2023 WCCD Awardees
Howard Sias, Distinguished Service Award
This awardee is someone who has also received recognition for a commitment to conservation and to this board for over 24 years. Howard Sias, a local farmer, also served on Township planning commission board, county committee Farm Service Agency board (9 yrs), Farm Bureau board, and helps with the Chelsea Fair.
Howard Sias, demonstrated a commitment to conservation in Washtenaw County through his service as an elected board director for 34 years, from 1990 through 2023.
Thank you for you service to Washtenaw County Conservation District!
Jill K. Dohner, Distinguished Service Award
With nearly 10 years on the Conservation District Board, Jill's dedication has been exceptional. From memorable field trips to navigating the Washtenaw County Conservation District board discussions, her impact has been profound. Running a 10-acre diverse farm in Webster Township, Jill's commitment to conservation practices and sustainability is evident. Her guiding principle—'Farm like it’s what you would feed your kids. Mimic natural systems—keep it simple'—reflects her down-to-earth approach. We applaud Jill's success, from a hobby farm to a thriving operation. Thanks to her efforts, supported by WCCD and NRCS, Jill's farm stands as an environmentally friendly model. As she pivots and takes on the role of MIFarmLink Specialist with WCCD, we look forward to her continued contributions. Well done, Jill, on this well-deserved recognition for your outstanding service.
Takunia "TC" Collins, Small/Beginning Farmer of the Year
Takunia “T.C.” Collins’ non-profit 501(c)3 operation, Willow Run Acres, may be small in breadth, amounting to about 5 ½ acres across Superior and Ypsilanti Townships, but TC’s vision, drive, and community outreach are vast and impressive. His accomplishments and perseverance are even more remarkable considering his personal story, which has driven him to pursue a life dedicated to advancing the intersection of food systems and social justice. TC founded Willow Run Acres in 2018, but his journey towards a life dedicated to building resilient communities around food started in childhood.
As a toddler, TC recalls retrieving eggs, a chore he hated, as his earliest introduction to farming and food systems. As he grew, he took on more responsibilities tending a farm in Ypsilanti using knowledge from past generations of his family - great-grandparents, who had been forced to farm through enslavement, and sharecropper grandparents. TC’s journey deviated from food briefly after high school, when his community fractured following the departure of friends for jobs working on oil rigs in Texas. During this transition, TC dabbled in music but found his way back to the culinary arts and was a successful chef when he suffered a life-changing accident caused by a drunk driver. The incident left him in a coma for six months, followed by a year and a half of rehabilitation from which he emerged depleted of funds and lacking a home or job. TC vividly recalled his frustration with being offered only canned food and lacking any ability to heat or prepare it. This proved pivotal in the direction of TC’s life, as it set him on the path to change a broken system for the better with grass roots movements at a local level.
Tom Shanahan, Conservation Farmer of the Year
Mr. Tom Shanahan is the recipient of this year's Conservation Farmer of the Year award. Tom, a fifth-generation farmer from lyndon township, is being honored for his commitment to sustainable agriculture. Tom's journey is deeply intertwined with his family's farming heritage. Raised on the land, his motivation for embracing conservation practices stemmed from a desire to ensure the longevity of the farm for his family, including his wife and two children.
Over the years, Tom has implemented practical conservation measures, such as no-till farming, cover crop rotations, and transitioning fields to grazing areas. What makes his story resonate is not just his dedication to sustainable farming but his heartfelt commitment to maintaining the land for future generations.
Tom's collaborative spirit extends beyond his fields. Actively engaging with local farmers and organizations, he contributes to a collective effort in promoting sustainable practices. In the face of challenges, Tom's resilience and flexibility shine through, driven by his passion for responsible farming.
Congratulations to Mr. Tom Shanahan, the 2023 conservation farmer of the year, and thank you for your unwavering commitment to preserving the land for the sake of generations to come.
Dean & Jane Wilson, Tree Conservationist Award
In 2023 we surveyed our recent tree sale customers, and one of the questions asked how long you've been planting trees from the WCCD tree sales. One response stood out, Carol Wilson replied that her family had been planting trees for over 62 years in Washtenaw!
Carol's parent's, Dean and Jane Wilson, bought 6 acres on the east side of the county in the late 1950s. The land was bare and they began an annual family tradition, planting trees together. Dean was strategic in planning the plantings for shade and energy conservation around their home. Jane would tell the story of Johnny Appleseed and during WWII would sell apples from orchard with a baby on her hip. The family including all eight children were all involved in planting around 400 trees each year, instilling a love for trees among the siblings which carried on for generations.
Dean continued organizing family plantings into his late 80s, he invited the whole family for Easter and when they showed up they were told they needed to plant trees first. In 2006, there were 4 generations planting together (pictured).
Carol has continued the tradition when she moved to the other side of the county and planted trees since 1985, until she "ran out of planting space". Her son now lives at the property among the many trees. Carol and her husband continue to remove invasive species, plant and protect trees, and increase diversity and wildness of their current property.
Dean & Jane's oldest child, Dave Wilson, now lives at the family's original property with wife Karen. He recalls as a young child his teacher assigned the students to count all the trees around their house, but they had to guess because there were already too many they had planted to count! His son lives adjacent and continues the tradition through his business: Lodi Nursery & Landscaping.
On behalf of the Washtenaw County Conservation District, we honor Dean & Jean Wilson and family for their legacy of tree planting!
"... my father orchestrated the planting of hundreds of trees in 2006 - he was 86 years old. There were 4 generations doing the planting. We showed up to celebrate Easter and were told that we needed to plant the trees first." - Carol Wilson
Helen Peters, Volunteer of the Year Award
In 2023, many volunteers stepped up to make all our events a success, but one individual stood out with consistency, dedication, and humor to every event in 2023: Helen Peters! Helen Peters, named Volunteer of the Year, is well deserved for her outstanding commitment to community involvement and the mission of conservation. She continues to emulate dependability throughout WCCD tree, shrub, and native plant distributions by providing strategic feedback, adaptability, proactive thinking, and leadership. Following in her mother’s footsteps for her love of volunteerism, Helen is a proud local residing in her childhood home in Ann Arbor. Her enthusiasm and love for serving her community is contagious. We fully appreciated the knowledge, humor, and energy that they bring to the work.
On behalf of the Washtenaw County Conservation District, thank you, Helen!