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“Those were my kind of jokes...hilarious!,” one guest was quoted saying after the presentations at this year’s Vernon County Land and Water Conservation Awards Banquet. This event honored area youth who participated in their conservation poster and photo contests. Along with these contests, the night showcased the Conservation Farmer of the Year, Landowner of the Year and Teacher of the Year.

The focus of the banquet was children and conservation. As one observer noted, “I couldn’t believe how much the students had learned about watersheds and conservation.” Another attendee said, “You could really see how passionate the farmers of the year were about the conservation legacy on their farm.”

Nate and Danika Wehling won the Conservation Farmer of the Year award. They live on an organic dairy farm in rural Westby. The Wehlings milk around 70 dairy cows and run nearly 400 acres of land. They have been farming on their own for more than 10 years, but have really been farming their entire lives. They are active in managed grazing, nutrient management, use cover drops, contour strips and the Conservation Stewardship Program. The have also opened a country store on their farm located at S764 Jore road in Westby.

Tom Lukens and Pam Saunders received the Conservation Landowner of the Year award. Lukens and Saunders have been doing restoration work on their land for 15 years. Their 87-acre property is located on the West Fork of the Kickapoo River. They have done some amazing projects including trout restoration, bank stabilization, prairie restoration, seeding water marsh, non-game habitat and invasive species control.

Heidi Hamilton, a teacher at Westby High School, won the Conservation Teacher of the Year Award. Hamilton is currently a high school science teacher and the head of the Conservation Club. She has organized tree plantings, recycling programs and gardening projects with her students working along with younger students as well.

The following students were recognized for their outstanding posters, in a conservation poster contest with the theme, “Watersheds, Our Water, Our Home”: Naia Sandberg, Ardyn Pierce, Hannah Hammond, Ella Simonson, Chloe Walter, Maya Hanson, Elaina Nemes, Louis Ludvig, Evelyn Hajzl, Liam Sullivan, Karissa Alexander, and Tahmara Hendrickson. Naia Sandberg, Ella Simonson and Elaina Nemes’s posters are moving onto the state competition in Lake Geneva on March 14.

The following individuals were recognized for their outstanding conservation photos: Emma Lee, Breta Lee, James Nadolski, Eva Lee, Ambrosia Wojahn, Clover Wojahn and Briar Wojahn. Eva Lee won at the national level for one of her photos.

The following students were recognized for their outstanding Conservation Speeches: Austin Anderson-Wood, Zirelia Leinberger, Ambrosia Wojahn, Raegan Davey, Caleb Bergum and Ansel Brenneman. Both Caleb Bergum and Zirelia Leinberger will be moving onto state March 14 in Lake Geneva.

The banquet couldn’t have taken place without sponsors. Gold sponsors were Adams Engineering & Surveying, Compeer Financial, Hwy 14 Firearms, Johnson Chiropractic, Mike Lepke Excavating, Nina Carns and Sleepy Hollow. Bronze sponsors wereAnimal Tracks, Tim and Marie Ash, Chaseburg Manufacturing, The Chill, Jason Fortney and Sons Trucking, Grass Fed Beef Coop, Green Bay Packers, Milwaukee Brewers, Milwaukee Bucks, National Wild Turkey Federation-Romance Chapter and Organic Valley. Other sponsors were B & E Trees, Bleachers Pub, Crawford County Independent, Culver’s, Dairy Queen, Dave’s Pizza, Farmers State Bank, Gasser’s Bar and Grill, Great River Roadhouse, Hideaway Bar & Grill, John Shea, Jon Lee, Kickapoo Valley Reserve, Legacy Bar & Grill, McDonald’s, Metropolis Resort, Nelson Agri-Center, Norwegian Hollow Hideaway, O’Reilly’s, Pork’s Hilltop, Portland Implement, Proline Printing, River Valley Auto, Rudy’s Bar, Tap House 138 (Viroqua Legion), Valley Stewardship Network, Vernon Communications Coop, Vernon Electric, Vernon Vineyards, Village Market, Viroqua Food Co-op, Wehling Farms & Country Store, Westby Co-op Creamery and Westby Rod and Gun. Rockton Bar for catered the event.

If you would like to nominate someone for one of the awards, attend the event, or sponsor the event for next year, contact Vernon County Land and Water Conservation at 608-637-5480.


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