Illinois STAR was developed in 2017 by two local farmers who teamed up with the Champaign County Soil and Water Conservation District (CCSWCD) to formally establish STAR across Illinois and eventually inspire a national expansion. Illinois STAR has benefited from the expertise and guidance of representatives from key state organizations including The Nature Conservancy (TNC), American Farmland Trust (AFT), Illinois Soybean Association (ISA), Illinois Corn Growers Association, Association of Illinois Soil and Water Conservation Districts (AISWCD), and many other conservation focused partners. Recognized conservation advocates, researchers and experts throughout the Illinois academic, consulting, and farming communities have been instrumental in the success of the initiative through participation on the Illinois STAR Steering Committee. Along with continued CCSWCD support, Illinois STAR is supported by a new Affiliate partner, Illinois Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Land and Water Resources (IDOA), as part of the soil health goals set forth by the Illinois General Assembly Public Act 103-0490. IDOA and STAR share a common vision to enhance agricultural conservation practices and raise awareness regarding nutrient and soil loss mitigation. Together, they work on education and training opportunities to promote conservation and the Illinois STAR Initiative. The Illinois STAR Initiative is efficiently administered through Licensed Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs), ensuring accessibility and coverage across the state.


Bruce Henrikson

Illinois STAR Assistant Coordinator

Bruce Henrikson was raised on a grain and livestock farm near Springfield, Illinois. After graduating from the University of Illinois in 1970, Bruce was the agriculture teacher in Paxton. After completing a master’s degree, in 1975 he became an agriculture instructor at Parkland College in Champaign, teaching agriculture marketing and management. Bruce resigned from Parkland in 1985 to become a farm marketing consultant in Champaign. He enjoyed helping farm families manage their marketing risks but missed teaching both traditional aged students and farmers. He returned to Parkland in 1989 as an agriculture instructor and was soon named the Agriculture Program Director. In 2003 he became the Business & Agri-Industries Department Chair and retired from Parkland in the summer of 2016. He started working part-time for the Champaign County Soil & Water Conservation District in 2017 to help with the development of the STAR initiative and has continued in that role.

michael woods


As the CEO of the Association of Illinois Soil and Water Conservation Districts (AISWCD), Dr. Michael Woods works at the intersection of policy, education, communication, and advocacy to find creative, practical solutions for better soil and water conservation across Illinois. Exuding a dynamic, engaging, and influential leadership style that motivates, Michael has successfully aided in securing extensive investments into Illinois’ soil and water conservation and capacity-building initiatives. Michael is a strong leader within the Illinois agricultural industry and throughout the conservation sector, making him a dynamic advocate for STAR. He has extensive experience as a connector, fundraiser, educator, and communicator focused on agriculture, conservation, and grassroots community development, serving as a catalyst for the agricultural industry over his 30+ year career.

A native of Illinois, Michael holds a PhD from Iowa State University in Agricultural Education, along with a Masters in Extension Education and a Bachelors in Agricultural Communications from the University of Illinois and an Associates in Agriculture from Black Hawk East. Prior to joining AISWCD, Michael worked for the Illinois Department of Agriculture, Cornell University Extension, Illinois College, University of Illinois Extension, Michigan State University, Iowa State, Slovak Agricultural University, Ukrainian Agricultural University, Oscar Mayer Foods, and Bader Rutter Advertising. He is blissfully married, has three daughters, one son, a dog, and over 50 chickens and runs a 5-acre community-based farm.

Natalie A. Kerr

Illinois STAR Coordinator

Natalie Kerr is a dedicated scientist joining STAR with a passion for elevating practical, evidence-based research to different audiences. Her career in agricultural conservation began in 2016 as a field technician at Waterborne Environmental, Inc. She earned recognition as the 2019 Illinois Young Innovator of the Year for her pioneering work on denitrification solutions. With an interest in public health, she went on to research the multimedia fate and transport of pollutants, and community exposure. During her time at the Illinois State Water Survey, she effectively managed well-funded water quality research studies and led participant and community outreach efforts. Prior to STAR, Natalie served as a Sustainability and Social Responsibility Analyst, where she managed regulatory and stakeholder sustainability requirements, and conducted life cycle assessments of plant-based products. She holds a B.S. in Chemistry from the University of Illinois Springfield and an M.S. in Environmental Health Science from the University of Michigan.