Wake County honors annual award winners for their commitment to conservation in 2023

Soil and Water supervisors and director present award to farmers standing in field
District supervisors Thomas Dean and Beth Pugh Farrell (left), joined by District Director Teresa Furr and Supervisor Scott Lassiter (right), present the Farm Family of the Year Award to Jerry Jordan and Pablo Ramirez.

From maintaining a family farm for more than a century to creating impactful environmental posters, the winners of the Wake County Soil and Water Conservation District’s annual awards have gone above and beyond to protect our natural resources and land.

“Every year, we look forward to honoring and celebrating the dedication and accomplishments of these individuals through our annual awards,” said Shinica Thomas, chair, Wake County Board of Commissioners. “These awards not only highlight the hard work and creativity of people in farming and conservation, but they also serve as inspiration for others to adopt these practices.”

The Wake County Soil and Water Conservation District has been presenting awards for 58 years.

Farm Family of the Year Thomas Jordan and Sons Family Farms

The 2023 Farm Family of the Year Award goes to the Jordan family, who has been farming in Wake County since 1920. Jerry Jordan, his son Jeff and farm employee Pablo Ramirez manage 200 acres of farmland in southeastern Wake County, growing soybeans, sweet potatoes, wheat and hay. They also manage a herd of 15 brood cattle with 10 to 12 calves.

In 2023, Thomas Jordan and Sons Family Farms installed a system to protect their farm's stream, including a well, pump, 800 feet of pipeline, two watering tanks, three heavy-use areas and 1,350 feet of stream exclusion fencing. This system keeps cattle away from surface waters and provides an alternative water source. The stream protection system helps reduce soil erosion and nutrient runoff and it improves the overall water quality of Middle Creek.

The Patrick H. Johnson Farmland Preservation Award – Bailey Farms

This year's Farmland Preservation Award is presented to Bailey Farms, managed by Jim Bailey and his son Matthew Bailey.

The Baileys have voluntarily agreed to place 125 acres of their 129-acre farm into the Wake Soil and Water Conservation District’s Farmland Preservation Program, which will permanently safeguard the property from development. Approximately 75% of the farm's soils are considered prime farmland, holding statewide importance and protecting streams and wildlife.

The Wake County Soil and Water Conservation District works with Triangle Land Conservancy to preserve prime farmland through the Farmland Preservation Program.

Big Sweep Outstanding Volunteer Award Jennifer Browndorf and Iwona Birk

Iwona Birk and Jennifer Browndorf are the recipients of the Outstanding Volunteer Award for their exceptional dedication, initiative and leadership within Wake County Big Sweep. The program coordinates several litter cleanups focused on protecting our water quality and environment in Wake County throughout the year.

Jennifer and Iwona, who are also active members of Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, initiated a collaboration with Big Sweep to conduct a cleanup effort at Falls Lake, a vital source of drinking water for Wake County. They focused on the Mountains-to-Sea trailheads, where they now hold biannual sweeps. In a short time, they have organized and implemented four successful events, resulting in the removal of an impressive 3,522 pounds of trash and recycling.

B.C. Raynor Friend of the District Award – Art Ross

The B.C. Raynor Friend of the District Award honors individuals, the business community and other conservation organizations for their remarkable contributions to the Wake Soil and Water Conservation District programs. Named after Dr. Bobby Carlyle Raynor, who grew up on a family farm in eastern North Carolina and later become a successful dentist in the Triangle, this award recognizes outstanding dedication. This year’s award goes to Art Ross, a longtime friend and advocate of the Wake Soil and Water Conservation District.

After retiring as the pastor of White Memorial Presbyterian Church, Art Ross got a yellow kayak from his congregation. When he paddled down Crabtree Creek for the first time, he noticed a lot of litter. In 2011, Art assumed the role of Big Sweep Zone Captain, succeeding Bill Garrabrant, and led flotillas of volunteers in canoes and kayaks down Crabtree Creek to remove tons of trash.

In July 2023, Art announced a financial donation to establish the Sheila B. Jones Environmental Education Scholarship award in honor of retired Environmental Educator Sheila Jones.

Big Sweep Outstanding Partner of the Year Award Green for Life Environmental

This year, Wake County Big Sweep awards Green for Life Environmental (GFL) with the Partner of the Year Award. Since 2019, the company has consistently supported Big Sweep cleanups, dedicating staff time, disposal services and roll-off dumpsters. GFL has played a crucial role in helping Wake County Big Sweep remove 37,480 pounds of trash across eight large events. Their generous contributions have been instrumental in making Big Sweep cleanup efforts possible.

Poster Contest Winners – Atri Mandal, Emily Marek and Kiaan Salim

More than a hundred fourth and fifth graders from 10 schools in Wake County participated in "The Living Soil" conservation poster contest to showcase how people can protect soil and why it's essential.

A panel of judges selected the top 10 posters, and from these, the Wake District Board of Supervisors chose the top three winners: Atri Mandal from Poe Elementary, Emily Marek from Green Hope Elementary and Kiaan Salim from Green Hope Elementary.

Each student artist was presented with a plaque and a cash award of $100, $50 and $25, respectively, from contest co-sponsor
Novozymes North America Inc. Now, fifth grader Atri Mandal’s poster and fourth grader Jayceon Fuller’s poster are advancing to the regional competition with the opportunity to win additional cash prizes and recognition.

Press Release