Joe Maloney looks out the picture window of his home. It’s a cloudy January afternoon, and a cold rain is expected soon. Outside the window, finches and sparrows flitter about, waiting for a chance to eat from the feeders suspended from the house’s gutters. Other small birds sit nearby ready to scoop up the leftovers on the ground. The house sits perched on a hill, giving Maloney a good view of farmland he and his wife, Judith, acquired together - land they turned into viable acreage.

The 2018 Franklin County Bankers Award for Soil Conservation went to the Maloneys in recognition of the significant conservation work done on their property south of Princeton.

The Maloneys, both lifelong Franklin County residents, started out on a smaller farm north of Ottawa, where they lived for 18 years. But after learning about a farmstead near Princeton, the couple decided to take a look. At first glance, Joe said, the property wasn’t all that pretty. A double-wide trailer, a smaller, single-wide trailer and an old farmhouse stood there. But the couple soon purchased the property, and another piece of land nearby.

Charmed by the old farmhouse, they tried saving it, but discovered it was simply too far gone. They eventually built another in its place. Soon, Joe learned about another piece of available acreage bordering the entire south side of his property.

“It had been on the market for a long time, and it happened to be the acreage I wanted to buy earlier when I was in high school,” he said. “So that piece put everything together. Now, I can look out and see most of my property.”

The Maloneys have approximately 317 acres of row crops, as well as hay, unimproved pasture and a couple hundred acres of Conservation Reserve Program land, more commonly known as CRP. The property also has several ponds with four smaller ones specifically designed to catch runoff before it reaches the watershed.

“The buffer strips and terraces — it’s all been a gradual process,” Joe said.

Years of neglect resulted in overgrown trees, and worn-down terraces. Maloney admits his work was cut out for him.

“We cleaned up trees, and had to build up terraces that had been farmed over,” he said. “You didn’t know which way they washed.”

Farming is a way of life for Joe, who spent most of his life involved in agriculture in some form or another. He farmed with his father, and later farmed with other Franklin County producers.

When he met his wife, Judith was 14, and Joe was 15. “Our weekend dates were spent farming,” she said. But about three years ago, Maloney decided to farm on his own. Today, he practices no-till farming, which allows him to grow crops or pastureland each year without disturbing the soil. The move to no-till is not only easier on Joe, but conserves the soil.

“No-till just helps keep the soil where it needs to be,” he said.

While his son, Jim, and son-in-law, Randy, help out on the farm, Maloney handles mostly everything by himself, including managing the family’s longtime cow-calf operation.

The couple’s Charolais cattle are the offspring of the original herd the Maloneys started 36 years ago. Though implementing best management practices took place over several years, Joe said it was easy to work with Franklin County Conservation District staff.

“They all helped with their development, with water (quality), with filter strips and quail buffers,” he said. “...If I have a soil problem, I go in and discuss it with them. They’ll give you recommendations, and they’re very easy to get along with.” For Maloney, soil conservation isn’t about simply installing a few terraces here and there, but a genuine commitment to future generations of farmers. “I just try to be a good steward of the land,” he said. “The more we do now, the less someone else has to do later on.”