Raised in a small farming community in central Iowa, Shelly credits her grandparents with inspiring her life’s work in natural resources with their example of conservation leadership in their community. Shelly attended Colorado State University where she earned a B.S. in Environmental Interpretation and completed her internship in Rocky Mountain National Park. After college, she served as a volunteer environmental and ecotourism educator in the rainforests of Costa Rica. She went on to Iowa State University, where she studied sustainable agriculture and earned a M.S. degree in Agronomy and Rural Sociology, while helping launch one of the first community supported agriculture projects in Iowa. She worked with Practical Farmers of Iowa and Iowa State University Extension on several sustainable agriculture and natural resource education projects. The call of wilderness and sustainable fishing brought her to Alaska, where for she worked for the Kenai Watershed Forum and also helped harvest wild salmon at her family fishing camp for many summers. She now lives in Viroqua, where she enjoys sharing the wonders of the Driftless with her two boys.
Agroecologist & Water Quality Program Manager
John grew up less than an hours drive from Viroqua, in Harpers Ferry, Iowa. He received his PhD from Iowa State University in 2014 where he researched biodiversity and pollinator conservation in cattle pastures and tallgrass prairies. John started with VSN in May of 2015 as a volunteer helping out on a project sampling water quality in pastures. Now on our staff, he coordinates our citizen science water quality research program by providing trainings and support to volunteers. As VSN’s agroecologist, John serves farmers and landowners with information and technical services for promoting biodiversity and improving water quality. From his scientific training John brings skills in GIS, statistics, experimental design, and research interpretation to our organization. When not at VSN John works as an Interpretive Ranger for the National Park Service at Effigy Mounds National Monument in Harpers Ferry, Iowa.
Kris brings to the Valley Stewardship Network an education in Liberal Arts, Political Science and a MS in Environmental Management, with an emphasis in sustainability. Her experience and interests sit at the intersection of those areas and are inspired by a strong sense of community, equality, and collaboration. She has long believed that concern for the environment and business are not mutually exclusive. Born and raised in Michigan, Kris now lives in Viroqua with her husband, Eric, and son, Odin. With one short visit prior to moving here, they knew that this was a special place – recognizing instantly that the Driftless Region is a rare, rare treasure. Kris was particularly struck by its natural, spiritual, and cultural beauty and the energy that comes from people committed to their deep history with this land, making a difference, and preserving what is valued.
Jerry Pedretti, Bookkeeper
Jerry is a sixth-generation Vernon County native. He was born and raised in Genoa, Wisconsin, where he lives with Connie, his wife of 25 years, and their son Stephen, a student at Aquinas Middle School. The family home offers a view of the Mississippi River and the bluffs of Minnesota. (However, Jerry is a Packer fan!) Jerry has been in bookkeeping for over 30 years. In addition to VSN, he works with our Conservation Connections office mates, The Prairie Enthusiasts. He also serves as Clerk for the Towns of Genoa and Wheatland and is co-owner of the Kwik Stop in Genoa. When Jerry isn’t working (which obviously is not very often!) he spends time outdoors and likes to ride his motorcycle to faraway places. Not one to rest on his laurels, Jerry says, “Every day that I don’t learn something new is a day wasted.”
Tom Lukens, Chair
Tom fell in love with the Driftless area of southwest Wisconsin as a student at Saint Olaf in the 1970’s. Upon retiring from a successful horticulture career in Monterey Bay, California, he settled on 90 acres on the West Fork of the Kickapoo River. On this property, Tom and his partner have created Nature Nooks Retreat with a focus on land stewardship. They and their guests practice a variety of stewardship activities, including prairie restoration; permaculture orchard development; non-game riparian habitat for turtles, snakes, trout, amphibians and birds; invasive species management; and educational programming. Tom’s dream of creating an outdoor environmental classroom on his property is perfectly aligned with the education objectives of Valley Stewardship Network, and he has generously shared his property, resources, and facilities with our organization’s workshop participants, members, and volunteers.
Nicole Penick, Vice Chair
Having lived in the Kickapoo watershed since 2008, Nicole expresses a deep sense of gratitude for being able to raise her family in a rural community that’s surrounded by the beauty of forests, rivers and streams. She enjoys cooking delicious foods produced by our area’s small family farms. She is also concerned about the threats to our clean water, erosion of our soil, and the loss of productive and well-managed forests. Through her work at Organic Valley, her education in Earth Literacy and Community Leadership and Development, Nicole has a deepened understanding of our interdependency with nature and the power of cooperation. We are grateful for her insights and her commitment to the stewardship, protection, and care of our watersheds for the health and enjoyments of future generations.
Joy Vietinghoff, Treasurer
Raised on a dairy farm in Northern Illinois, Joy learned all about sustainable farming practices. Her family raised their own livestock and vegetables to feed themselves throughout the year. Growing up on the fam meant hard work, lots of close family time, and never being bored. Respect for the land and water was evident in how they lived each day. After graduating from college with a degree in Accountancy, Joy headed to the big city where she soon realized her heart was still on the farm. She settled for working in a Chicago suburb until she and her husband purchased land near Viroqua where they farmed on weekends until deciding to move here permanently. They put their woodlands in the managed forest program and they worked to prevent creation of a “coal ash dump site” that threatened the area’s water quality. Since moving to Viroqua, Joy has established her own certified public accounting practice. She enjoys working with people to take care of the financial side of conservation. Water quality, sustainable forestry, family farming, and resource conservation are all important to Joy.
Lori Martin, Secretary
While growing up in Erie, Pennsylvania, Lori was her dad’s fishing buddy and a bit of a tomboy. She gained a deep appreciation for the outdoors, Lake Erie, and the environment during those formative years. With a B.A. in Applied Science, she dedicated much of her early career to the paper industry from New England to the Southeastern United States. She later obtained her teaching certification and become a Science teacher. Attracted to the serenity and beauty of Southwestern Wisconsin, Lori and her husband, Ed, were searching for a weekend property in the late 90’s. Instead, they made a permanent move and raised two children here – one of the best decisions they ever made! Today, Lori teaches science for the Kickapoo Area School District in Viola, Wisconsin. When her chemistry class became involved with VSN’s water quality research program, Lori recognized an opportunity to connect her work with her commitment to community and we asked her to join our Board. Additionally, she and her husband transitioned an apple orchard to organic production and launched their own applesauce product under the name “Szczutkowski Orchard.”
During her eight-year tenure as Organic Valley’s Director of Marketing Communications, Sarah promoted passionately the land/water stewardship role of family farms across the country. She was thrilled to apply her creative marketing skills, honed in New York and Minneapolis marketing venues, to a mission that is deeply aligned with her values – building and protecting a system of healthy food production. In 2011, Bratnober launched Whereabouts Marketing LLC, a strategic marketing communications firm that helps ethical businesses to tell their stories and “make change for good.” She also supports new and growing businesses through her role with the University of Wisconsin’s Small Business Development Center in La Crosse. Her years of land ownership, trail maintenance, and silent sports recreation have endowed Sarah with much respect for our fragile environment and all the creatures who depend on it.
Winston is a lawyer with a lifelong interest in nature and conservation. He became acquainted with our organization while completing the UW Extension’s Master Naturalist course led by Valley Stewardship Network and the Kickapoo Valley Reserve in 2015, and found it to be a good fit for his interests and goals. Winston grew up in California and Ohio. He attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison (BA 1972, JD 1975). He dedicated the majority of his career to work for Godfrey & Kahn, S.C., one of Wisconsin’s largest law firms, where his practice focused on helping individuals and businesses with complex litigation, including environmental and professional liability concerns. In addition to other service and professional recognitions, Winston received awards for pro-bono legal work from The Brown County Izaak Walton League, The Nature Conservancy, and Wisconsin Trout Unlimited. He was legal counsel to Wisconsin Trout Unlimited for many years. Winston and his wife Cheryl moved to Vernon County at the end of 2014. Fly fishing initially attracted them to Southwest Wisconsin, and over the years they came to love the area and its people. Winston’s daughter, Sonja Loomis, is a historian residing in Winston Salem, North Carolina with her husband Greg. Cheryl and Winston spend as much time as possible fishing, hiking, and reading.
Sara and her spouse, Mathew Urch, have made rural Vernon County their home since 2001. The first of their two sons was born just a month after they moved to their ridge-top farm. A couple of years later, they seeded a small grassfed beef cattle herd which they tended for nearly a decade.
Sara had earned her B.A. at Carleton College, where she completed her comprehensive paper on the developing concept of sustainable agriculture. She went on to become a registered nurse and earn her master’s degree in Occupational Health Nursing Administration with an emphasis on farmworker health from the University of California at San Francisco. Sara has worked in community and public health nursing since 1996. She joined VSN in 2007. She was a founder of our Food & Farm Initiative and she served on its steering committee for five years. For two of those years she also served on the VSN Board. We were thrilled when she agreed to come back and serve another term on our Board, beginning in 2015.