The Delaware Agricultural Museum and Village was the setting for the April 23 Stewardship Week proclamation reading and presentation of the annual Governor’s Agricultural and Urban Conservation Awards.
On behalf of Gov. Jack Markell and Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Secretary Collin O’Mara, DNREC Division of Watershed Stewardship Director Frank Piorko led a ceremony with Delaware Association of Conservation Districts First Vice President Robert Emerson recognizing the honorees.
Piorko also read a proclamation signed by the governor officially designating April 27 to May 4 as Stewardship Week in Delaware under the theme Dig Deeper: Mysteries in the Soil.
“These honorees are wonderful and diverse examples of how we can all be better environmental stewards by taking thoughtful, important actions to protect and enhance our soil, water and air quality,” said Piorko. “Whether a specific project or a lifetime of conservation, the individuals receiving acknowledgement today possess a continuing commitment to environmental improvement."
Delaware Department of Agriculture Secretary Ed Kee congratulated the honorees. “The recipients this year are all excellent stewards of our state. Their daily work proves their commitment to protecting our land and water for future generations,” said Kee.
Sussex County honorees were the Seaford School District, which received the Urban Award, and John T. Elliot Jr. of Bridgeville, who received the Agricultural Award.
The Sussex Conservation District, the Delaware Nature Society, and the Seaford School District partnered on the design, construction, planting, and outreach effort to construct rain gardens and water features at the four elementary schools in Seaford: Blades, Seaford Central, West Seaford, and Frederick Douglass. Grant funding was provided by DNREC under the Chesapeake Bay Implementation Grant. The intent of the project was to install water-quality practices at the schools while creating a schoolyard habitat that ties into school curriculum and teaches the importance of conservation and stewardship.
Delaware Nature Society coordinated with the teachers on incorporating the gardens into the school curriculum as an outdoor classroom, and on the continued maintenance of the rain gardens and ponds. The Seaford School District has been very receptive to taking on the responsibility of maintaining these natural areas, enhancement of the school grounds, and acting as stewards of the Chesapeake Bay.
Elliot has been a longtime cooperator with the Sussex Conservation District. He tills approximately 419 acres of corn, soybeans and small grain, of which 80 acres is irrigated. Elliot is a yearly participant in the district’s cover crop program, planting 233.1 acres in 2013. By participating in the cover crop program, He has helped reduce non-point source pollution by allowing the cover crop to utilize the nutrients left over in the soil from the previous crop. These nutrients can be recycled by the following year’s crop.
Elliot’s nutrient management plan is written by Sussex Conservation District conservation planners. He also participates in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service programs. He received cost-share assistance for 10 acres of wildlife plantings on his farm and most recently received an irrigation water management cap plan through NRCS to improve his fields and irrigation program.
Legislator of the Year
The Delaware Association of Conservation Districts also recognized state Sen. Bruce Ennis, D-Smyrna, as the 2014 Legislator of the Year, an annual award which is given to a legislator for outstanding service, loyalty and devotion to conservation efforts in Delaware. Ennis has served in the Delaware Legislature representing Kent County since 1982. Currently, he serves on the Agriculture Committee and Joint Finance Committee, and also works with the Kent County Conservation District to ensure the concerns of his constituents are heard and addressed.
Through legislation, Ennis has allocated funds for a number of conservation and drainage projects throughout Kent County over the past year; he has also supported funding for a number of conservation and drainage projects through the Kent Conservation District. Ennis has also allocated funds for 22 completed conservation and drainage projects through the KCD, and an additional nine that are currently in different phases of planning.
In the early 1990s as a state representative, Ennis was instrumental in the launching of the Dry Fire Hydrant Program and subsequent installation of the hydrants at sites throughout Kent County through the First State Resource Conservation and Development Council Inc., a program that is still active today.
Ennis also supports and educates constituents on the Kent Conservation District’s role in conservation, drainage assistance, and stormwater management throughout his Legislative District, and all of Kent County. A lifelong supporter of the FFA, he attends several FFA functions each year, including the FFA Alumni Barbecue.