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2013 Kansas Earth Team Volunteer Awards

Kansas Earth Volunteer program announces the fiscal year 2013 state award winners!

Earth Team Individual Award Winner—Brenda Zabriskie, Emporia, Kansas

Brenda ZabriskieEarth Team volunteer Brenda Zabriskie has used her geographic information systems (GIS) skills to organize and re-label old Lyon County aerial photo maps that have lost their flight keys. The flight key is important because it is used to find the photo map of the legal location.

When the Emporia Field Office receives requests for these maps, it normally takes staff hours to work from the few known map reference points to pinpoint the legal location and map. Brenda began volunteering and used her GIS skills to quickly create a new flight key for the aerial maps. Flight keys have been completed for Lyon County and Brenda is now working to complete flight keys for Chase County—a challenge since there is very little information available. In completing this project, Brenda has saved the office countless wasted hours looking for a photo map location. Brenda volunteers after she gets off work from her full-time job at the local school for about an hour and a half every day. Besides volunteering in the field office, she also volunteers at the Emporia Area Office, helping the area office assistant with different tasks.

Due to Brenda’s work and dedication, she is turning a challenge into something very beneficial to the Emporia Field Office and the conservation districts in Lyon and Chase counties. Not only are the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) employees benefiting from the flight keys, so will the general public. These flight keys were created for photo maps from the 1950s to more recent photo maps. She has volunteered over 150 hours for this project.

This project has also led to collaboration with the Emporia State University Earth Science Department’s Geospatial Analysis Program. This is a learning opportunity for university students and a great way to gain volunteers in the field office.

Earth Team Group Award Winner—Living Acres Network Group, Gove/Oakley, Kansas

Living Acres Network membersThe increased awareness and interest in cover crops and the NRCS’ soil heath campaign, gave a group of producers from several counties a boost to create a formal group—the Living Acres Network (LAN). The founding members have been using no-till from between 7 and 20 years and have been experimenting with cover crops since the 1980s. The group volunteered 162 hours of their time in fiscal year 2013 through outreach and organizing tours and meetings. Through the LAN’s Google+ page, they reach out to other producers in Northwest Kansas interested in trying cover crops through shared material and information about upcoming events.

Living Acres Network TourOn May 30, 2013, the LAN group sponsored a tour in Gove County to observe samples of planted cover crops. They led a discussion on depth of seeding, species selection, termination dates, crop rotation, and cost of planting cover crops. The NRCS soil moisture study site was also toured as Gove County is one of the eight sites operating across the state to monitor changes in soil water content with cover crops. The soil moisture study is a joint effort between conservation districts and local producers. On another occasion, the LAN invited cover crop specialists to a meeting to discuss different varieties and the use of the Cover Crop Calculator tool.

“The Living Acres Network is a tremendous group of production specialists striving to advance soil health, soil biodiversity, and conservation. I think that the efforts we are putting in now to explore new innovations in soil health will over time benefit our local community,” said Darrell Kaiser, Gove County Conservation District Board of Supervisors Chairman and LAN member.

Earth Team Employee Award—Adam Elliot, District Conservationist, Ashland, Kansas

Adam ElliottAdam Elliott, District Conservationist (DC), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Ashland, devotes time to the Earth Team (ET) volunteer program by putting on outreach events, coordinating with other partners, and assisting with recruitment of future NRCS employees.

Adam recruited and trained a local high school student as an ET Volunteer Apprentice. Bringing this student to the team was the first time in ten years that the Ashland Field Office (FO) had an apprentice.

The apprentice’s commitment of one hour a day for the entire school year allowed Adam to focus on outdoor or field work. The apprentice provided 130 hours of service by completing tasks such as vegetation and moisture monitoring in different cropping and rangeland systems and assisting with construction and management checkout of conservation practices. By Adam’s example as a mentor and the exposure to NRCS, the apprentice changed his college plans from computer programing to agronomy and crop science. Adam provided a win-win situation for all parties involved. Adam and the Ashland FO received much needed volunteer hours, and the apprentice gained a greater knowledge of our agency, conservation, and agriculture.

Adam is an enormous contributor to the Clark County Conservation District’s (CCCD) Ag Safety Day. He reached beyond county borders to bring in more kids for this annual event. He provided help in recruiting new presenters and volunteered his own time to present the tractor/power take-off (PTO) safety portion of the day.

Adam also assisted in Meade County’s Agricultural Career Fair, presenting his career path as well as pointing out potential other careers in the natural resources and environmental field. Another large project in the planning stage is the creation of a high school agricultural class. Adam and partners (K-State Research and Extension, Unified School District 220—Ashland High School, Clark County Farm Bureau, and the CCCD) are working on a proposal to teach students one day per week who do not currently have an opportunity to take an agricultural class.

In the two short years that Adam has served as the DC in Ashland, working with partners in this community has changed drastically. District manager Heather Grigsby said, “It has gone from us calling and ‘begging’ to give presentations, to groups calling us. It has been a complete turnaround for our outreach programs. Adam is very good with kids. They respond to him and his teaching very well.”

Earth Team Volunteer Coordinator Award—Jamie Johnson, Soil Conservationist, Holton, Kansas

Jamie JohnsonAs the Area 2 Earth Team (ET) Volunteer Coordinator, Jamie is responsible for the guidance and management of the ET Volunteer Program in nine Management Units (MUs) consisting of 27 offices. Every field office (FO) was able to meet or exceed their goal of 60 hours and two volunteers. Area 2 ended the fiscal rear (FY) with a grand total of 4,987.75 hours and 645 volunteers. Jamie’s area also recruited and trained two apprentices.

During area meetings, Jamie acknowledged offices and individuals who have had significant hours or unique activities involving the use of volunteers. She feels it is important to recognize those participating individuals for their contributions and management of the program. She also encourages FOs to present all deserving volunteers with a certificate of appreciation, a recognition item, or a genuine phone call saying thank you for their contributions.

Jamie Johnson helping in the Pollinator GardenAnother outlet Jamie uses to showcase the use of volunteers is to lead by example. She and another district conservationist worked with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism; K-State Extension; and the Master Gardeners Volunteer Group to install a People’s Garden-Pollinator Garden. This interaction allowed the community to become more familiar with our agency and how we are achieving our mission of “Helping the People Help the Land.” Jamie contributed hours of her personal time to plant and cultivate the pollinator garden and used this success story at an area meeting to try and encourage other offices to follow in her footsteps.

Education on why volunteers are so important is the greatest challenge. Jamie takes the time to seek out non-believers in the program and reach out to them in a way they may understand the benefit of the volunteer program and its possibilities. One spark could always start a fire, and Jamie says you just need to work with those individuals who are not utilizing the program to generate the greatest amount of interest.

Earth Team KACD/NACD Award Winner—Wilson County Conservation District, Fredonia, Kansas

Volunteers help with school conservation programs in Wilson CountyWilson County Conservation District (WCCD) and Auxiliary have shown what volunteers can do—and gone above and beyond in doing so. Their goal was to involve the Wilson County community in programs involving agricultural conservation and heritage. As meetings were held, representatives from different organizations began volunteering in planning and implementation. The volunteers were from the WCCD and Auxiliary, Wilson County Old Iron Club, the Historical Society, Fredonia Arts Council, Unified School District (USD) 387, USD 484, and citizens of Wilson County.

The WCCD and Auxiliary are very active with twenty-eight members. In 2013, they volunteered their valuable time and talents for school programs, field days, rangeland workshops and assisted with set up/refreshments when the WCCD hosted district meetings for the Kansas Association for Conservation Districts (KACD) and the State Conservation Commission (SCC) as well as the respective Spring and Fall Workshops. Other programs and activities in fiscal year 2013 include the following:

  • Volunteers help with school conservation programs in Wilson CountyWilson County 6th Grade Conservation Field Day—approximately 120 6th graders spent the day at stations staffed by Auxiliary volunteers, WCCD supervisors, and conservation professionals; other volunteers provided lunch, staffed the first aid station, provided timekeeping, took pictures of events, and guided groups from station to station
  • Provided Soils Program to Neodesha and Altoona 2nd graders and Fredonia Kindergarteners; put together the parts of the Soil People, cutting out hands and bowties, filling stockings etc.; volunteers and others presented the various segments of the program—Soil Sandwich, Wonderful Worms, Soil People, etc.
  • Helped district managers from Montgomery, Wilson, and Chautauqua/Elk Counties set up for the Lady Landowners meeting held as a joint effort in April 2013
  • Fredonia Lincoln Elementary students in 4th, 5th and 6th grade enjoy a field day in the spring each year since the 1990s due to volunteer efforts
  • In June, the WCCD, along with Greenwood and Woodson Counties, hosted a Plant Identification and Rangeland Workshop at Lake Fegan; volunteers baked muffins for the early arrivals, set up and staffed a booth with conservation-appropriate books
  • In July, volunteers checked in plant entries at the Wilson County Fair
  • Since 2002, the Wilson County Conservation District has been involved individually or with Greenwood, Woodson and Chautauqua/Elk Counties in providing a Water Festival for 3rd Graders; this year 100 Wilson County 3rd Graders attended

Earth Team Partnership Award Winner—Pratt County Pollinator Group, Pratt, Kansas

Volunteers creating a pollinator gardenIn a collaborative effort, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS); the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT); K-State Research and Extension; and the Master Gardeners all of Pratt County joined forces to create a Pollinator Garden. The garden is situated in front of the KDWPT museum and is intended to serve as an educational and outreach plot for the entire community, as well as serve as a food source for the many pollinators which inhabit the area. A passion for plants and conservation is evident.

The partners of this project worked collectively to find a location for the pollinator garden, secure funding for the materials, design a garden which would supply a food source for the pollinators all summer by using early, mid, and late season blooming native vegetation, preparing the site, picking up the plants, sowing the plants, installing a watering system, and overall maintenance of the garden. One of the many positive outcomes of the pollinator garden project has been the interest generated among the urban community to understand more about NRCS and how the agency benefits the whole county by protecting our natural resources.

Pratt County Pollinator GardenThe unique function of this Pollinator Garden is how it tends to pull non-traditional and traditional NRCS customers together. This partnership cultivated a variety of relationships with traditional farmers and community conservation activities. Individuals who were not familiar with the agency began to have a better understanding of how NRCS puts conservation on the ground and how the agency may be able to help the community though backyard conservation. People who live in town are starting to realize that they have similar conservation concerns as local farmers.

A special thank you goes out to those individuals who contributed their time, talent, and effort to the establishment of the Pratt County Pollinator Garden. We would like to recognize Rita Schartz, Jamie Johnson, Chris Berens, Chris Shrack, Mark Ploger, Kathy Stewart, Linda Broce, Erin Crouch, Diana Hemphill, Judy Lee, Jan Luttrell, Yolonda Mendoza, Fay Miller, Will Beth Mills, and Carol Stull.

Earth Team Field Office Award—St. Francis, Kansas

St Francis staff at a school conservation dayThe Natural Resources Conservation Service Field Office (FO) in St. Francis has enlisted volunteers to address a dire environmental concern in Cheyenne County—food security. This comes in the wake of the local grocery filing bankruptcy and U.S. Department of Agriculture’s labeling of the county as a “food desert,” based on the distance residents must travel to obtain food for their families. The FO has formed an aggressive Food and Agriculture Committee (FAC) out of local volunteers to address this concern from a variety of stakeholder angles. NRCS’ district conservationist, Bernadette Luncsford (also the FAC Chairperson), schedules pasture visits where volunteers learn about how rotational grazing increases grassland health. She volunteers much of her own time giving technical assistance in the area’s six People’s Gardens. She works with a job placement specialist that represents disabled workers who need retraining and find them a niche in St Francis’ Earth Team. She enjoys sharing her expertise with co-workers and gave a national training on starting a People’s Garden to NRCS state volunteer coordinators this year.

NRCS’ soil conservation technician, Cale Rieger, presented a soil health slideshow at a conservation district board meeting on how increasing organic matter with cover crops can increase moisture holding capacity and improve crop yields while saving money by making less trips across fields conserving fuel energy. Cale takes his cover crop knowledge to the field and educates volunteers by showing them the diverse beneficial insect populations and molds, lichen, and fungi growing on the top of the soil in a healthy crop field. Cale also has volunteers assist him in the field with conservation practice checkout. His contributions to the Community Gardens include: weeding, planting crops, mulching, harvesting crops, and recommending cover crop mixes specific to the garden’s needs, for overwintering.

Cale Rieger, Bernadette Luncsford, and Dani HolzwarthThe third member of the field office staff in St Francis is the Cheyenne County Conservation District Manager Danielle (Dani) Holzwarth. She leads the conservation board in planting and harvesting the container garden at the office and administers the district’s “Home Garden Program” where volunteers sign up to grow produce for donation and are given 10 free seed packets. She weighs the produce from all donation programs (Home Garden Program, People’s Garden at the office, Community Garden, and Junior Garden Club), tracks and records the pounds, and then organizes transportation of the donations to the Good Samaritan Village, the Senior Center, the School Lunch Program, and the local Food Pantry.

Through the collaboration of the St. Francis FO with other FAC stakeholders, an environment has been created in Cheyenne County that has supported the birth of at least five new local food producers. It has also undoubtedly increased the production potential of many existing local farmers. This is in addition to distributing over 1,800 pounds of donated food, thereby stabilizing local food availability.

Earth Team District Manager Award Winner—Carolyn Quillin, Seward County Conservation District, Liberal, Kansas

Carolyn QuillinCarolyn Quillin understands the value of volunteers and wears many hats in Seward County’s outreach programs, volunteer recruitment, and also as the Liberal Service Center Earth Team (ET) Volunteer Coordinator. Liberal concluded the 2013 year recording 48 volunteers and 363 hours helping Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) with its mission of “Helping People Help the Land.”

As recruiter and volunteer coordinator, Carolyn seeks volunteers who can help in a “feasible way” with outreach/education or large workload deadlines to assist in the office. This past year, she made contact with the local agricultural teacher to bring 5 high school students to the office to volunteer and possibly become apprentices next year. She also recruited volunteers for other counties!

Each spring, the annual Farm Education Day is held in conjunction with Farm Bureau, Seward County Community College, K-State Research and Extension, Southwest Heights Future Farmer’s America (FFA) Chapter, and local farmers and ranchers. Carolyn serves as a committee member for the planning, execution, and follow-up of this event and she’s the NRCS/Conservation District Liaison. This all-day event brings in 1,200 Liberal and Southwest Heights pre-school and 1st graders that experience tractors, farm animals, Soil Superheroes, crops, and watershed demonstrations.

Liberal Earth Team VolunteersCarolyn and her husband, ET Volunteer Dave Quillin, brought the Soil Tunnel Trailer to events in southwest Kansas to assist in the NRCS Mission. In 2013, 280 students experienced the Soil Trailer while it was at the Liberal school system on two occasions, at three local libraries, and at the Liberal Service Center’s Open House. While NRCS staff instructed on soils and crops at one stop, Carolyn gave tours of the underground life demonstrated by the trailer to students and community members.

Carolyn assists the district conservationist in creating folders, recording hours, and archiving old volunteer folders. This time spent keeping up with the system provides a great service to NRCS staff by allowing them to focus on conservation planning, program contracting, and further outreach events.