2023 California Leopold Conservation Award Finalist Profile: Bowles Farming Company Inc.

Sustainable Conservation is proud to help coordinate the California Leopold Conservation Award (LCA,) now in its 18th year! Given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, the award recognizes landowners who inspire others with their exemplary dedication to land, water, and wildlife habitat management on private, working lands. Since 2006, the award has recognized California farmers, ranchers, and foresters who best exemplify the Leopold conservation ethic throughout all their agricultural practices. Our 2023 recipient will be announced during the California Farm Bureau Federation’s Annual Meeting in December. The recipient will receive $10,000 and a crystal award.  

This year, the award will go to one of two remarkable finalists: Bowles Farming Company Inc. and Park Farming Organics. While the farms differ greatly in their size and scale, location, crop and cropping system types, and more, they both share a long-term commitment to produce quality crops while adhering to their strict conservation philosophies. Read the below profiles to learn more about the finalists’ unique stories!

Bowles Farming Company Inc.

Quick facts:

Located in Los Banos of Merced County
Bowles and Lawrence families have farmed the land for 165 years
The farm currently manages 11,200 acres
Row crops include tomatoes, cotton, watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, carrot, onion, garlic, corn nuts, alfalfa, wheat, and herbs
Permanent crops include almond and pistachio trees
Manages 640 acres of wetland habitat
Produces 1,800 truckloads of compost annually for farm use and sale
Generates 2 million kWh of annual electricity through solar

While Bowles adopted significant sustainable farming practices like drip irrigation, crop rotation, renewable energy usage, and organic farming, the farm’s conservation philosophy is better defined by its outside-the-box initiatives and well-rounded positive impact. A prime example is their wetland management effort: The farm fosters native forage habitats for pollinators and migratory waterfowl across their 640 acres of seasonal wetlands. Through their involvement in the Presley Program with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, they monitor and document the wetland’s birds, bats, bees, and other keystone species while stewarding the critical habitat. In 2016, recognizing the need for more habitat, Bowles Farming restored a 6-mile riparian corridor on their property in collaboration with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy, Audubon Society, and others.

Another standout effort of Bowles Farming is the establishment of the Great Valley Seed Company. This initiative addresses the scarcity of native Central Valley plant seeds by propagating and preserving local ecotypes critical for habitat improvement. With over 70 ecotypes of California native plant species collected and partnerships with NGOs, state agencies, and local entities, the company is actively contributing to positive native restoration outcomes in the central and southern San Joaquin Valley.

The Bowles Farming property also features a large-scale composting operation that converts 1,800 truckloads of green waste from surrounding cities into high-quality soil amendments annually. The compost is subsequently spread throughout the farm and sold to other buyers.

From wetland management, to seed preservation, to large-scale composting, Bowles Farming Company Inc. is a testament to the notion that productive agriculture and environmental stewardship can go hand in hand.

Photos by Paolo Vescia

Stay tuned to find out which one of these fantastic finalists will receive the crystal award and a $10,000 prize for their farm! The winner of the 2023 award will be announced during the California Farm Bureau Federation’s Annual Meeting in December.

The Leopold Conservation Award in California is made possible thanks to the generous support of American Farmland Trust, California Farm Bureau Federation, Sand County Foundation The Harvey L. & Maud C. Sorensen Foundation, Farm Credit, The Nature Conservancy in California, McDonald’s, and California LCA recipient alumni.

Sand County Foundation inspires and enables a growing number of private landowners to ethically manage natural resources in their care, so future generations have clean and abundant water, healthy soil to support agriculture and forestry, plentiful habitat for wildlife and opportunities for outdoor recreation. 
The California Farm Bureau Federation works to protect family farms and ranches on behalf of nearly 40,000 members statewide and as part of a nationwide network of more than 5.5 million Farm Bureau members.
Sustainable Conservation logoSUSTAINABLE CONSERVATION
Sustainable Conservation helps California thrive by uniting people to solve the toughest challenges facing the state’s land, air and water. Since 1993, it has brought together business, landowners and government to steward the resources that all Californians depend on in ways that make economic sense. Sustainable                                     Conservation believes common ground is California’s most important resource.