AMES, Iowa – Mark Quee, a farmer and educator from West Branch, has been selected as the 2022 winner of the Spencer Award, presented by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University. The award is in recognition of his contributions to the advancement of practices that will make agriculture more sustainable. The award will be presented at the 2022 Iowa Water Center conference, Sept. 28-29, in Dubuque.
Quee manages a small, certified organic farm that helps feed the Scattergood Friends School community and visitors year-round. Quee is also known for his on-farm research through involvement with the nonprofit Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI).
Quee has been the leader in making the farm an integral part of the curriculum for high school and middle school classes at the Quaker-based boarding school near West Branch. He works with others there to weave the farm into multidisciplinary courses, such as last year’s exploration of seed saving and a recent course on fences.
“We’re always thinking about how we can expand and reinforce learning,” Quee said. “When it comes to instruction, I primarily consider myself a writing teacher. I think we learn best by practicing. Much like farming, we learn day by day.”
Lee Tesdell, a landowner and conservation leader from Slater who graduated from Scattergood in 1968, wrote in support of Quee’s Spencer Award nomination. “The farm Mark manages today provides lamb, beef, poultry, vegetables and fruit in a sustainable environment. Some of the former row-crop ground has been planted in trees and perennial grasses, which has improved the soil health and the quality of the water leaving that hilly farm," said Tesdell. "These successes represent Mark’s positive impact on my alma mater. Another important aspect of his legacy of stewardship is the respect for the land and livestock his students take away from the experience of working with him.”
Caleb Smith is one of those students. A 2013 Scattergood graduate, he credits Quee with inspiration that has led Smith from coordinating a regional farmers market in Indiana to pursuing a master’s degree in regional planning at Cornell University in New York.
“During my time at Scattergood, Mark Quee was a constant source of knowledge, laughter and support,” Smith said. “I was eager to learn all about sustainable agriculture, and with Mark's guidance, I learned so much -- not just about running a successful sustainable farm, but also about life. Mark's skill in combining the humanities with everyday life, in and outside the classroom, helped me understand the importance of local food (and the values it embodies) in building strong and resilient communities.”
In addition to his roles at Scattergood, Quee is known for conducting on-farm research that students and the broader community have learned from. In 2019, he received a Master Researcher Award from PFI for work that has included 25 on-farm field trials on topics like cover crops, insect and weed controls, transitioning pastures to vegetables and grazing vegetable plots with sheep. Quee was featured in a 2021 video on beneficial insects for the PFI series Bringing Back the Edges. Recently, he has been studying weed control for sweet peppers in cooperation with Sundog Farm in Solon, comparing the effectiveness of a plastic mulch and a living, cover crop mulch.
“We are very pleased to honor Mark as a farmer and an exemplary on-farm researcher,” said Steve Dinsmore, interim director of the Leopold Center. “Mark is an inspiring and deserving recipient who is known as an organic farmer and food provider, a teacher and on-farm researcher who has shared his knowledge generously over many years.”
Quee grew up near Clarinda, where his father managed the grain elevator. He earned a degree in English education from Iowa State in 1991 and then traveled for awhile. He worked on a large, organic, community-supported agriculture farm in Indiana and at shelters for people without housing in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Before coming to Scattergood in 1999, he also spent time growing food for a Benedictine community in Oregon that served immigrants.
“I’ve been privileged to have the opportunity to grow food for people I know and love,” Quee said. “I try to cultivate an attentiveness to the world around us, in myself and my students, and respectfulness and awe are important features of that.”
Quee is married to Jennie Schmidt, associate director of a free health and dental clinic in eastern Iowa. Their daughter, Gillie, just started college in Pennsylvania.
The Spencer Award honors Norman and Margaretha Spencer, who farmed in Woodbury County for 40 years. Graduates of Iowa State, the Spencers maintained an active relationship with the university and several professors who encouraged them to conduct research on sustainable practices and family farming. The Spencer family established the award in 2001 through an endowment that provides a cash prize for each winner.
The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture was created at Iowa State in 1987 as a research and education center to support profitable farming that conserves natural resources.