Since her childhood in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Beth Summers has held a deep passion for preserving biological diversity. After receiving a B.S. in Wildlife Ecology from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, she worked as an itinerant biologist, following her love of avian ecology to Australia, Nevada, California, Northern Wisconsin, South Carolina, and Florida. She earned an M.S. in Wildlife and Fisheries Science
from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, where she developed assessment models for bottomland hardwood forest restorations using avian and amphibian community metrics. She was employed by the US Army Corps of Engineers, where her work focused on assessment tools for headwater streams in
Appalachia. In 2016, Beth returned to Wisconsin with her family to start a small vegetable business called Birdsong Ridge Farm, where she and her husband have worked to build soil composition and habitat on land previously planted with conventional corn and soybeans. In her spare time, Beth enjoys playing piano and fiddle, gardening, and paddling.
Shelly Gradwell-Brenneman, Programs Administrator
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 along the West Fork near Avalanche, where she enjoys sharing the wonders of the Driftless with her two boys.
Dani Heisler, Regenerative Agriculture Outreach Specialist
Dani has had a life-long interest in production agriculture and its relationship to the environment. She credits her passion for agricultural diversity to her and her family’s life’s work as farmers and ranchers.
From a young age, Dani had the opportunity to understand and assist in Beef, Dairy, Poultry, Crop, and Vegetable Production, including Peppermint and Spearmint. Dani attended University of Wisconsin River Falls, earning a Bachelor of Science degree focused on Animal Science, Agronomy, and Food Science. While staying rooted in agriculture, Dani has had the opportunity to work across conventional, organic, and large- and small-scale farming operations of all types, with a career
focus on livestock nutrition, ranch management, organic farm transitions, emerging agri-technologies, sales, and marketing. Throughout all her educational and professional agricultural experiences, Dani has consistently valued diversity in farm operations and the robust effect they have on the communities which they support.
Dani moved to the Viroqua area in 2014. She is active in the community through board and leadership positions in local organizations, as well as positions representing state-wide efforts.
Ben Johnston, GIS and Habitat Specialist
Dave Krier, Water Quality, Native Plantings, & Citizen Science Coordinator
Dave grew up on a small farm in Spring Green, Wisconsin, just an hour east of Viroqua. After earning a BS in Engineering from the University of Minnesota, he went into the US Air Force. He earned an MBA from Wright State University, and after leaving the USAF lived in Sweden for a year while working at SAAB Aircraft. He stayed in the Aerospace field for over 30 years in marketing, purchasing, program management and business development, all the while enjoying outdoor activities like camping, canoeing, bicycling, bird watching, geology, fishing and gardening. He earned his Minnesota Master Naturalist certification and participated in many citizen science projects. He and his wife moved to Viroqua in 2016.
Nan Marshall, Membership and Communications Coordinator
Nan has had a life-long interest in the environment. When she was young, her family moved to Quito, Ecuador, where she was surrounded by the splendor of the Andes and visited the Amazon where she encountered a wealth of nature and animals. After high school, she spent a year studying forestry and conservation at Sterling Institute in Craftsbury Common, VT. She received a BA in Biology from Carleton College in MN and then spent a year studying photography in Norway. After many years spent working as an editor for environmental consulting companies in Chicago, IL, and Milwaukee, WI, Nan spent a few years in advertising. She then pursued a B.S. in Interior Design with a specialty in sustainable design. Looking to become more involved in nature and the sustainability movement, she and her husband and son moved to the Driftless Region in Viroqua, Wisconsin, in 2009. She is happy to be taking an active part in preserving her local environment and watershed.
Nicole Penick, Board 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.
Debra Behrens is the newest member of the Valley Stewardship Network Board of Directors. We first met her when she approached us last year for stewardship assistance as a new land owner in the area. Conservation work in the Driftless is a new interest for Debra, but she joins us with almost 20 years of experience helping nonprofits grow awareness and community support. She is the Chief Advancement Officer at Aeon, an affordable housing nonprofit in the Twin Cities that develops, preserves and manages apartment homes for low-income residents. Her volunteer experiences include service on the board for the Association of Fundraising Professionals Minnesota Chapter, serving as Vice-Chair for the neighborhood board representing her community in Minneapolis, and being elected to serve as Commissioner for the 6th district neighborhoods on the City of Minneapolis Neighborhood and Community Engagement Commission. Debra, her husband Ben, and their cat, Dante, and dog, Jackson, are loving their new home in the Driftless.
Chuck Bolstad considers himself one of the most fortunate people in the world. He wakes up every morning with his wife of 51 years, Karen, on the same small farm where he grew up and where his grandfather settled in Vernon County over 100 years ago. He recognizes that his grandfather and father engaged in agriculture in ways which are now known to be sound regenerative agriculture practices. They always maintained and grazed a variety of animals, preserved manure as fertilizer, and valued every inch of soil that barely covered the rocky ridge that is home to the farm. During careers in education and the military, Chuck and Karen needed to move around for job opportunities. They were able to move back to the Stump Ridge farm permanently in 1993 and return to caring for the land much like Chuck’s father and grandfather by reestablishing low density grazing, installing two erosion control dams, and recently planting several erosion-controlling prairie strips. Now retired, Chuck spends much of his time volunteering in several local endeavors. He wholeheartedly supports the mission of Valley Stewardship Network and is pleased to offer his support to their efforts.
Brad Robson was born and raised in the Viroqua area, so in his eyes the region is truly a blessing. Growing up on a small dairy farm in Vernon County, many of Brad’s life lessons were learned working the land, something he feels very thankful for at this stage in life.
Growing up on a family farm with the fourth and fifth generations currently being cultivated, means the world to his entire family. Conservation efforts run deep, from his father farming contour strips and using conservation practices for as long as Brad can remember, to his grandfather working for the CCC program when it started in the area.
Brad enjoys being involved with many of the area conservation programs. His upbringing has inspired and guided his interest, passion, and love for agriculture, conservation, and the outdoors. Working in the local agriculture industry his entire life is something he is very proud of. He is excited to see how his own thoughts and ideas can help lead the Valley Stewardship Network into the future.
We are all in this together.
Jim Munsch, Whole Farm Stewardship Planner
Jim studied Agricultural Engineering at Purdue as background to operating the Indiana farm that had been in the family since after the civil war. When he was in his junior year, the farm was designated as part of a flood control project and sold to the government. He stayed on at Purdue and got an MS in Management. After service as an officer in the US Army in Europe, he took a job in the international department of a manufacturing company in western Wisconsin. During employment with that company and one in Maryland, the family lived in Japan twice.
Mid-life found him hankering for a return to agriculture, so the family moved to Vernon County to ridge-top farm. He became a part time beef producer while returning for a decade to a management position in the same company where he had worked previously. He took early retirement and, while doing management consulting for small companies, direct marketing food producers, grazing farms, and the University of Wisconsin, he continued to raise cattle – currently producing grass-fed beef.
The family lives a mile away from the birthplace of government soil conservation: Coon Valley. It completes a circle of Jim’s life. In the 1940-50s, his part of the family in Indiana fully embraced soil conservation. He was cultivating corn in strips on the contour and maneuvering around terraces before he had a driver’s license. Saving soil is a North Star for him.
Stop by and tell us your conservation story!
We work out of a friendly storefront in downtown Viroqua where we share offices with two like-minded organizations. Our office hours are from 10am-1pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.