Westmoreland Conservation District To Recognize Award Winners Sept. 12

The Westmoreland Conservation District Tuesday announced it will present two awards for outstanding conservation service and induct a former District director posthumously into its Hall of Honor.

Receiving recognition are:

-- The Forejt Family – Conservation Farmer of the Year, and

-- Malcolm Sias – J. Roy Houston Conservation Partnership Award

-- Albert Barnett is being inducted into the Hall of Honor.

Conservation Farmers of the Year - Forejt Family

The Forejts are being recognized for their use of best management practices on one of Westmoreland County’s largest agricultural operations.

The Forejt’s operation, Windy Heights, was founded by Greg Sr. in 1993.  When he passed away last September, his sons Gregory and Garrett took over the operation, along with their mother, Lesley. 

“Our father cared for the land and people with a great intensity, so we’re going to do the same,” Garrett said.

Windy Heights is an agriculturally preserved home farm of 149 acres in Ruffsdale and a network of 52 rented parcels that brings the total acreage to more than 2,500. 

The Forejts employ a variety of conservation practices on this land and produce a full farm-stand variety of produce, along with chicken, beef, and pork.  This year, they’re taking their first venture into raising turkeys.

Gregory Forejt attributed much of the farm’s success to conservation.

“What’s good for the environment is good for the bottom line,” he said, noting the operation’s use of a split application of nitrogen to lessen the chance that heavy rains will wash this important nutrient away before the crops can absorb it,” said Forejts.  “This conservation practice also helps to protect water quality in the streams that run through the Forejt’s fields, including two unnamed tributaries to Jacobs Creek.”

The Forejts also incorporate native grasses and legumes as a nitrogen source, practice crop rotation, and use deep-rooted crops such as tilled radishes to relieve compaction.  “They go down about a foot and a half deep, and act like a post-hole digger,” Gregory explained.

Greg Forejt Sr. was an early proponent of no-till, a planting method that helps prevent soil erosion, and his sons are, too.  Every field crop they produce is done this way, with the exception of the early sweet corn. Two 20’ X 72’ high tunnels yield tomatoes that arrive early to market and keep producing all season long.

Sophisticated technology, including a GPS-guided planter/sprayer and drift-reducing nozzles, also supports the Forejts’ conservation efforts by ensuring that chemicals aren’t over-applied and lessening the chance for drift.  On pastureland, weeds are controlled by mowing instead of spraying.

The Forejts have a Natural Resources Conservation Service Grazing Plan, a Conservation Plan, a Manure Management Plan, and participate in the Conservation Stewardship Program.  Their home farm was the first in the county to be preserved through the Westmoreland County Agricultural Land Preservation Program.

J. Roy Houston Conservation Partnership Award - Malcolm Sias

In his 40 years of service to parks and recreation, Malcolm Sias has made a lot of important things happen-- from expanding the acreage, amenities, and activities at Westmoreland County’s 10 parks, to convincing Greg Phillips, district manager/CEO of the Westmoreland Conservation District, of the conservation benefits of trails.

It was in the late 1980s when Malcolm first got interested in building trails and, between his professional tenure with the Westmoreland County Bureau of Parks and Recreation and his volunteer service to the Regional Trail Corporation, he has since helped to create 43 miles of these popular walking and biking corridors throughout Westmoreland County.

“When Malcolm first started talking about trails they were a relatively new idea, and there were only one or two small ones in all of Westmoreland County,” Phillips said.  “Yet, he was so intensely passionate about them that it didn’t take long before he convinced me of their conservation potential, especially as streamside buffers to protect water quality, since many of the trail routes were going to parallel the path of streams.”

The District has been a trail partner ever since.  In fact, Malcolm and the District have partnered on every one of the five major trails that have been built in the county.

A recent partnership involved a section of the Westmoreland Heritage Trail in Murrysville where the slopes were especially steep and badly eroding.  The partners successfully created a solid base for the trail in this challenging spot and, at the same time, significantly reduced the amount of sediment getting into Turtle Creek.

As Westmoreland County Parks and Recreation director, Malcolm has responsibility for stewarding upwards of 4,000 county-owned acres of parkland, about 340 of which were added during his tenure, primarily to make already existing parks larger.

But in the mid-1990s, Malcolm was central to an effort that added an entirely new park to the county system – a unique park that is 100 percent a conservation measure:  the Sewickley Creek Wetlands.

This 26-acre park near New Stanton is a peaceful place to observe birds and wildflowers.  And it also is a hard-working conservation practice that continuously manages stormwater, filters pollutants from the water, and helps to prevent flooding downstream.

Malcolm began his college career studying forestry, and so it’s natural that he has been a major force in promoting healthy forests, including one of the largest wooded tracts in Westmoreland County-- the 1,275-acre Loyalhanna Gorge.

Malcolm worked with our forester and others to develop a management plan for this very special county park of second-growth timber and unique plant species.

He also put good stewardship practices in place on wooded portions of historic Hanna’s Town and Ann Rudd Saxman Nature Park.

For 32 years, Malcolm and his staff have been a key partner in the District’s annual Envirothon, a competition that has helped some 2,400 high school students develop an appreciation for the natural world.

The J. Roy Houston Partnership Award is sponsored by Peoples Natural Gas Company.

Hall of Honor - Albert Barnett

Al Barnett was a long and loyal friend of the Westmoreland Conservation District, steadfast in his support of our work and dedicated in Al served for more than 25 years on the Westmoreland Conservation District board as a volunteer director.

An avid hunter and fisherman, Al represented the sportsmen to the District’s board, a large segment of the local population with a keen interest in water quality, forest health, and other areas where conservation plays an important role. 

It was a long and beneficial partnership that, among other things, helped the District reach thousands of people over the years through a conservation display in the sportsmen’s tent at Westmoreland County Fair.

Al took his service on the District board very seriously, and always made an effort to attend and participate in meetings, even in later years when his health made that more difficult. 

In 22 years of active board service, Al’s attendance rate was more than 90 percent.  He could always be counted on to cast his support at those meetings behind initiatives that advanced the best interests of the organization.

Al was one of the first to step up and volunteer his help when the District had a special project, whether it was painting our campus facilities or planting flowers at the courthouse.

And he was there for other community organizations as well, lending his help in various leadership roles with the Westmoreland County Sportsmen’s League, the state chapter of the National Wildlife Federation, Westmoreland Cleanways, and the American Red Cross.

Although Al never talked much about all the things that he did for our community, his briefcase told the story-- it was covered in stickers from his many volunteer activities.

In 2012, when it was becoming more difficult for him to regularly participate in District activities, the board voted to name Al Director Emeritus so that he could continue to be an advisor to the board.  He was only the second director in the history of the District to receive this distinction.

Al passed away in March of 2018.  He is survived by his wife, Helen, a daughter and son, five grandchildren, and three great grandchildren.

The Awards Program is scheduled for September 12 with an open-house reception, which runs from 6:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. at the District’s location on Donohoe Road in Greensburg

For more information on programs, initiatives, technical and financial assistance available to landowners, visit the Westmoreland Conservation District website.

(Photo: Gregory, Lesley, Garrett Foreijt; Malcolm Sias (top) and Al Barnett.)


Windy Heights Farm, Forejt Family Named Westmoreland Conservation Farmer Of The Year

Westmoreland Recreation Director Receives Conservation District Award

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[Posted: Sept. 4, 2018]


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