Deep Roots Award

Award Presentation to Paul Johnson

As a farmer, advocate, Iowa state legislator, and agency leader, Paul Johnson has for more than four decades been a leading voice for conservation, agriculture, and land stewardship.  Whether working on his own family’s farm outside Decorah, Iowa, or as the longest serving chief (1994-1998) of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Paul has always worked for more diverse, beautiful, and resilient farm landscapes.  Under Paul’s watch, in 1995 the NRCS and U.S. Forest Service partnered to raise the profile of the National Agroforestry Center to its current form, after earlier manifestations and genesis in the 1990 Farm Bill. In celebration of that history and with an eye to the future, we honor Paul and all those who have worked to advance the science, practice, and adoption of agroforestry!

Read some of Paul’s writing

Over the course of his long career, Paul has authored numerous essays and articles and he has also helped to craft several important reports. Explore some of the links below for a sample of just some of his varied work.

Reflections on Paul’s work: 

Dear Paul, I wish I could’ve known and worked with you for decades. I wish I could’ve absorbed your energy and wisdom all the way along that journey. I came late to this conservation and land access work, but you have helped me catch up quickly. Your steady guidance and calming voice have helped put guardrails on my work and fill in the massive gaps in my knowledge. Thank you so much for all you’ve done to fight the good fight in and for Iowa and the land. We’ll take it the next few miles now, standing on the shoulders of giants like you. You, sir, get to rest. Please do. Hugs from Cedar County to you and Pat! Suzan Erem

Hi, Paul! I’m delighted that you and Pat were able to listen in to the session today, and to share your “live” thoughts with the attendees. Congratulations on being the first recipient of the Deep Roots Award! What an appropriate way to recognize all that you have done, for so long, to bring conservation and agriculture together, and to advance the land ethic. You provided strong shoulders for the Savanna Institute — and so many others — to stand on. I’m proud to be your friend and colleague. And this recognition extends of course to Pat and your whole family. Be well, my friend.

Congrats on this well-earned award, Paul, and thanks for your service in its many forms. The timing is obviously especially opportune now in December in 2020 to hear the story of the ways you helped reshape USDA during your career to better engage sustainable ag priorities — with a change in administrations impending, the current round of conversations about reshaping need to be informed by the road already traveled. We’ll move the cause forward, generation by generation. It was great visit with you at Prairie Festival a year or two ago. -Fred Iutzi, former president of The Land Institute

Paul Johnson is the most insightful, emotionally intelligent leader I have known in the 33 years of my career with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. He is an eloquent speaker, a listener, and one who always cared about the agency with his heart, his mind and his soul. Read his publications listed on this site and give thanks that he has made such a positive difference for Mother Earth!! Pat Leavenworth

Paul (and Pat) ~ wow, we are so fortunate to have your energy and voice and heart, you’ve made SUCH a difference in helping us move the ag & land sustainability needle forward ~ Congratulations on the Deep Roots Award! ~ Jeri Neal

Paul – So happy for this well deserved tribute. Thanks for all you have done for the conservation community. I am back on the family farm in Tennessee! Dana York

Dear Paul, Congratulations on the deep roots award. It has been such a privilege to know and work with you over the years. Your concepts of the Leopoldo Center and the need for long range research on agriculture and environment issues were far ahead of their time. It was great to help carry out these ideas. Over the years I and Betty have greatly valued our friendship. You and Pat have been a special part of our lives. All our love, Dennis and Betty

Dear Paul – Leopold Landscape Alliance in Burlington is delighted to join all of your friends in saluting your many accomplishments for the conservation community. And we are grateful for your careful advice and support when we were striving to establish a new organization here in Leopold’s hometown area. It has been 5 years now and we have purchased both of the Leopold childhood homes that you visited. LLA has gone on to establish several programs to help other organizations and private land owners with conservation and habitat improvement goals. Just yesterday several of us were burning CRP prairie on a partner’s land to preserve open space in an urban area. Leopold’s childhood adventures around the home bluffs, river swamps & other Tramping sites were an such important beginning to Aldo’s journey toward an ecological conscience, and now continue to help children & adults see the importance of wild places in our lives today. LLA is so honored to be included as one of your successful projects and hope you have a great celebration day. Steve Brower and all of us here at LLA

Hello Paul and family. I’m so sorry to have missed the tribute but am so happy to know you have, once more, been recognized for a lifetime of service – to people, land, and animals. On behalf of both rural and urban people who care for the welfare of our planet, the planet that gives us health, happiness, and livelihoods, we send you our heart-felt thanks for a life well lived. You have been a North Star for so many–living a life that has served as a fulcrum in the transition of a society that takes its environment seriously. So as we approach the Winter Solstice and the end of a turbulent year, please know that Heather and I have you in our thoughts. Old timers say if wishes were horses, everyone would ride. We say, if wishes were prayers you will find your way to a special place in the heavens. With gratitude–Rick & Heather Knight

Hi Paul, really sorry I missed this yesterday! But, from the bottom of my heart, I wanted you to know how very much your years of leadership on all this has meant to so many of us, and especially to those involved in the Leopold Center. None of this would have happened without you and the imaginative and dedicated leadership you provided. Thank you, thank you!! Fred Kirschenmann

Paul, As a teaching assistant in Bill Cronon’s environmental history course at UW, we taught hundreds of undergrads about the significance of works like A Geography of Hope. It’s so inspiring to learn more about the context and the person behind that work! Thank you so much for your hard work and vision – Kate Wersan

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