Family honored with conservation award at Farm Show
HARRISBURG – The DiFebo family’s Harvest Home Farms, of Northampton County, has been selected as the first recipient of the 2018 Pennsylvania Leopold Conservation Award.
Sand County Foundation, the nation’s leading voice for private conservation, created the Leopold Conservation Award to inspire American landowners by recognizing exceptional farmers, ranchers and foresters. The prestigious award, named in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, is given in 14 states.
The DiFebo family was presented with a $10,000 award and a crystal depicting Aldo Leopold at the 2019 Farm Show, on Jan. 11 in Harrisburg. The award is presented in Pennsylvania by Heinz Endowments, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau and Sand County Foundation.
The roots of Harvest Home Farms trace back to when Elton Ott purchased 100 acres in the northeast corner of Northampton County in 1930. Its proximity to New York City was a benefit as Elton’s son, Budd, began dairy farming in the 1940s. Today, their ancestors, the DiFebos have created a following for their beef in several states. The farm’s website educates consumers on the benefits of grass-fed beef and agricultural conservation.
Richard DiFebo initially saw the former dairy farm as a hobby in the 1990s. If the family farm was to be passed down to his children someday, he knew it was his turn to implement sustainable conservation practices that would benefit its soil and water.
Richard’s career in the lawn care business had equipped him with an extensive knowledge of grasses and soil. While researching the health benefits of grass-fed beef, he realized specializing in a niche market would fetch premium prices. Done right, grazing beef cattle would also restore the farm’s soil.
Highly-erodible, conventional corn and soybean fields were planted with permanent grasses to provide pasture and reduce erosion. Assistance from Ducks Unlimited fenced off streams and ponds so cattle would not erode the banks. Over time, 175 acres were divided into 70 grazing paddocks. A rotation system would allow for long rest periods between each grazing. Another 130 acres grow hay, and 30 acres grow non-traditional, diverse forages like sorghum, oats and crimson clover.
After graduating from college, Richard’s son Dohl returned to the farm, as a partner. Together, Rich and Dohl established a diverse cropping system with cover crops. Contour strips and grass waterways were installed, and a desolate shale pit was reclaimed so it could support plant growth and eventually be pastured.
Introducing diverse vegetation, rotational grazing and less soil compaction improved the soil’s biology and its ability to absorb water. The rejuvenated land could support more cattle without negative environmental impacts.
The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service assisted with improved fencing and farm lanes. The Department of Energy provided funding for a solar-powered watering system. Preventing cattle from walking to a centralized water tank ensured even distribution of nutrients on the land.
After accepting help for conservation projects on his farm, Richard collaborated with a local school district and the Martin’s Jacoby Watershed to share his knowledge with others. He convinced the school district to transform an abandoned tree farm into pasture. The site now features an outdoor classroom that promotes the benefits of grazing and other conservation practices.
“The DiFebo family has done an outstanding job of demonstrating how farmers can be exceptional stewards of the land, while operating a successful animal and crop farm,” said Pennsylvania Farm Bureau President Rick Ebert. “The DiFebos used creativity and an understanding of soil and natural resources to implement a variety of conservation improvement projects on Harvest Home Farms. We believe the DiFebos are truly deserving of being recognized with the Leopold Conservation Award.”
“The Heinz Endowments’ sustainability program promotes community health and vitality through sustainable food systems, and as part of this work we are pleased to cosponsor the Leopold Conservation Award. We believe the Leopold Conservation Award, and the outstanding leadership in agriculture that it recognizes, plays an important role in encouraging the continued growth of Pennsylvania’s sustainable agriculture movement,” said Andrew McElwaine, Vice President of Sustainability for The Heinz Endowments.
Among the many outstanding landowners nominated for the award were finalists Glen Cauffman, of Millerstown, Frosty Springs Farm, of Waynesburg, and Donald and Donna Feusner, of Athens.