Family farm honored for efforts at going green

The Burroughs family of ranchers and farmers has made a discovery.

"We call it management-intensive grazing," said Ward Burroughs, co-owner of Burroughs Family Farms. "It leads to the building up of soil. The opposite of losing topsoil is the building of soil."

Ward and his family graze their cows on organically grown grass instead of giving them corn-based feed. That improves the health of the soil as well as the animals, he said.

And that's one reason why the family was recently recognized in a statewide competition for their multi-generational organic family farm in northern Merced County.

The competitive Leopold Conservation Award celebrates those people "dedicated to land ethic," said Kevin Kiley, director of communications for Sand County Foundation, a national nonprofit that partners with organizations in eight states around the country to present the prize. "They're people who want to see their land and natural resources continue for the next generation. They're dedicated to caring for natural resources that are a benefit to everyone. And they do that alongside a sustainable agricultural operation."

Finalists for the Leo-pold Award are chosen by a group of judges composed of public and private agencies dedicated to conservation. The criteria for the award include overall land health, community outreach and innovation.

While Burroughs and his family didn't win the $10,000 first-place prize, they were proud to be one of three finalists in California.

"Being nominated is an honor in itself," said Rose Burroughs, Wade's wife. "And we're very proud of our family operation. We're pleased to share our story of our family farming legacy. I'm so proud of what the farm is doing because we're not only acting as responsible stewards of the land but also preparing the future for good health through a holistic approach through farming."

The Burroughs family farm is a third-generation business on more than 4,400 acres of land outside Denair. Over the last eight years, they have been steadily transitioning their operation to meet certified organic standards.

Ward said he and his wife started getting interested in organics because they wanted to feed their family healthier food but found it hard to avoid processed goods. That was more than a decade ago. "It's a family deal," he said. "Rosie was the first one to really recognize it. I was a conventional farmer -- all I knew was to do what everyone else was doing."

Today, the family has organic operations producing dairy goods, eggs, chickens, turkeys, beef, olives and almonds. The family also started an organic garden to feed themselves and their employees. They run five solar arrays that provide 80 percent of the power to irrigate their orchards.

"We don't do it to get recognized," said Ward. "We do it because we think it's the right thing to do. It's taking this land and making it better. That's what it's all about."

Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or jsmith@mercedsunstar.com.