STAR is a national, non-profit organization established to develop and expand the STAR framework for conservation practice evaluation, implementation, and valuation. Designed and led by producers, the STAR tool utilizes science and experience to target local solutions for local natural resource concerns, and to support farmers and ranchers on their conservation journey – wherever they are.

Steve Stierwalt

STAR Co-founder and Board Chair

Steve Stierwalt is an Illinois corn and soybean farmer whose interest in conservation began 25 years ago due to his personal belief that farmers and ranchers must do a better job of preserving the agricultural resources that we have been entrusted with; to not only maintain these resources, but to improve them so that future generations can enjoy clean water and healthy, productive soils. Steve earned a BS in Ag Economics from the University of Illinois, co-founded (2017) and is board chair of Saving Tomorrow’s Agriculture Resources (STAR), was President of the Association of the Illinois Soil and Water Conservation Districts (AISWCD) from 2016 to 2020, was a member of the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) Executive Board from 2021 to 2023, and was a Prairie Farmer magazine Master Farmer in 2006. Steve and his wife, Judi, are the proud parents of 3 children and 9 grandchildren, and currently farm near Sadorus, Illinois with their son, Greg.

Joe Rothermel

STAR Co-founder and Board Member

Joe Rothermel is a fifth generation corn, soybean, wheat farmer from Champaign Co Illinois. He graduated from the University of Illinois and Southern Illinois University. After college, he worked at Douglas Aircraft Company in Long Beach, CA before returning back home to take over the Illinois family farm in 1995. Joe co-founded Saving Tomorrow’s Agriculture Resources (STAR) in 2017 and continues to support his interest in developing economically sustainable ways to farm that conserve our soil and water resources.

Cindy Lair

STAR Board Member

Cindy Lair is the Deputy Director and Climate Resilience Specialist for the Conservation Services Division at the Colorado Department of Agriculture. She leads the Agricultural Drought and Climate Resilience Office (ADCRO), which includes the Soil Health Program, STAR Agricultural Ranking Framework, Agricultural Water Policy, and the Advancing Colorado’s Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (ACRE3) programs. Within her duties she also oversees the Colorado State Conservation Board and serves on the Colorado Natural and Working Lands Working Group for the US Climate Alliance. She works on agricultural water quality and quantity issues, including Salinity control and the Colorado PFAS Task Force. Cindy graduated from Colorado State University in Natural Resources Management and is an alumna of the Colorado Agricultural Leadership Class of 2014.

Jeff O’Connor

STAR Board Member

Jeff O’Connor is a farmer from Kankakee, IL raising 850 acres of corn, soybeans, wheat, and double crop soybeans. As a graduate of the University of Illinois (1988) with a degree in Agricultural Economics, he has been a Certified Crop Advisor for 24 years and holds a Sustainability Specialist Certification. Jeff has been a Director with the Kankakee County Soil and Water Conservation District for over 20 years and currently sits on the Board of the Illinois Soybean Association as an At-Large Director where he serves on the Market Development Committee. Jeff is married to Gina and has 3 grown children and 1 grandchild.

Michael Woods

PhD, STAR Board Member

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.