Volunteers provide important support for conservation in Florida
Pulling weeds can be rewarding
by Gail Hendricks, public affairs specialist, USDA-NRCS
Stetson University student, Amanda Desormeaux, right, volunteered for a semester and earned course credit by helping put together conservation plans, inputting data and working with landowners and farmers. Kenneth Lamar, a high school senior and a whiz on the computer put together a great PowerPoint for a soils presentation given to other high school students. Amalia Castro joined an exchange program at Wageningen University in the Netherlands and got a chance to learn about conservation in the United States.
At USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, also known as NRCS, volunteers allow the agency to stretch available resources, improve customer service and help the environment for all of us. In 2013, volunteer hours at Florida NRCS offices totaled over 6,127. As a federal agency that equals approximately $135,651 in benefits to the federal government and its taxpayers.
So it is fitting that during National Volunteer Week, April 6 – 13, 2014, we paid tribute to our Earth Team, the agency’s official volunteer organization. The Earth Team was created in 1985 and offers many opportunities for those over the age of 14 who are interested in making a positive difference for the nation’s natural resources. Earth Team volunteers help NRCS conservationists provide everything from conservation technical assistance to teaching and generating awareness about conservation through the use of community projects and education.
At many high schools and colleges throughout the country, students can get credit for courses or volunteer hours by working as an Earth Team volunteer. “Currently I have a volunteer on a 40 hour internship from Daytona State College. He is an Environmental Science major who is planning to go on to engineering,” said George Johnson, district conservation with NRCS in DeLand, FL.
Volunteer contributions are very much a key to the success of many organizations and students are just a small part. Volunteers come in all ages and from all walks of life. Are you concerned about the water quality in Florida’s rivers, lakes and waters? Would you be interested in planting beach plants to control sand dune erosion near our coasts? Are you a gardener and like pulling weeds and growing plants for research on heat tolerance? Are you a job seeker or new Veteran looking to add to your experiences and references for your resume?
Through the Earth Team program Castro learned about many different farming and ranching practices, processed contracts and digitalized data with GIS. “I have seen how conservation work helps improve operations and the environment,” she said.
Desormeaux went on to graduate and served on the Volusia Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors. She is now a graduate student at the University of Florida studying Soil Science.
George Johnson works closely with volunteers in his area. “Mixed in with the tedious office work, it is very important to get my volunteers in the field as often as possible. Just riding along, meeting the farmers and walking the land is valuable for them. They can hold a survey rod, measure a fence or a pipeline and take pictures to actually help get the job done. I even showed them how to prepare drawings and job sheets,” he said.
Volunteers are vital members of the conservation team! If you would like to join the Earth Team Volunteer Program or want more information go to the NRCS Earth Team website or send an email to NRCSdistributioncenter@ia.usda.gov.
*Note: The Value of Volunteer Time to the Agency in 2012 was $22.14/hour as established by the Independent Sector and utilized by the Federal Interagency Team for Volunteerism.