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California Bountiful Magazine: Working with—and for—the land

Posted on November 29 2016

Original Article published by California Bountiful magazine Jan./Feb. 2016 California Bountiful magazine Story by Tracy Sellers Photos by Paolo Vescia

Farmers recognized for conservation practices


  Farmers and ranchers are often called stewards of the land because of their close connection to it. They hold true to the belief that they can and must enhance natural resources and protect the environment, while simultaneously producing food, fiber and energy for a growing world population. The Leopold Conservation Award honors landowners who demonstrate such a commitment, including 2015 recipients Jim and Mary Rickert of Shasta County. "Winning this award is validation that our life's philosophies are being recognized," Mary Rickert said. "It's not about Jim and me; it's about the people we work with, the animals we look after and the land we care for." Ken and Matt Altman of San Diego and Riverside counties and Bruce Hafenfeld of Kern County were finalists for the 2015 award. In California, the Leopold Conservation Award is presented by the Sand County Foundation, California Farm Bureau Federation and Sustainable Conservation. The S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation and the Nature Conservancy are major sponsors as well.

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Matt Altman, left, and father Ken Altman have implemented a number of efficiencies at Altman Specialty Plants to conserve resources. The family also founded a nonprofit center for researching and teaching sustainable horticultural practices.

  Ken and Matt Altman

Altman Specialty Plants

Riverside and San Diego Counties

  What began as an avid interest in plants for husband and wife Ken and Deena Altman is now a wholesale nursery business that encompasses more than 1,700 acres in six states. Altman Specialty Plants, today one of the nation's largest horticultural growers, specializes in drought-tolerant and water-efficient plants. Ken Altman and his son, Matt, manage the company with a careful eye on conserving resources. The nurseries are retrofitted with water- and energyefficient irrigation systems that reduce water use by 50 percent per acre, and soil-moisture sensors are being installed in container plants to further decrease water use. In addition, Altman Plants raises 5,000 plant species using integrated pest management, which controls pests in ways that minimize risks to people and the environment. The Altmans also founded the Center for Applied Horticultural Research, a nonprofit research and teaching center dedicated to advancing a sustainable horticulture industry. In 2014, the Altmans embarked on their biggest project yet: a water recycling system at their Riverside County site that captures irrigation runoff, treats it and reuses the water. "As a farm and nursery, we're reliant on water, and over the last five years, we've seen water become more and more limited here in California," Matt Altman said. "We took it upon ourselves to ensure we had access to water." The Altmans recycle and reuse 1 million gallons of water a day. They say they hope the public and other nursery growers are able to benefit from their approach to water management. "There's really nothing better than being able to do a good job with family, share your success and provide knowledge to others," Ken Altman said.    

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