2024 Soil Health U award winners announced

Carolyn Wingate and Marcus Richardson were presented Soil Health U Awards by HPJ Publisher Zac Stuckey. (Journal photo by Kylene Scott.)

Regenerative farmers and industry leaders gathered for another year of Soil Health U in Salina, Kansas, Jan. 17 to 18 and two standout members of the regenerative agriculture community were honored with Soil Health U awards. These award winners were nominated by their peers and selected by High Plains Journal staff.  

Carolyn Wingate of Andover, Kansas, was awarded the Regenerative Woman of the Year award. She is the founder of Win Biologics, which offers soil biology products to improve soil health and build carbon in the soil. Wingate said she caught the soil health bug about 10 years ago and started Win Biologics in 2021.  

“I just slowly worked my way into trying to figure out a way to offer those concepts and support that mission without doing conventional tillage, anhydrous and all the chemical fallow that we do to support life,” Wingate said. “The main focus is trying to teach people about how to support life in their soil and that there are 365 days of opportunity for the sun to give your soil energy and sugars into all those carbohydrates and bacteria. There’s this entire life that is just beyond your cash crop and the more that you pay attention to that the less hard inputs that you have to do over time.”  

Wingate said she has been a “soil health groupie” for a long time and being selected for an award by others in the regenerative agriculture industry is an honor. She looks forward to the Soil Health U event every year because although she has learned a lot in her years of involvement in agriculture, Wingate always learns something new at this conference. Jess Dunegan, JessDunegan Design, nominated Wingate for the award.  

“Carolyn is a pioneer in her industry,” she said. “She’s passionate about soil health and believes healthy soil equals a healthy long life. Her products eliminate harsh chemicals used in the agriculture industry, which creates a healthier ecosystem for the food we grow.” 

Another peer who nominated Wingate was Anne Gifford, of Emmaus Road Farm. 

“This woman has worked tirelessly to launch and grow her company and has worked hard to build trusted relationships with her grower and customers in order to provide the products that will help them succeed while creating a more sustainable approach that benefits everyone,” Gifford said. “She’s on the cutting edge of biotechnology to better equip regenerative farmers with micronutrients to maximize cover crop usage and improve soil health. She is passionate about developing long-term business relationships with farmers to help them leave a lasting legacy of health and sustainability for future generations.” 

Wingate said her dedication to improving soils is rooted in human health, nutrition and mental health.  

“I think that because our soils are so depleted, we’re seeing a lot of symptoms and sickness in our population like autoimmune issues and mental illnesses that are on the rise,” Wingate said. “Your gut is actually your second brain, and a lot of your gut biology has to do with your mental health. That’s my big why for sure.”  

Her advice to anyone interested in incorporating soil health strategies into their operation is to start small and have an open mind. She also recommends incorporating livestock into cover crops. 

“It can be very scary from a profit standpoint to pour a lot of money into something if you’re not able to capture any of that protein. because it takes a while to get the system going,” Wingate said. “If you are able to incorporate cattle, as well as cover crops, I think that’s kind of the perfect one-two punch to be able to recapture that investment year one versus having to wait three to five years to really see that difference in your soil.” 

Regenerative Young Producer of the Year

The Regenerative Young Producer of the Year was presented to Marcus Richardson of Haven, Kansas. Richardson, along with his wife, Jami, took over his uncle’s conventional tillage farm in 2016. Over time he developed the confidence to experiment with the farm and incorporate new ideas. In 2020 they started introducing no-till practices and delving into soil health strategies.  

“The first step was renting the conservation district’s no-till drill and putting in 40 acres on a drought year and it turned out great,” Richardson said. “I was told that first year was all it took and I realized there’s something to this. There was no rain and we got tons of covers for our cows. It was amazing.” 

The Richardsons plant sorghum, soybeans, corn, wheat and they have also tried their hand at sunflowers. Richardson said his wife deserves an equal share of this award as she plays a significant role in the operation. He said hearing the news that he had been selected was a total surprise. 

“I always keep my head down and keep working and I’m enjoying it, but I never thought I’d get recognition for doing it,” he said. “But I’m honored.” 

Shelby Beyer, Anchor Farm, nominated Richardson for the award. She had this to say in her testimonial. 

“Alongside his wife Jami, they have made huge strides and gains in terms of soil health on their farm,” she said. “This year they started to share their knowledge and skills with those around them by hosting a field day.” 

Another nominator echoed the Beyer’s sentiments. 

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“Richardson has converted his family’s farm to regenerative practices,” they explained. “He has increased their soil organic matter significantly in just a few years. He is also building a regenerative community in their neighborhood by hosting an educational field day and partnering with a neighbor who has cattle to integrate livestock into their row crop operation.” 

Richardson said he decided to start hosting a field day to share knowledge with his fellow farmers because he wants everyone to learn and improve their farming practices. 

“I think there’s a lack of communications between farmers,” Richardson said. “The new age farmers don’t go to the co-op and talk. It’s all secretive. If we were more open about what we’re trying, what didn’t work, we might be a decade ahead of where we are right now.” 

Lacey Vilhauer can be reached at 620-227-1871 or [email protected].