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Ohio Earth Team Program Recognized Nationally

Each year the Natural Resources Conservation Service recognizes the Earth Team Volunteer Program and the people that make it a success.  For Earth Team Volunteer Program service performed in 2016, national awards were given for outstanding achievements.

Ohio State Conservationist Terry Cosby with the Chief's Cup award.
National Volunteer Service Award – Chief’s Cup – This award is presented to the State that most creatively uses volunteers to meet the mission of NRCS.
 
STC Terry Cosby insisted that Ohio volunteer activities were of substance, both to the volunteer and to NRCS. The focus for 2016 was to encourage employees to think outside the box to find ways to utilize volunteer services in meaningful ways.  Although volunteers played an important role in outreach and education efforts to adults, the most impact was seen in the role volunteers played in youth events, especially those events targeting the urban/suburban audience.  Utilizing local FFA students as volunteers who often donate time to conservation events, gives urban/suburban youth an opportunity to talk to youth with a more rural background. Youth teaching youth. It’s a great way to develop leadership and presentation skills in older youth and provide peer perspective and mentoring to the younger crowd.
 
Focusing volunteer efforts in urban/suburban areas provided ways to promote NRCS to a more diverse and underserved group. NRCS’ mission encompasses more than field crops and livestock. Urban areas are showing an interest in high tunnels, rain gardens, pollinator habitats, streambank stabilization, tree management, and other conservation practices. NRCS knows agriculture and NRCS knows conservation. We are uniquely qualified to help bridge the rural/urban interface in Ohio and provide conservation education to urban youth, who then educate their families. Like a raindrop falling on water, it ripples out with far reaching effects.
 
School Garden Tour Planting for Pollinators
National NACD/NRCS Earth Team Award Winner - This award is presented to the most effective soil and water conservation district (SWCD) which demonstrates shared leadership among district officials, NRCS employees and Earth Team volunteers. (This group won at national and state levels)
 
The Medina Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) utilizes the Earth Team program to promote pollinator habitats in their county. Medina is a bedroom community of both Cleveland and Akron, geographically located between the two large cities. The population of the county is over 176,000, yet one third of the county is forested and one half of the county is in agriculture with main crops of corn, soybeans, wheat, and vegetables. Medina County (actually all of Northern Ohio) is a pivotal location for Monarch butterflies as the fourth generation stops there before it flies north to Canada in the summer. The fifth generation returns in the early fall before it flies 3000 miles south to Mexico. Fallow fields of asters and golden rod are left as fall fuel for the Monarch butterflies.
 
The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) has established educational programs and Medina SWCD partners with NWF. The SWCD took on the Mayor’s Monarch Pledge for the entire county of Medina to be a NWF community wildlife habitat. Medina SWCD asked residents of the county to get NWF certification for their own backyard for wildlife habitat and planting butterfly gardens. 2016 started with 232 yards already certified, with a goal of 400 yards. Once 400 yards are certified, Medina County will be the first county in the State of Ohio to be a certified NWF Community Wildlife Habitat. Homeowners are not the only ones planting gardens and habitat areas. Local churches, parks, boy scouts, and schools are participating in this community-wide effort.
 
This outreach increases awareness and implementation of pollinator habitat and backyard conservation. Monarch butterflies are a huge “feel good” button. When butterfly gardens and wildlife backyards are introduced as topics, it is easy to segue into the following issues: soil health, water quality, and storm water techniques such as rain gardens and rain barrels. Medina SWCD used Earth Team volunteers to reach 5,287 people this year with information about wildlife habitat for pollinators and backyard conservation for storm water reduction.
 
FFA Students and NRCS professionals teach preschoolers about farm-fresh food sources, soil profiles, and seed planting
National Earth Team Volunteer Group Award Winner - This award recognizes one outstanding volunteer group in each region who furthered the agency mission and assisted with expanding NRCS services. The regional winners are judged and one National Winner selected.  (This group won national, regional, and state levels)
 
In 2016, NRCS staff in northwest Ohio partnered with the Liberty Benton High School FFA Chapter to prepare, plant, maintain, and harvest a People’s Garden. The staff also has a four-year tradition of teaching children from the Immanuel Lutheran Church Pre-school about soils, plants, and our food sources for which Liberty Benton’s FFA played a pivotal role. Through the FFA students, 22 young children were introduced to farm-fresh food sources, soil profiles, and seed planting.
 
There were two separate sessions, morning and afternoon, to accommodate the pre-school’s half-day schedule. Each session started with an animated reading of “Farmer Joe & the Tasty Adventure” through which the children were introduced to a variety of fresh farm-raised foods and their important nutritional value. The children were then provided coloring materials and pages from the story to color and take home with them.
 
Then it was on to a lesson about the different types of soil and some hands-on basic soil judging. Tubs of soils from sands to heavy clay and clean loam to heavy organic muck were there for the children to dampen, squeeze, rub between their fingers, and form into balls. Later the children were able to play in the soils again, this time to build their own soil profile in a jar to take home and show their parents. The children were also provided planting materials and sunflower seeds that they were able to take home to watch grow.
 
Through the entire school summer break, members from the FFA and the FFA Alumni would converge on the Peoples Garden every Tuesday and Thursday evening (weather permitting) for two hours to pull weeds, manage plants, cultivate the soil, control insect pests, and harvest vegetables. All totaled, these dedicated youth and their Alumni supporters provided more than 450 volunteer hours working in the People’s Garden. Through the superb efforts of the FFA students more than 1,600 pounds of fresh, locally produced, high quality vegetables were provided to area food banks.
 
NRCS Employee Chris Davis teaches preschools about FFA Students and NRCS professionals teach preschoolers about farm-fresh food sources, soil profiles, seed planting and planned their visit to a Findlay People's Garden
Regional Earth Team NRCS Employee Award Winner - This award recognizes one NRCS employee in each region who demonstrates effective and creative use of volunteers which resulted in expanding the services offered by NRCS. (This NRCS employee won regional and state levels)
 
Chris Davis is the Resource Soil Scientist in northwest Ohio. He coordinated the work in the Findlay People’s Garden for 2016. Even before the first hints of spring, Chris was seeking out sources of materials, labor, and seeds. He coordinated with the Hancock County Commissioners to more than double the size of the People’s Garden and attained their permission to use county employees and tractors to plow and do the initial preparations of the ground for planting. When the leadership of the previously used high school group failed to respond to his queries, Chris found willing support from the Liberty Benton High School Future Farmers of America (FFA) in Findlay, Ohio.
 
To kick-off the 2016, Chris hosted 22 pre-school children in two groups from the Immanuel Lutheran Church Pre-school. Students from the FFA chapter at nearby Liberty Benton high school assisted with the event. Throughout the summer, the combined efforts from Chris’ team converged on the People’s Garden two or three days a week (weather permitting) to pull weeds, manage plants, cultivate the soil, control insect pests, and harvest vegetables. All totaled, this dedicated team of FFA youth, Alumni supporters, NRCS and soil and water conservation district staff provided nearly 500 volunteer hours working in the People’s Garden. Moreover, every bit of the harvested crop was provided to local food pantries and community missions through the USDA Feds Feed Families Campaign. Through the superb efforts of Chris’ team, more than 1,600 pounds of fresh, locally produced, high quality vegetables were provided to the area’s most needy people.
 
Connecting Kids Inside Out hosted a STEM Enrichment Institute at a local urban middle school
State Earth Team Partnership Award Winner This award is presented to the most effective partnership that demonstrates shared leadership among the partnering organization, NRCS employees and Earth Team volunteers.
 
Connecting Kids Inside Out (CKIO) is a non-profit organization in central Ohio. The overarching goal of the organization is to provide opportunities for young people, especially those of color, to gain greater access to explore nature and the outdoors as well as careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) and natural resources. Tamala Solomon, the founder of CKIO, facilitates the planning, organizing, and execution of events that give urban students opportunities to experience a variety of activities relating to the great outdoors.
 
CKIO hosted a STEM Enrichment Institute at a local urban middle school for eighth graders over the summer. Almost 98% of the 455 students at this school receive free or reduced lunches, 9.5% are limited English proficient, and 19% have a disability. Students had to apply to participate in the event and were asked to choose an area of study to focus on during the week-long event. Several students selected geology for their area of study. They learned from NRCS Geologist Susan Grover about aquifers and preventing groundwater pollution by creating a model of an aquifer and showing them how easily pollution can occur, if not contained. Susan was so popular with her students that they created a "Ms. Grover Rocks" sign they presented to her at the commencement ceremony.
 
The school has a fish and turtle tank in the lobby and the science classes utilize the tanks to teach students about ecosystems and how environmental changes impact those systems. During the wildlife encounter, students have the opportunity to explore nature and learn about the natural history of Ohio’s native wildlife and the seasonal adaptations.
 
Over the last few years, CKIO is responsible for contributing over 2,900 hours to the Earth Team program. Over 1,500 hours were donated in FY 2016 alone. Inspiring young people to care for our planet and NRCS employees to give back to their communities, while strengthening our Earth Team Volunteer Program, has become a valuable collaboration with CKIO.
 
Volunteer Arista Hartzler assisting NRCS and SWCD technical staff in project surveys, construction checks, and as-built surveys
State Earth Team Individual Volunteer Award Winner - This award recognizes one outstanding volunteer in Ohio who furthered the agency mission and assisted with expanding NRCS services. 
 
Arista Hartzler volunteered in the Circleville field office during her summer break from her studies at Ohio University. During her short time there, Arista logged 88 hours. She assisted the technical staff in design surveys, construction checks, and as-built surveys of CRP waterways. However, Arista’s main project was geo-referencing archived engineering plans using the ArcMap GIS program. She was able to geo-reference 400 engineering plans over the summer.
 
The work done by Arista impacts NRCS by making it easier for the office to access engineering plans for implemented practices. Her efforts in assisting NRCS and the SWCD technical staff in project survey, construction checks, and as-built surveys for CRP allowed NRCS staff to complete several tasks in a short period of time and in an efficient manner. She inspired staff by always keeping a positive attitude and being willing to assist the staff not only while in the field, but also while completing the tedious task of geo-referencing completed practices.
 

 

Learn more about the Ohio Earth Team Program