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Earth Team Volunteers | 2012 Awards

2012 Kansas Earth Team Volunteer Awards

Kansas Earth Team Volunteer Program announces the Fiscal Year 2012 State and National award winners!

Earth Team Individual Award Winner—Warren Cico, St. Francis, Kansas

Bernadette Luncsford recognizes Warren Cico for his work as an Earth Team volunteer Warren Cico tending the St. Francis People's Garden

Warren Cico completed over 200 hours of service for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Service Center in St. Francis, Kansas, in fiscal year (FY) 2012. Warren moved to St. Francis in July 2011 to become pastor of the United Methodist Church. He quickly became involved in community groups such as the Community Wellness Committee and USDA’s Earth Team. His work as a volunteer has inspired many people in the community and touched many more. Warren, and those who follow his lead, are bringing the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Vision to fruition: A productive nation in harmony with a quality environment.

Beginning in October 2011, the possibility of installing a People’s Garden in St. Francis was discussed. As a team member, Warren looked at potential sites, approached other organizations for insight, and helped select the final location. He helped break ground for the garden and then planted, weeded, and watered regularly. He mentored new gardeners one night a week and through a junior garden club meeting three times a week, taught up to a dozen children (aged 5-13) about protecting soil and water while growing food. The children were introduced to new foods and received instructions on how to prepare the garden produce they earned and took home. Warren harvested the garden’s excess produce that was then weighed, packaged, and delivered to the local food pantry and elder care facility.

Whenever a new face comes through the NRCS office door, this is what we hear, “Warren said I have to come here to learn how to become an Earth Team volunteer, so I can work with him in the garden.” We cannot thank Warren and his continual recruitment of Earth Team volunteers enough!

Earth Team Group Award Winner—Farmers as Teachers, Pratt, Kansas

Student trainee Adria Smith with local producers Craig Wilson and Lee Wilson Adria Smith assisting producer Mark Fincham with harvest

For the past two years, the Pratt Field Office has had the privilege of obtaining a student trainee for the summer. The field office has been charged with expanding the trainee’s experience and knowledge base during their stay. While the staff is able to offer a broad array of information regarding technical assistance and conservation practices, they aren’t always able to tie it all together in a way that the trainee fully understands our purpose and how the agency assists the landowners to get conservation on the ground and how we address their resource concerns. The critical component many of the student trainees are lacking is an agricultural background, especially when they are from out-of-state. This issue’s being resolved by a handful of local producers who volunteer their time to provide hands on experience to our student trainees.

During the course of the summer, the student trainees have appointed days that they spend with a particular producer. A wide variety of activities take place on these days, such as plowing up terraces, mowing waterways, harvesting wheat, side dressing corn, or working cattle. Not only does the student trainee gain firsthand experience while conducting these activities, but the general interaction between the producer and trainee allows for a conversation pool that is endless. The student trainee is able to tap into the producer’s experience and how they put conservation on the ground.

It is evident that this process allows the student trainees to become more confident in their jobs, allowing them to connect all aspects of our agency’s mission. They return to school in the fall with a better understanding of how to assist the farmers with meeting their needs and treating their resource concerns. Many different alternatives may need to be developed in order to address a certain resource concern, and now the student trainees understand why because they have walked in the farmers shoes.

The most important aspect of this type of volunteering activity is the partnership it develops and strengthens between our agency and the farmers. In a sense, the farmer is helping mold the next generation, which will benefit them in the future. Farmers are able to demonstrate to the student trainees what challenges they face in the field.

Earth Team Employee Award - Bernadette Luncsford, District Conservationist, St. Francis, Kansas

State and National Award Winner!!!!

Bernadette Luncsford (second from left) with volunteers at the St. Francis People's Garden Bernadette with a volunteer in the St. Francis field office

Bernadette Luncsford utilized 134 volunteers in the St. Francis, Kansas, NRCS office many ways; capturing a total of 998.25 hours! Some of the more creative ways were developing a native plants educational area at the fairgrounds, creating posters/materials in Spanish, taking a female volunteer along with her to speak at women’s group activities and having a professional photographer provide services to take pictures of conservation practices, people, or projects. Volunteers also assist with spot checks, check-outs, and whatever else is needed on the local work group. Her most notable endeavor, though, is the Community Garden group.

These volunteers planned, planted, weeded, and harvested the community People’s Garden in St. Francis. They also mentored beginning gardeners, ran a junior garden club, and washed, bagged, and delivered the produce. A local carpenter volunteered his labor to install a small hoop house at the garden and another is currently writing a Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) proposal to purchase a local nursery to offer year-round gardening under a hoop house for the community.

The key to Bernadette’s successful program is she volunteers herself, not only taking advantage of the opportunities through NRCS and USDA but in her own community—donating blood, sorting donations at church, and speaking at civic organizations. Additionally, she meets the people where they are—if someone is homebound and wants to help, she delivers produce to them to be washed or recipe cards to be cut out for the food pantry packages. This gives everyone—the disabled, homebound, housebound, etc.—a chance to be Earth Team volunteers.

At the conservation district’s annual meeting, she recognized all volunteers with a certificate and packet of wildflower seed. The five volunteers with the most accrued hours received recognition items of blankets or mugs. On October 24, 2012 (FOOD DAY), she held a celebration/appreciation supper for the community garden volunteers that consisted of items from garden produce and locally grown foods. Volunteers with the most hours were recognized at this event also. Great job Bernadette!

Earth Team Volunteer Coordinator Award—Toni Flax, Rangeland Management Specialist, Hill City, Kansas

State and National Award Winner!!!

Toni Flax at a high school career fair Toni Flax presents to a group of 6th graders at the annual W.A.C.K.Y. Day event at Kirwin Reservoir

As the Area 1 Earth Team Volunteer Coordinator, Toni Flax is responsible for management of the Earth Team Volunteer Program in nine managements units (MU’s) which consist of 27 offices. In FY 2012, Area 1 led all other areas in Kansas in total number of volunteers and hours. Every office was able to meet or exceed their goal of 60 hours and two volunteers, as well as exceeding the area goal of 5,000 hours. Area 1 ended FY 2012 with a grand total of 5,009 hours and 804 volunteers. This is an increase of 60 volunteers from FY 2011. It was also stated in the Area 1 Business Plan that the Earth Team Program would recruit two apprentices. They actually ended the year with three apprentices, with one office having two.

On her own time, Toni volunteers as a 4-H Leader for the Graham County Rangeland and Soils project. She feels that volunteering in her community is very important and that her contribution may give her 4-Her’s the confidence they need to succeed in their future endeavors.

Training is a big part of Toni’s job. Along with the Kansas State Earth Team coordinator, Toni provided training to all Area 1 NRCS employees and partners at an employee meeting on the “What Tasks a Volunteer Can Perform” resource put together by the Kansas coordinators.

Recently, Toni spent a day at a local high school career fair that hosted 600 students. She was part of a booth and a two-person presentation team that talked with students about NRCS and the Earth Team program, specifically the Kansas Apprentice Program. Having been an Earth Team volunteer herself in high school and now an NRCS employee, Toni has a unique perspective on how far volunteering can take you, and the doors it can open.

The biggest challenge Earth Team coordinators face is getting the field offices to “buy in” on the program and getting them to use it in a way that is beneficial—not just seeing it as hindrance in their day-to-day job; opening their eyes to options other than having to train someone all the time. This is the area where Toni focused and felt it was so important to do the needs assessment and provide them with real solutions. Keep up the good work Toni!

Earth Team KACD/NACD Award Winner – Jackson County Conservation District, Holton, Kansas

State and National Award Winner!!!!

Jackson County Conservation district board members receive the
NACD Earth Team Volunteer Award at the National Convention

The Jackson County Conservation District (JCCD) has hosted, helped, contributed, and been involved in many events not only for their local area but in surrounding areas as well. Their awards for both State and National winners were well-deserved! Below are just a few of the things the JCCD has been involved in with Earth Team volunteers!

  • Hosted the Banner Creek Regional Envirothon competition in which 26 teams competed while rotating through five resource stations; assisted in the set up, meal preparation, and clean up at the event; In July, board member Dan Pollock and his wife Carol served as volunteers at the Canon Envirothon competition in Canada with over 54 teams competing.
  • Assisted with the Eastern Kansas Grazing School in providing the evening meal at the Livestock Body Condition Scoring workshop; Henry Hill, board member, and Roberta Spencer, district manager, provided their pastures and volunteered as needed in preparation for the event.
  • Assisted with the vegetation plantings on streambank stabilization project; lined up the volunteer assistance of the Jackson Heights High School stream team in planting the willows and seedlings.
  • Hosted the annual local speech contest; Judges were volunteers from the community as well as one of the district board members.
  • JCDD board spouses judge the annual poster contest—this past year over 350 posters submitted.
  • Hosted the annual essay contest and requested the volunteer assistance of the Meadowlark Extension Service to judge around 80 essays.
  • Assisted with the Delaware River Watershed Tour and helped determine the tour stops in Jackson County; met with the landowners and assisted in the development of the program booklet; district selected agriculture producers that were doing unique and innovative water quality practices in the county and these producers served as volunteers in showcasing their practices.
  • Hosted a no-till field day—cover crops on Henry Hill’s (board member) cropland field; board assisted with the cover crop plantings on two different dates in preparation of field day; volunteer assistance on field day included set up, parking, serving meal, and clean up; others offering volunteer assistance included, NRCS, Kansas-State (K-State) Research and Extension, Meadowlark Extension District, and Green Cover Crop.
  • Hosted the annual postcard art contest in conjunction with the Kansas Foundation for Ag in the Classroom poster contest; district judged the contest in conjunction with the Holton Future Farmers of America (FFA) Leadership team.
  • Hosted the annual Ag/Water Festival for 3rd and 4th grade students in 3 schools at Banner Creek Reservoir with over 400 students, teachers, and volunteers attending; prepared and served lunch to those attending; volunteer assistance was provided by the district board, staff, community volunteers, and more than 30 FFA students.
  • Hosted the first Women in Ag (WIA) meeting; five community volunteers spoke on relevant topics that impact WIA and an additional 5 volunteers helped set-up, prepare meal, and serve to more than 63 individuals that attended.
  • Hosted a field day on Cover Crops/Pollinators/ and Plant ID and board member volunteered his pasture and cropland field which were used on the tour; all five district board members attended and assisted with the event attended by approximately 45 individuals.
  • Hosted a Livestock-Drought Workshop to address winter cattle feeding, drought recovery in pastures, sericea lespedeza, and blue green algae in stock water ponds; board assisted with the announcements of speakers and paid for the evening meal that was served to 95 individuals.
  • Board and staff assisted with the Area Soil Judging Contest; served the noon meal to the more than 140 students that competed in the contest.

Great job and wonderful participation within your community JCCD!!!!

Earth Team Partnership Award Winner – Morton and Stevens County Outdoor Classroom, Hugoton, Kansas

Grade school students at a station in the Outdoor Classroom Leadership from many conservation partners contributed to a successful Outdoor Classroom

The local NRCS, conservation district, K-State Extension leaders, Morton County Museum, Cimarron National Grasslands/Forest Service, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT), and Pheasants Forever saw the need and opportunity to provide an educational program to the local schools in the Stevens and Morton County Kansas Schools and Texas County, Oklahoma, Yarbrough school district. The Cimarron National Grasslands had the facility to enable us to put together a program for the surrounding schools and helped coordinate the event. The target school age group is 5th graders at Yarbrough, Oklahoma; Elkhart, Kansas; Rolla, Kansas; Hugoton, Kansas; Moscow, Kansas; Heritage Christian School-Hugoton, Kansas; and local home-schooled children. The educational program is an outdoor classroom consisting of five stations: Fire Ecology, Soil Tunnel Trailer, Reptiles/Amphibians, Santa Fe Trail, and Skins, Skulls, and Tracks.

One of the main obstacles the group faced with this outdoor classroom was money to pay for the lunch for the kids attending and the presenters on site. However, since its inception local businesses have either donated money and/or bottled water to help with the costs. Another help has come in the form of grants which are given, thanks to the Morton County Museum volunteer that writes them for the organization in order to receive funds for this cause. Despite scheduling challenges we encountered with the schools and the school budget—some schools only have enough budget to do one outing a year—we have had a successful program each year and have reached between 90- 200 kids with our outdoor classroom.

NRCS and the conservation district have worked together with the K-State Extension leaders in Stevens and Morton Counties, Morton County Museum, Cimarron National Grasslands/Forest Service, KDWPT, and Pheasants Forever to organize and carry out this outdoor classroom and many other outreach opportunities for our communities. This project remains a priority for our group because we all feel it is a priority that our young citizens be as knowledgeable as possible about our natural resources and concerns. It is imperative that the kids learn early about our environment and the things we can do as stewards of the land to keep our natural resources safe! Great job with the Outdoor Classroom!

Earth Team Field Office Award – Liberal Field Office, Liberal, Kansas

Liberal Field Office staff (from left to right) Sherri Lamont,
Leslie Spikes, Carolyn Quillin

The Liberal field office actively seeks and supports the use of Earth Team volunteers. The responsibilities involved in cultivating and utilizing a successful volunteer program are shared between the NRCS staff and the conservation district staff.

Several of the projects in Seward County that utilize volunteers are an annual event; Seward County has implemented several successful education events with the Soil Tunnel Trailer, World Water Monitoring Day, Soils Day for 3rd Graders, Earth Day, Irrigation Tours, Butterfly Count, and Farm Education Day that utilize many repeat volunteers every year.

Volunteers are able to provide outreach and communications on conservation practices and how they can address various resource concerns. Volunteers typically know an individual who could benefit from our programs. The majority of our volunteer hours are captured through our education events. Volunteers walk away from these educational days with a sense of pride and the knowledge that they have made a difference in the lives of these children by promoting conservation. Another value of being a volunteer is a feeling of self-worth and personal satisfaction. The interaction between staff members and volunteers is something that gives everyone a feeling of teamwork and accomplishment.

The Liberal Field Office staff organizes and facilitates volunteers with program presentations. Conservation and educational materials are provided and reviewed to assist with the presentation. All activities, whether assisting with office administrative duties or educational programs, are supported by all office staff. Our volunteers range from retired individuals and family to students and friends. Many of the volunteers require very little training because they come from an agriculture background and understand most of the conservation concepts and practices that are accomplished by the Liberal staff. These volunteers are always eager to learn new conservation concepts and initiatives and will support our conservation objectives and mission in any way they can.

The Liberal field office has an active volunteer base and numerous volunteer hours. The timekeeper and staff go out of their way to show appreciation for their Earth Team volunteers. This office is an example of a successful volunteer program which is promoted by a professional staff. What a wonderful example the Liberal office is setting!

Earth Team District Manager Award Winner—Angela Beavers, Geary County Conservation District, Junction City, Kansas

Angela Beavers

Don’t expect to just stand around when you volunteer for the Geary County Conservation District (GCCD). GCCD district manager Angela Beavers will put you to work promoting conservation in Geary County. Whether it’s planting a tree or teaching youth, there is bound to be some work to do!

Angela started working for the GCCD in July 2006, as a Buffer Coordinator. In 2010, the former district manager retired and turned the reins over to Angela. Since starting out with the district six years ago, she has used volunteers to magnify conservation activities in the county.

Volunteers are used every year at the GCCD annual meeting to help with set up and clean up after the meeting. They also provide transportation and locations for range tours and other workshops sponsored by the conservation district.

Recently, Angela used volunteers to help set up and pack away the Soil Tunnel Trailer used during the Sundown Salute. The Sundown Salute is the Independence Day celebration in Junction City, Kansas, and anywhere from 15-20,000 people of all ages attend the event. Usually two or three Earth Team volunteers help out at these events.

Angela has found volunteers particularly useful when it comes to large events like the Twin Lakes Water Festival at Council Grove Lake. The Water Festival is a one-day conservation event that bussed in about 1,000 kids from six counties to learn about soil conservation, forestry, range management, and wildlife conservation. The event was so large that the presenters were separated into four groups with 12-13 stations. Volunteers were used to usher kids between stations, prepare food, tend to trash cans, haul water, man the first-aid station, and clean-up and tear down. One special set of volunteers was a group of soldiers from Ft. Riley, Kansas, who volunteered to help haul tables, trash cans, and direct bus traffic.

During Angela’s time as a buffer coordinator she helped put in bare-root seedlings and willow stakes on about 12,000 feet of stabilized bank on the Smoky Hill River that flows through Geary County, Kansas. With the help of NRCS cost-share and Angela’s tree planting crews, landowners were able to install streambank stabilization projects. Over 19,000 trees were planted to anchor the soil in place.

Compared to tree planting machines, nothing can beat the effectiveness of a hand planted tree! Without proper planting techniques the trees could die from excessive air pockets. To plant the trees, Angela sought volunteers from area schools and youth organizations. She had volunteers ranging from After Prom groups to baseball teams to 4-Hers. One of her biggest groups had over 54 individuals and put in over 500 tree planting hours!

Through all of her coordination efforts and use of volunteers, Angela was able to implement conservation on the land. Volunteers can make a difference, but it takes a dedicated district manager, like Angela, to make it happen. Angela is helping make that difference by making those things happen!