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News Release

Back to School with Sammy Soil

 Indianapolis, IN, August 19, 2014 – You’ve heard of the living soil, well how about the talking soil?

“Teaching people about soil conservation is one of the agency’s top goals,” said Jane Hardisty, Indiana’s State Conservationist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service,” and fortunately, we have a special helper, Sammy Soil.”

This week we are celebrating Back to School Week and Hardisty wants to be sure you have a chance to learn about and talk with Sammy Soil, everyone’s favorite little clump of earth.

Sammy has managed to capture the public’s attention for more than 40 years. The little dirt clod, as he is sometimes called, was birthed through rock particles, water, air, leaves and the artistic mind of long-time employee Ernest “Howard” Whitaker.

Sammy Soil started as a water color drawing by Whitaker, who worked as a NRCS district conservationist in Tennessee. “The idea came to me in a dream,” Whitaker said of the illustrated hero. The character of Sammy Soil was launched in 1967, at a time when soil conservation was not yet part of America’s mindset, Whitaker said.

NRCS has featured Sammy Soil in a series of school activity books to help school children learn the many different aspects of soil conservation. For almost 50 years, Sammy Soil has evolved from a simple water color drawing, to a national symbol for soil and land conservation.

In the 1970s, Jack Winstead and Jeannine May, NRCS employees in Mississippi, transformed Whitaker’s drawing into a multi-dimensional mascot and Sammy Soil costumes and puppets were crafted and used across the country as an important and fun teaching tool.

Hardisty wants to spread the word about the many education tools available through NRCS and the Indiana Conservation Partnership. Celebrate back to school with the free coloring book at Other student materials are located at or you can order publications from on the Distribution Center site (

As part of Back to School Week, Sammy Soil will also be hosting a live Twitter chat on August 21st, from 1 to 2 p.m. EST. You can join the Twitter conversation @USDA_NRCS.

You can learn more about educational resources or about your soil at your local NRCS office. Click here to locate an office near you


Jane Hardisty, State Conservationist, 317-295-5801 (
Becky Fletcher, State Public Affairs Specialist, 317-295-5825 (