their craft to the next generation.

The 2021 recipients were Mike and Gwen Seda of Fox Ridge Winery in rural Traer. The Sedas moved onto their acreage in 1988. Two years later, they started planting Christmas trees and planted and sold them through 2015. Mike and Gwen also planted fruit trees in 1996 and sold peaches for about five years. In 2004, they began planting grapes where there had once been an orchard. Vines were added for the next four years. Their winery and gift shop started in 2009. Mike and Gwen have been selling and making wine since then and also expanded to wholesale sales in area stores. Entertainment is enjoyed during summer months, and their venue is rented for weddings and other special occasions. Both are “retired” full time. Mike now manages their vineyard, and Gwen manages Fox Ridge’s winery, gift shop, and vintner. According to the Sedas, “Since its inception [Fox Ridge] has been a family run winery. When it comes to planting, picking, and processing the grapes everyone helps out – from grandparents to grandchildren. With this concept, we have blended the enjoyment of winemaking with our tradition of surrounding ourselves with family. Combining these two aspects ensures that every drop in every bottle produced is a true labor of love.” Mike and Gwen are members of Iowa Wine Growers and Central Iowa Tourism. Look for Fox Ridge wines, venue services and gifts online. Stop past their place for a tasting or to enjoy a glass while kicking back on Fox Ridge’s deck.

Mike and Gwen Seda of Fox Ridge Winery in rural Traer – Tama Co. SWCD’s 2021 Local Production Award recipients. Photo courtesy Gwen Seda

Soil Health Award

This award was begun in 2014 when the District combined its traditional Conservation Tillage Award with the renewed concept of soil health, which involves many conservation practices which work together to make huge differences in our soil.

2020’s recipients were Kurtis and Judy Boerm of Boerm Farms Inc. in Traer. For almost 20 years, the Boerm operation has used cover crops partnered with no-till and conservation tillage. Besides winter rye, forage hybrid sorghum was added to the family’s crop rotation ten years ago. According to Kurtis, “It makes excellent cow feed at half the cost of corn silage and with less requirement for fertilizer, nitrogen and herbicide.” He also notes manure from the farm’s cow-calf herd and feedlot operation is used in a way so that very little commercial fertilizer is needed, while maintaining soil fertility. Kurtis and Judy’s family continues the farm’s legacy which began when Kurtis’s great-grandfather purchased the property in 1907. Kurtis notes he grew up working alongside his father, Lonnie, and grandfather, Edwin. One of their daughters-in-law gave the Boerms a plaque that reads, “God looked down on the earth He created and said, ‘I need a caretaker,’ and so God made a farmer.” Kurtis says, “I look at it almost every day. It especially gives me strength after inland hurricanes or polar vortexes during calving. Truer words have never been written.” Kurtis is a well-known area veterinarian, and Judy is the Student Success Coach at North Tama Schools.

The 2021 Soil Health Award winners were Sam and Julie Kvidera of rural Dysart. Sam is the third generation of the family’s Century Farm. They grow corn and soybeans and feed out cattle in a hoop building. Conservation practices in their operation include 30 years of no-till, terraces, filter strips, waterways, and cover crops. Sam was the recipient of a 2021 Iowa Farm Environmental Leader Award. Alex Kubik of Traer submitted Sam’s nomination. “Sam farms a no-tilled corn-soybean rotation, planted on the contour. The roofed feedlot prevents manure runoff and improves water quality of overland flow. Grassed waterways protect from gully erosion and filter approximately 25% of sediment from the water flowing downhill. CRP stream buffers filter water and uptake nutrients before reaching the stream. Terraces reduce sediment and nutrient runoff from row crops. No-till and cover crops work together to build soil structure, improve permeability, and make Sam’s row crops more resilient during stressful weather events. He reduces commercial fertilizer use and improves organic matter and biological diversity by utilizing livestock manure.”

Established Windbreak Award

Kurtis and Judy Boerm of Boerm Farms Inc. in Traer – Tama Co. SWCD’s 2020 Soil Health Award recipients. Contributed photo


2020 awardees were George and DeVonne Harford of rural Traer. The Harfords have lived on their acreage in rural Traer for over 22 years and replanted their windbreak after it was destroyed by the July 2011 derecho that devastated a swath through central Tama County. Their new planting from Spring 2012 consists of Norway, Black Hills and Colorado blue spruce along with white pines and Techny Arborvitae. The Harford farmstead also includes an assortment of fruit and shade trees, Caragana peashrubs, lilac and Forsythia. DeVonne notes, “Any time there is an opportunity, I will plant a tree. All George can say is he is thankful for a zero-turn lawn mower.” George and DeVonne provide seed and water for birds and have noticed an increase in bird numbers as their trees have grown. In the fall of 2020, the Harfords had several migrant American kestrels (falcons) layover for about a week before moving on. A squirrel also appears periodically. About four years ago, George planted his first grapevines. He now has about 50 vines in five varieties. DeVonne says George’s wine keeps improving, and he makes enough to enjoy and share with friends.

Sam and Julie Kvidera (center and third from right) of rural Dysart – Tama Co. SWCD’s 2021 Soil Health Award recipients. Photo courtesy Iowa Dept. of Agriculture and Land Stewardship

George and DeVonne Harford of rural Traer – Tama Co. SWCD’s 2020 Established Windbreak Award recipients. Contributed photo