By: Betty Jo Tompkins, Hillsboro Soil and Water Conservation District Executive Director
Members of the Hillsborough Soil and Water Conservation District (HSWCD) returned from the recent NACD fly-in with one mission in mind: to ensure every district in their state contacted members of their Congressional delegation to encourage full support for agriculture and conservation funding in the 2023 Farm Bill. According to Chairman and participant Mark Proctor, “When we visited Washington D.C., it was clear that since the Farm Bill is up for a vote only once every five years, support now is imperative.” With that in mind, Executive Director Betty Jo Tompkins, also a trip participant and former lobbyist, wrote a position statement adopted by their full Board that was then sent to every District and individual supervisor in Florida.
“It’s not enough for Congressional Representatives and Senators to just hear from those who make the trip to D.C., but they need to hear from everyone in the ag and conservation community”, noted Tompkins, who with her husband and son all served in the past as HSWCD Chair and worked in DC. “This is a fight we can’t afford to lose.”
Rounding out the trio was Robert “Myke” Morris, HSWCD Treasurer, also with a long family history serving conservation districts. “My father instilled in me a respect for the land and its importance to the overall wellbeing of our nation. Today, more than ever, we all need to stand up and be counted in this critical effort. Our trip to D.C. was only step one in the process,” Morris said.
During their trip, the group met with several Members of Congress and their staff. Since returning, they’ve assisted in preparing position papers for other districts, using NACD’s comprehensive position papers on appropriations, budget, forestry and wildfires, wildlife management and climate change. HSWCD has also published articles promoting support for ag and conservation appropriations within the Farm Bill.
The district also actively engages with local and state political officials, making presentations before committees and meetings to sell the conservation message. In fact, HSWCD recently kicked off its annual Hillsborough 100 Conservation Challenge, held each year in April and May in conjunction with Earth Day, Arbor Day and Soil Stewardship week, with almost 200 agricultural, business, community, educational and governmental leaders in attendance.
The purpose of the challenge is to engage all communities to work together on conservation projects that include road and river clean-ups; recycling of paper, plastic and electronics; community, pollinator and school gardens; wildlife restoration and a myriad of other activities.
Awards and scholarships were presented in recognition of outstanding previous projects. Also recognized were sixteen youth groups, each awarded a mini-grant of $250 through a new HSWCD program to encourage youth conservation projects within the community. Grants were funded from proceeds of the District’s annual “Great Plant Auction” held annually at the Hillsborough County Fair. Recipients included Boy, Cub, Eagle and Girl Scout troops, 4-H Clubs, FFA chapters, Scubanauts, church youth groups and others. All attendees received gift bags with over twenty items from various commodity groups.