MILTON — Russell Brothers Farm has received the distinction of the 2019 Florida Outstanding Tree Farmer of the Year. The award is presented by the Florida Trea Farm Committee.

A ceremony recognizing the achievement is set for 9 a.m. Oct. 25 at 2210 Russell Road, McDavid.

Register for the free event through the Florida Forestry Association by calling 850-222-5646 before Oct. 18.

This annual award recognizes private landowners that have done a remarkable job of sustainably managing forests on their property. Russell Brothers Farm exemplifies a legacy of family forest managed not only for wood that may one day be harvested but for water conservation, wildlife habitat and primarily to create a sense of place in honor of the Russell Family.

The farm was originally purchased by Jay and Clara Russell in 1946. Since then, the name on the deed has changed, but it remains family land that plays a central role in keeping the family together.

The 109-acre property has seen some changes over the years. Former row crop land is now a young but rapidly growing longleaf stand replacing one destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004.

John Russell works hard to keep up the property, hoping it will still be enjoyed by family members in another 100 years. He maintains three miles of trails and is continuing a battle against invasive privet.

He has become a certified prescribed burner in order keep up with the burning on the property. The two young longleaf stands were planted by John and his brother, Keith. These stands are burned on a two-year rotation to encourage a low and diverse understory.

John is rewarded not only by a sense of accomplishment for what he is doing for the land and his family, but also an increase in wildlife of all kinds.

Jay Russell started the family's legacy becoming part of a Soil Conservation Service program to stop erosion that had formed gullies on the edge of row crop fields.

A Streamside Management Zone, which keeps trees and brush in place, is maintained along the creek to keep soil from eroding off the steep slopes into the creek. John also attends landowner workshops and enrolls the property in programs such as the American Tree Farm System that will assist him in his efforts to create a healthy longleaf ecosystem, conserve soil and water, and increase wildlife.

The farm has also introduced area children who have visited to a rural way of life. The Russells hope to continue to inspire family members and others with their care for the property.