Archived entries for Rod Nilsestuen

Don Hawkins, taking home the Rod Nilsestuen Award for Working Lands Preservation

Don Hawkins of Mineral Point spent 32 years as an exemplary teacher of agriculture at Mineral Point High School before retiring to become a shining example of community engagement.


After retiring in 1983, Don contributed to the community through years of service on a number of boards. Then, in 1997 Don helped secure a lease on 200 acres in Iowa County where the soil had been exhausted by farming. By forming some new partnerships, including the recruitment of Iowa County jail inmates, he was instrumental in turning the former crop fields into one of the largest prairie restorations in Southwest Wisconsin. Eventually, another 230 acres was added to create the 430-acre Iowa County Recreation and Prairie Restoration—a beautiful retreat for all to enjoy.

from Friends of the Oak Savanna fb page3

About that same time, Don began to lead two other restoration projects—ultimately transforming 20-acres of an idle-weed patch and small mixed-wood forest that are owned by local schools, into valuable assets for students, teachers and other community members. One of which, has appropriately been dubbed the “Don Hawkins Community Oak Savannah” while the other is now a beautiful tall-grass prairie.

from Friends of the Oak Savanna fb page4

On top of this, Don has been leading a partnership between a high school ag and third grade class for eight years, starting prairie seed in a greenhouse and planting them in the savannas. He has brought many other grades and classes to the savannas as well, to learn and engage with the outdoors.

from Friends of the Oak Savanna fb page2

“Will Don ever slow down? It seems unlikely…. The satisfaction he gains from restoring the land and helping build community continues to beckon.” (Chuck Tennessen, Voice of the River Valley). For all of these reasons and more, Gathering Waters is thrilled to honor Don Hawkins with a Rod Nilsestuen Award for Working Lands Preservation, on September 24th, at the Monona Terrace in Madison. Find out more about this event or RSVP on our website! 

*All photos courtesy of Friends of the Oak Savanna

On behalf of Wisconsins farms, natural resources and ag economy: Thank you, Tom!

Tom Lyon, one of this year’s winners of the Rod Nilsestuen Award for Working Land Preservation, has been dedicated to farmland protection for over 25 years.  Tom was a successful agribusiness leader who built a breeding cooperative in Shawano into an international success. Tom also served on the board of American Farmland Trust and remains a trusted advisor to this day. Through his efforts, American Farmland Trust re-established a presence in the state and raised tens of thousands of dollars to support that effort.

Tom was a visionary who saw the urgent need to preserve working lands and understood that they were a critical natural resource, fundamental to life itself and to the state’s most basic industry. He realized that the wasteful destruction of these lands would have grave consequences for our economy, society and environment and thus he began to work on a toolkit that would enhance Wisconsin’s farmland protection.

His work on this toolkit took place in a successful partnership with the namesake of this award, Rod Nilsestuen, which established the Working Lands Initiative and Purchase of Agricultural Easements (PACE) program. Together, they built the program from the ground up, seeking input from citizens all across the state at forums, workshops, and listening sessions. PACE has resulted in the protection of thousands of acres of working lands, helping to reduce the trend of rapid farmland losses throughout the state.

Tom continues to be active in farmland protection efforts, serving as a key member of the Friends of Farmland Protection Coalition, which was assembled by American Farmland Trust, and 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, a group that promotes wise land use.

Please join us in celebrating and honoring Tom’s many achievements at our annual Land Conservation Leadership Awards Ceremony on September 26th at the Monona Terrace in Madison, WI.

Gathering Waters • 211 S. Paterson St. Suite 270 • Madison, WI 53703 • PH 608-251-9131 • FX 608-663-5971 • [email protected]