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Sustainable farmer, advocate receive conservation award from Virginia Cooperative Extension

February 8, 2016

Two men recognized by the  U.S. Department of Agriculture-Natural Resources Conservation Service
Mark Schonbeck (left) and C.J. Isbell (right) were recognized by Virginia Cooperative Extension and the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Natural Resources Conservation Service for their commitment to sustainability and soil health.

Virginia Cooperative Extension and the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Natural Resources Conservation Service recently presented Mark Schonbeck and C.J. Isbell with the Soil Health and Water Quality Award for their contributions to conservation in the state of Virginia.

The award was created in partnership between Extension, USDA-NRCS, and the Virginia Soil Health Coalition, and is sponsored by Houff Feed and Fertilizer. The award commemorates former Houff salesman, Carl G. Luebben, who was known for his prolific soil health research, papers, and mentorship of conservation professionals.

Schonbeck and Isbell received their plaques from Duane McAllister of Houff Feed and Fertilizer and Dan Luebben, son of the award’s namesake, at the Virginia Farm-to-Table Conference in Weyers Cave, Virginia.

The senior Luebben, who passed away in October of last year, previously served on the Virginia Farm Bureau Board, the Shenandoah Resource Conservation and Development Council, and the Shenandoah Valley Soil and Water Conservation District.

“This award honors Carl as well as the commitment of individuals like Mark and C.J. to help keep their communities economically viable through sustainability,” said Eric Bendfeldt, community viability Extension specialist.

Schonbeck has devoted the past 29 years to promoting sustainable and organic agriculture, leading or participating in several on-farm research projects. He edited the quarterly newsletter for the Virginia Association for Biological Farming from 1997-2013, and has written numerous producer information sheets and articles on weeds and organic integrated pest management for the publication eOrganic.

He also serves as VABF’s primary policy liaison with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. Over the past 20 years, he has provided soil, crop, and weed management consulting services for several hundred small-scale farmers and homestead gardeners using organic and sustainable methods.

Isbell raises grass-fed beef, pastured pork, free-range poultry, and specialty nonGMO grains on his third-generation family farm in western Hanover County. Isbell has eliminated synthetic fertilizers and pesticides in his operation through diversification and intensive rotation, earning Keenbell Farm a Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation Clean Water Farm Award.

Selling direct to consumers, he uses a “buy local, buy sustainable” approach that is helping to strengthen the relationship between small farmers and consumers. Isbell is a also statewide mentor for the Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition and has hosted numerous outreach events to showcase his sustainable farming practices. He is also a former fellow of the Virginia Agriculture Leaders Obtaining Results program.

The Soil Health and Water Quality Award was introduced three years ago at the Virginia Farm-to-Table conference to honor Carl Luebben for his lifetime commitment to soil and water conservation and the mentoring of Extension and NRCS professionals. In 2014 the award was presented to Michael Phillips.

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