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NRCS and the Earth Team: A Volunteer's Perspective

After my experience as an Earth Team volunteer with NRCS, a drive around Connecticut will never be the same.

Working with NRCS gave me a hands-on opportunity to work in agricultural areas throughout southeastern Connecticut. What has changed my drive is my new found attention to the many fields that make up our landscape, primarily the slope found within the fields and their proximity to waterways. Though those riding in the car with me do not seem to share this new appreciation for this field, I get excited pointing out, "Look at how steeply that field drains into that pond. I think that is a 12% slope!"

My Earth Team volunteer work was completed as an internship through the University of Connecticut through the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. During my time with NRCS, I was able to gain experience in many fields. I especially enjoyed working on different projects in the field of hydrology; including predicting storm water runoff paths, how slope contributes to soil erosion, agricultural related water quality issues, and the study of wetlands. I also worked in conservation science, seeing how NRCS worked with local farm owners to minimize impacts on land and water, and to conserve resources whenever possible.

My work on obtaining slope was to be used for implementation of Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plans for local dairy farmers. To find slope, I worked with another volunteer and the “go-to tool” a clinometer. During the semester, Andrea and I went from novice slope finders to a well-trained duo, employing strategy and logic in getting the right measurements. Each day we went out to fields in places like Sprague and Salem and thoroughly analyzed the fields to answer the question: "If a raindrop fell, where would it go?"

Slope finding was not the only agricultural work I did. I also got experience doing surveying at a beef farm. Though the conditions were mucky, requiring thigh high waders, I gained a great appreciation for the mind of a surveyor. Working with an engineer from the Norwich Office and a veteran surveyor from another office; we utilized a surveying laser and a prism to take hundreds of measurements along a severely eroded road on the farm. We worked in a field alongside a herd of approximately 35 curious cows that providing both entertainment and the occasional scare (and they were certainly disappointed with our lack of food provisions!).

Work done at a horse farm in central Connecticut taught me the cooperation that goes on through multiple levels in the name of conservation. Not only is the horse farmer working with NRCS, there are also other agencies like the Connecticut River Coastal Conservation District that the horse farmer interacts with. The mix of agencies combined with the private owners’ focus on their own needs can cause confusion, but also can result in a stronger network. Each agency and individual provides their own expertise to the situation resulting in better knowledge and understanding for all.

The time I spent as an Earth Team Volunteer has given me a new appreciation for conservation as it relates to working lands. My eyes have been opened to how anything you put on the ground will find its way to a watershed as a function of slope. The insight and knowledge I gained working with NRCS will be helpful in any career path I go on to, but especially useful with my major in Agriculture and Natural Resources. I am grateful for everyone that I worked with for their assistance and the wisdom they passed on to me during my time as an Earth Team Volunteer.