Samantha Steiner of Warren County was recently named one of the seven inaugural cohort members of the National Conservation Foundation’s Next Generation Leadership Institute after a competitive application process.
Steiner runs Dogwood Farm, LLC, a business that she established over 10 years ago in Franklin. Raising grass-fed beef cattle and pastured poultry, she is in a position to put her conservation passion to work every day. Now, with her appointment to the institute, she has the opportunity to spread that impact even further.
“The love of agriculture has always been in my family,” she said. “Growing up in the agricultural world, you have to take care of the land and the water because that’s where we raise our animals. It takes high-quality land to raise a high-quality product.”
In the family
Steiner is quick to credit her parents, Mark and Ann Steiner, for instilling in her a high appreciation for land and water conservation. For 30 years, her father served on the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation Board.
Growing up, Steiner spent her days as the fourth generation on her family’s dairy farm in Lebanon. When she wasn’t milking cows, she was active in her county’s 4-H program showing beef cattle and pigs. This led her to pursue animal science and ag business at Ohio State, which made it possible for her to establish her own operation and direct-to-consumer farm store.
With a passion for conservation and good land and water management practices, Steiner chose to focus on a grass-based system for her farm and business. When she came across the leadership cohort opportunity through the National Conservation Foundation, she eagerly applied.
The inaugural cohort
NCF is dedicated to developing programs and partnerships that deliver effective conservation solutions. The foundation is focused on local efforts and developing leadership.
“Our goal was to put something together to groom the up-and-coming leadership within soil and water nationally,” said Steve Robinson, NCF chairman. Robinson is a Union County commissioner and has been involved with his local soil and water board for 33 years.
Formally launched in August 2019, the program serves to build up future leaders in conservation with comprehensive training to help them “meet the future needs of natural resources management, helping them to increase their capacity to navigate and manage complex conservation challenges – both current and future – at the local and national level.”
In selecting their cohort candidates, Robinson said the group looked for several qualities, including public speaking and a high level of credibility.
“I think just the fact that Sam’s one of seven from around the nation speaks to how good of a candidate she was,” he said. “My hope and goal is that someday we’ll see her or some of our other (inaugural members) in national leadership.”
It is that goal of improving herself for a cause that she is so passionate about that ultimately led Steiner to where she is.
“I wanted to expand my knowledge of conservation and I wanted to build my leadership skills,” she said.
The first inaugural meeting was held in February of last year at the National Association of Conservation Districts national meeting, but due to COVID-19, later activities got delayed. However, Steiner said she appreciates the Zoom calls they had last year. Her cohort was extended into 2021 to allow for more in-person activities, including the summer meeting recently in Chicago.
“It’s been great, connecting with people from all over the country, learning about different things that they are dealing with, how we’ve all adjusted and continued moving forward through all of the COVID issues,” she said.
Speaking to that high level of credibility, Steiner has been involved on the local level within soil and water conservation for some time.
By serving on her county’s soil and water board with a zeal for education and protecting waterways in her area – namely the Caesar’s Creek Collaborative – Steiner was eventually asked to run for the state’s board, the Ohio Federation of Soil and Water Conservation Districts. She was elected second vice president.
“Being involved at the state level,” she said, “I have a more in-depth understanding of different conservation challenges Ohio is facing and being able to work with a diverse group of people to address them.”
On her farm, Steiner realizes the importance of conservation practices. As such, she is careful to keep manure and other waste properly stored and composted before spreading. Livestock is fenced out of waterways to reduce erosion and nutrient overload in streams. Dogwood Farm utilizes rotational grazing that promotes soil health and pasture regrowth that also reduces runoff.
“Being a member of the agricultural community gives me a voice to help spread the word on these conservation practices,” she said, “and helps put the steps in place that need to be taken to better improve our soil health and water quality.”