Richard Ball, New York state’s ag commissioner, and Basil Seggos, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, recently joined the Sand County Foundation to announce that Greenfield Farms of Skaneateles was selected as the 2022 winner of the New York AEM-Leopold Conservation Award.
For the win, the Greenfields have been awarded $10,000.
The award honors a farm for its efforts to promote and protect the environment through the preservation of soil and water quality while ensuring farm viability for future generations.
Greenfield Farms is located near Skaneateles Lake, which supplies drinking water for Syracuse and seven other New York municipalities. Jim, Tom, Bill and TJ Greenfield utilize agricultural conservation practices to help their farm act as a 1,400-acre sponge, absorbing rain and snowmelt, and keeping topsoil in place. The farm grows 700 acres of soybeans, 200 acres of corn, 250 acres of wheat and hundreds of acres of hay.
Jim Greenfield is one of the original leaders and farmer advocates of Syracuse’s Skaneateles Lake Watershed Agricultural Program.
“I extend my congratulations to Jim, Tom, Bill, TJ and the whole Greenfield family for their exemplary efforts to protect and steward their land,” Ball said. “Their innovative environmental practices, leadership and dedication to giving back to their community are something to be admired and mirrored across New York state, and they are certainly most deserving of the esteemed AEM-Leopold Conservation Award.”
Building a partnership
Preventing soil erosion at Greenfield Farms is important because most of the farm’s corn, soybean, hay, oat and wheat fields overlook Skaneateles Lake, which provides the drinking water for Syracuse and seven other New York municipalities. The rest of the farm drains toward Owasco Lake, which supplies drinking water for the city of Auburn’s 36,000 residents.
Improving water quality through municipal-agricultural partnerships may be a new concept elsewhere, but Greenfield Farms and its neighbors have been part of such a public-private partnership for decades.
It was 30 years ago that the city of Syracuse had a choice: It could either build a $70 million water treatment plant — with an estimated $6 million annual operating expense — or it could cooperatively work with farmers and other landowners in the watershed to improve water quality.
In collaboration with farmers like the Greenfields, Syracuse opted to do the latter. At that time, Jim Greenfield was one of seven farmers who agreed to help encourage other landowners across the 37,952-acre watershed to voluntarily participate in the Skaneateles Lake Watershed Agricultural Program.
Changing the farm
Jim and his family made changes to the way things were done at home. They sold their mold-board plow in 2000 and were one of the first farms in the area to invest in a no-till drill to plant crops. They are now on their fourth no-till drill.
To improve their soil’s ability to infiltrate water, add organic matter and reduce erosion, the Greenfields started planting cover crops, including oats.
They also established more than 12 miles of grassed waterways and edged all their crop fields with grass buffers to provide another barrier to prevent runoff. They have also installed and maintain more than 2 miles of stabilized access roads at the farm to keep their tractor tires from bringing soil onto public roads.
The farm also features 20 water and sediment control basins that capture clean water and move it underground to a stable outlet.
Greenfield Farms uses smart technology to variably apply lime, fertilizer and other soil amendments. Using this technology showed them that shade from hedgerows eliminated the profitability of nearby corn rows. After converting these underproducing areas to grassed buffers, they saved $400 per acre in time, fuel, crop inputs and topsoil resources.
Jim Greenfield’s volunteer work with the Skaneateles Lake Watershed Agricultural Program and his family’s support for such efforts has not waned through the years.
In addition to mentoring the next generation of board members, he gathered the sons and daughters of participants for a dinner meeting in 2017, where he explained how hard he and his peers worked had to work to get the innovative partnership off the ground and instilled in them why they need to carry it forward.
Given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, the Leopold Conservation Award recognizes farmers, ranchers and forestland owners who inspire others with their dedication to land, water and wildlife habitat management on working land. The award is presented to landowners in 24 states.
Since 2020, New York’s longstanding Agricultural Environmental Management Award has been offered in collaboration with the Leopold Conservation Award.
AEM Award winners are chosen from nominees submitted by County Soil and Water Conservation Districts from around the state. The first Agricultural Environmental Management Award was presented in 2002. Before that, the award was known as the Agricultural Stewardship Award.