Winners of the Wisconsin Leopold Conservation Award

Joe and Christy Thomandle of Medford have been selected as the 2022 Wisconsin Leopold Conservation Award recipients. (Sand County Foundation)

MADISON, Wis. — Joe and Christy Tamandle of Medford have been selected as the 2022 Wisconsin Leopold Preservation Award recipients.

The award is named after renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold and recognizes farmers and forest owners who inspire others with their commitment to stewardship of land, water and wildlife habitat on private working lands. U Wisconsin an award of $10,000 is awarded annually Sand County Foundation, American Farmland Trust, Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federationand Wisconsin Dairy Farmers.

This year’s honorees were dairy farmers Joe and Christy Tomandle at the Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Council’s November 17 meeting in Madison. They receive $10,000 and a crystal reward for being chosen. A video celebrating their conservation success will premiere during the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation’s virtual annual meeting on Dec. 4.

“Wisconsin dairy farmers have a long history of protecting their land and water for the future of their families, farms and communities, and Tamandla is a shining example of that remarkable commitment to conservation,” said Chad Vincent, CEO of Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin. . “Commitment to our planet is essential for agribusiness to truly thrive, and we’re proud to partner with the Sand County Foundation to celebrate farmers like Joe and Christy for their tremendous efforts to support and preserve the environment for future generations.”

“Joe and Christy Tomandle are committed to conservation, their community and the future of agriculture,” said Randy Romanski, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. “The Tomandls’ conservation ethic, leadership and innovation contribute to Wisconsin’s stewardship history and inspire farmers throughout the region.”

“Wisconsin Farm Bureau is proud to partner with the Sand County Foundation to celebrate farmers for their conservation efforts,” said Wisconsin Farm Bureau President Kevin Krentz. “We extend our congratulations to the Tamandl family for their outstanding commitment to conservation.”

Earlier this year, Wisconsin farmland and forest owners were invited to apply (or be nominated) for the award. Applications were reviewed by an independent panel of agriculture and conservation leaders. Among the many prominent Wisconsin landowners nominated for the award were finalists Full Circle Farm of Seymour in Shawano County, Joe Howell of Conover in Vilas County and Noll’s Dairy Farm of Alma in Buffalo County.

To view all past winners of the Wisconsin Leopold Conservation Award, visit:

“As a national sponsor of Sand County’s Leopold Conservation Foundation Award, American Farmland Trust recognizes the hard work and dedication of Joe and Christy Tomandle,” said John Piotti, AFT President and CEO. “At AFT, we believe that conservation in agriculture requires a focus on land, practice and people, and this award recognizes the integral role of all three.”

“These award winners exemplify how Aldo Leopold’s land ethic is alive and well today. Their commitment to conservation shows how people can improve the health of the earth while producing food and fiber,” said Kevin McAleese, president and CEO of the Sand County Foundation.

The Leopold Conservation Award in Wisconsin is made possible by generous contributions from the American Farmland Trust, Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, Sand County Foundation, Culver’s, Compeer Financial, McDonald’s, The Nature Conservancy, USDA – Natural Resources Conservation Service, We Energies Foundation, Wisconsin Corn Growers Association, Wisconsin Corn Promotion Board, Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Association, Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association and Wisconsin Soybean Marketing Board.

In his influential 1949 book Sand County AlmanacLeopold called for an ethical relationship between people and the land they own and manage, which he called “an evolutionary opportunity and an ecological necessity.”

The Sand County Foundation presents the Leopold Award to protect private landowners in 24 states with a variety of conservation, agricultural and forestry organizations. For more information about the award visit


Agriculture and education go hand in hand for Joe and Christy Tomandle; also grazing livestock and dairy farming.

Joe and Christy grew up on dairy farms before meeting in college while studying to be teachers. They taught middle and high school agriculture before pursuing their dreams of owning their own dairy farm. They bought 40 cows and 80 acres near Joe’s hometown of Medford while they were expecting their first child.

Joe grew up on a dairy farm where cattle were grazed. He believed that pasture made the most sense economically and environmentally for the beginning dairy farmer.

Cows come home to be milked on the tracks built on Joe and Kristi Tamandle’s pasture-based dairy farm. (Sand County Foundation)

Joe and Christy had a conservation plan in place before their first day of farming. With planning and financial assistance from the Taylor County Department of Land Conservation and the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service, they built infrastructure for rotational cattle grazing. Pastures were sown with perennial fodder. Driveways, fences and water pipes were built, and a large wetland area was restored.

The Tamandlas even decided to breed New Zealand Friesians, a dairy breed known for their grazing efficiency. Cows are fed perennial fodder in winter. A managed grazing system for the flock protects the farm’s woodlands and wetlands, and grazing is retained in some areas for nesting birds in the grasslands.

Tomandls exceeded the soil conservation requirements of the Wisconsin Farmland Conservation Program. The rate of soil erosion on their cropland is almost zero. The University of Wisconsin Marshfield Agricultural Research Station has named its system the gold standard for soil health for combining farm profitability with environmental benefits such as improved water infiltration and proven carbon sequestration. As an organic farm, the lack of pesticide use improves pollinator habitat in the pastures.

The Tomandls skillfully balanced conservation and business planning as the farm grew to 180 cows on 320 acres by 2010. That same year, Joe drew on his agricultural background to head up a pasture study in Wisconsin.

Joe developed a two-year work program that connects beginning livestock farmers with dairy farmers. He laments the consolidation of dairy farming as fewer dairies erode infrastructure and leadership in rural communities. This inspired him to develop a structured way to transfer knowledge, skills and farms to the next generation.

The Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship Program was registered by the US Department of Labor as a national apprenticeship program in 2015. As Executive Director, Joe oversees more than 200 approved teaching farms in 15 states.

When the opportunity arose to start their own farm, the Tomandls didn’t just build another barn to milk more cows. Instead, in 2015, they created a second 180-cow farm on 200 acres nearby. In 2020 they added another farm with 175 cows on 200 acres of pasture.

Joe and Christy are achieving what they first set out to do as agriculture teachers. They provide an affordable pathway for future dairy farmers that brings people back into rural communities.

By grazing only as many cows as their land can support, they improve soil health, water quality and wildlife habitat. When it comes to conservation, Tamandla leads the class.

— Sand County Fund Winners of the Wisconsin Leopold Conservation Award

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