Dale and Karen Green’s Win­ne­s­­hiek County farm is all about sustainability.

They raised five girls and still live in a home first built in 1853, in the early days of Iowa’s statehood. They’ve nurtured the family’s maple syrup business, which dates back even earlier to 1851, when Dale’s ancestors first moved from New England to settle in northeast Iowa.

And they’ve put a special emphasis on caring for the land on their hilly cattle and crop operation, called Spring Valley Farms, near Castalia.  

“It’s really important to me to leave the land better off for future generations than when I started farming it. I really take pride in that,” said Dale, who started farming full-time in 1968 after graduating from Iowa State University. “The land has really been good to us, and it just make sense to care for it.”

The Greens, Winneshiek County Farm Bureau members, have im­plemented a wide variety of practices to care for the land, reduce soil loss and improve water quality on their 415 acres of cropland, pasture and woodlands.

They have adopted no-till and farm on the contour to stem erosion. They raise crops on extended rotations, which include oats and hay to build soil health. The Greens plant cover crops and have implemented buffer strips and grassed waterways on their farm to protect their fields and reduce nutrient loss.

They run soil tests and use precision fertilizer applications. A rotational grazing program helps to promote pasture health, they said.

The Greens have also used cost-share programs to complete several other conservation efforts, including a major project to stabilize the stream banks along the Yellow River, which runs through their farm. The project created wetland buffers, en­hanced timber stands and kept cattle off stream banks.

The Greens’ dedication to reducing soil loss, improving water quality and protecting the environment earned them the 2016 Iowa Conservation Farmer of the Year award. The award, which is sponsored by the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF) and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS), was presented Aug. 29 at a ceremony in Altoona.

The Greens are very deserving of the statewide conservation award, said Corey Meyer, coordinator of the Yellow River Headwaters Water Quality Project.

The streambank stabilization project, which covered more than 5,000 feet along the Yellow River, included planting riparian trees, building areas to protect the banks from heavy livestock use and 3 miles of fencing to keep cattle away from the river bank.

“The Yellow River was once one of the most polluted in the state,” Dale said. “But thanks to the work by farmers in the area, it is now supporting trout.”

The Greens are also known all around northeast Iowa for their annual maple syrup festival, which is held in late March and early April. It draws several thousand visitors to their maple sugar camp, called Green’s Sugarbush, not far from their home.

Members of the Green family have been tapping maples, making syrup and selling it since the farm was first settled in 1851.

“We think that it may be one of the oldest continually operating bus­inesses in Iowa,” Dale said. “We use horses and wagons to gather the sap and have a wood-fired evaporator. It’s still about as old-fashioned as you can get.”