Nurturer of nature
Helping those in need is part of landowner’s motivation for planting trees and milling lumber
A Tonganoxie couple was honored last week for its work in forest conservation.
State forester Ray Aslin presented the Kansas forest stewardship award to Bob and Betty Conley during the forest service fall field day at the Conley's farm, six miles southwest of Tonganoxie.
Conley accepted the award, saying, "This award should be given to a whole lot of people, not just to my wife and me. The dream doesn't happen unless you have people."
Dave Bruton, district forester, said the Conleys were nominated because of the work they've done in managing all of their natural resources, but most specifically, the trees.
The Conleys have worked with trees in several ways, Bruton said, planting more than 5,000 new trees, culling out the old trees and milling the lumber on site.
"A lot of people think we should never cut trees," Bruton said. "But trees reach maturity just like people and they start declining. Once they reach maturity they need to be harvested out."
For Conley, the 283-acre farm his father purchased in 1956 is more than just a place to grow trees and practice conservation.
It's a place to help others.
Conley was already familiar with the work of the volunteers in St. Jean Baptiste de la Salle, a Kansas City Catholic service organization dedicated to providing food to the hungry.
"I wanted to do something to help them," he said. "This land was here and it wasn't being utilized."
In 1995, Conley offered the use of the land to the Catholic organization. Produce from the garden went to food kitchens in Kansas City. The next year he built a greenhouse for them so that they could grow vegetables year round.
Since then, Conley has added a sawmill and a kiln to dry the lumber harvested on the farm. Today, four volunteers live in two mobile homes near the sawmill and run the operation.
"My vision is to utilize the ground, grow food for the poor, have a bunch of guys out here so that if somebody needs help in the community, we can go out and assist, and to get enough grant money and make enough money from the sawmill operation that we can get something else going," Conley said.
"Something else" might include a new chapel, Conley said. There is a chapel set up in the front room of one of the mobile homes, complete with a pulpit made from walnut cut and milled at the farm.
"I would love to see a chapel built," Conley said. "To build something like that where a person could walk in and it stirs them just a little bit."
Until May, Conley worked as a chiropractor in Kansas City, Mo. When Betty suffered lung damage after a bout with pneumonia last year, they learned it would be better for her health if she could live in the Southwest part of the time. Conley decided to retire so that they would have time to travel.
Conley said he's grateful that he has the flexibility to use the farm for the good of others, as well as to ability to retire and travel with his wife.
"The dear Lord or somebody has helped me get this far," he said.
"I just feel like I have to give back a little more."