The Delaware Agricultural Museum and Village was the setting for the presentation of the annual Governor’s Agricultural and Urban Conservation Awards. Gov. Jack Markell, along with DNREC Deputy Secretary Kara Coats, Delaware Association of Conservation Districts President Robert Emerson and USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service State Conservationist Kasey Taylor, led a ceremony recognizing this year’s honorees and signed a proclamation officially designating Sunday through Saturday, April 24-30 as Soil and Water Stewardship Week in Delaware under the theme, We All Need Trees.
“Our honorees have demonstrated their continuing commitment to environmental improvement, and on behalf of the people of Delaware, I would like to thank each of them for their dedication and for their time, effort and investment to implement model conservation practices. I also want to thank all of the Conservation District supervisors and employees for the many and various contributions they make to improve the quality of life in Delaware,” said Markell. “I encourage everyone to remember this year’s Soil and Water Stewardship Week theme, We All Need Trees, year-round. In addition to providing shade, seasonal beauty and wildlife habitat, trees give us oxygen, cleaner air and reduced soil erosion, runoff and water pollution, to name just a few of their benefits.”
“Much of the work we do at DNREC is accomplished through partnerships with individuals, organizations, municipalities and other state agencies, and these awards highlight the beneficial outcomes of these relationships,” said Coats. “This year’s honorees are wonderful and diverse examples of how we can learn from the success of others and can all be better environmental stewards by taking thoughtful and important actions to protect and enhance our water and air quality.”
“Conservation is a vital endeavor - both for the farmers who rely on the land to support their families and for the public who depend on the essential water, soil and wildlife resources that our farmers protect and enhance,” said Taylor. “We thank these award-winning stewards today and all of those who invest in leaving the land in a much better place for future generations.”
The Conservation District Agricultural Award winners in Sussex County are Allen and Sondra Messick of Seaford. The Messicks have a long-standing relationship with the Sussex Conservation District as strong supporters of cover crops and soil health, participating every year in the district’s cover crop program. Last year, they also participated in the district’s Air Seeder Pilot Program, planting a radish and cereal rye mix into standing corn.
The Messicks participate in USDA-NRCS’s EQIP Program for irrigation water management and conservation tillage, as well as nutrient management under a plan written by the Conservation District. Other conservation practices include installing grass buffer strips on their farm to improve water quality and reduce erosion. They are also working with the University of Delaware, U.S. Geological Survey and DNREC on an irrigation study to see if the use of irrigation will improve nutrient uptake and water quality.
A fourth-generation farmer who owns 300 acres grown with corn, wheat and soybeans, Allen attends as many soil health workshops as he can and works behind the scenes promoting soil health and cover crops to workshop participants. Allen also serves as a resource for the small farmer’s perspective on Conservation District programs such as cover crops, soil health and the air seeder.
As a manager on the Bucks Branch Tax Ditch, Allen used the district’s equipment program with USDA-NRCS’s EQIP funds to implement a bank stabilization project on the tax ditch. The bank stabilization project used green technology and bioengineering to complete the project which incorporated vegetative practices such as coconut fiber coir logs and live stakes.
The Messicks are committed to improving soil health on their farm and have been completely no-till for more than 15 years, with some fields being no-tilled as long as 25 years. Allen also serves as a trustee on the Farmland Preservation Board, a director on the Sussex County Farm Bureau and past president of the Delaware Soybean Board. The Messicks’ commitment to improving water quality and protecting the environment makes them good stewards of the land and outstanding cooperators.
The Conservation District Urban Award in Sussex County went to The Ridings of Rehoboth Beach Homeowners Association. Located off Beaver Dam and Hopkins Road in Lewes, the Ridings of Rehoboth Beach is a 225-lot community which drains into Bundicks Branch, a tributary of the Inland Bays. With its Sediment and Stormwater Management Plan approved by the Sussex Conservation District in 2005, the development’s infrastructure was constructed during the height of the market, with builders anticipating the planned community would be complete within a short timeframe. However, when building construction came to a halt in the late 2000s, the Ridings, like many developments, was left with unfinished phases unmaintained for years.
In 2013, several residents attended the district's annual Stormwater Maintenance Seminar. The residents identified compliance issues and wanted to ensure that the community’s stormwater system was functioning as intended by the time it was turned over to their homeowners association. The group soon educated themselves on stormwater management, developed a good understanding of how the interconnected ponds and swales worked in their community and formed a good working partnership with the conservation district and other local government agencies.
Around this same time, a new developer purchased the remaining lots in the development. The conservation district worked with residents and the new developer to ensure all deficiencies were addressed. Community residents continued to educate themselves. One resident even took training to earn the state designation of certified construction reviewer to become better informed about his community’s stormwater system.
Today, as the community nears completion, all six of its stormwater facilities are in compliance with Sussex Conservation District. The Ridings Homeowners Association has established contracts with a local pond maintenance company which has enhanced buffers and improved the overall aesthetics of the development. They also developed a community website, educated residents on the importance of pond buffers and distributed fact sheets on stormwater and swale conveyance and best management practices.
Most recently, the community has applied for an Urban Forestry Grant. In addition, the current homeowners association president sits on the Sussex County Drainage Workgroup Committee, a group of stakeholders who make recommendations to Sussex County Council on how to address drainage and grading standards as well as road and sidewalk specifications for the county.
The Ridings Homeowners Association is a great example of homeowners becoming stewards of the land and working with agencies to collectively solve problems.