The Hillsborough SWCD focused on proactive volunteerism for inner-city, urban, suburban and rural communities. The overall effort, named the “Hillsborough 100 Conservation Challenge,” brought together youth, adults and seniors to participate in programs, projects and activities culminating April 22 (Earth Day) through April 30 (Arbor Day Weekend) in 2017.
Behind the challenge was the goal to increase the public’s awareness of critical conservation concerns and issues and to educate individuals on the need for everyone to be a responsible conservationist. The diversity of projects, and the groups executing them, was virtually endless. They included cleanup campaigns for rivers and roads, recycling efforts, flower and tree plantings, gardens for communities and schools, educational programs and more. Two unique projects were the NAUI Green Divers Initiative and Lipman Family Farms Garden Challenge. The NAUI Project, named “Gasp, Our Beads of Tampa Bay” included a dive into Tampa Bay to remove debris left from the Gasparilla Celebration and other events, as well as underwater mapping research. This project was featured both on television and in a national publication.
Lipman Family Farms project featured sponsorship of a garden program for twelve middle and high schools within the county. Each school was provided two 84” by 48” planter boxes, a $100 gift certificate for soil and other materials, as well as transplants of tomatoes, peppers, cantaloupes and watermelons.
Gardens were judged during Challenge Week with winning schools receiving cash awards and class parties. The first-place high school was a facility for incarcerated teenage boys who are now involved in the district’s “Bee A Honey, Buy A Hive” program to build and place hives for greater pollination within Hillsborough County. Both the NAUI and Lipman programs have been renewed for 2018 and are even larger in scope and size.
Throughout the year, the district presented educational exhibits and programs in events including the Florida State Fair, Florida Strawberry Festival, Hillsborough County Fair, “Go Green” Festival, Florida Ag Expo, Clean Air Fair, Earth Day Celebrations, Girl Scout Fest, and “Unity in the Community” Day. These events drew hundreds of thousands of people and illustrate the critical importance of diversity the district seeks to accomplish in its activities.
Promoting the message through the media has been equally important. The 2017 Challenge featured a 16-page color tabloid produced and distributed through the Tampa Bay Times. The tabloid continues to grow and will be 24 pages in 2018. Coverage in print, social media, radio and television are also critical to the program’s overall success as is a weekly publication, “Monday Matters.”
The district tells its story through dozens of programs before civic clubs, church groups, schools and governmental institutions, including the Hillsborough County Commission and Hillsborough Legislative Delegation. This increased awareness resulted in eight candidates for two supervisor seats in the last election.
The Hillsborough SWCD always shows gratitude to all for their support and sponsorships. It’s summed up in a tag line on all its materials: “Thanks for your commitment to conservation and our Hillsborough Soil and Water Conservation District…..Leading for Tomorrow”.
Sustainability has been a primary goal of the district since inception of the “Hillsborough 100 Conservation Challenge.” Considerable planning went into the development of the program ensuring support of both private and public sectors. The district sought assistance from the Hillsborough County Commission, Hillsborough School Board, FDACS (Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services), extension service and organizations, businesses and corporations of all sizes. Areas of support included: cooperating partners, participating projects and corporate sponsors, each an important element for success.
Because this program consists of dozens of separate projects, the SWCD worked to engage support utilizing many resources. For many projects the groups (clubs, associations and organizations) provided their own funding and other resources. In other instances, adult groups provided support for youth projects completed by 4-H members, FFA chapters, Scouts and other groups. Corporate sponsorship was equally an important element. Sources of support included not only cash donations, but also in-kind materials. An example was M&B Products that supplied assorted milk and other dairy products for all youth activities throughout the year.
The first challenge, held April 22 through April 30, 2017, was highly successful because the district made sure there was plenty of visibility, recognition and “buy in”(both financial and personal) by participants. Due to the SWCD’s efforts to reinforce support for its partners, there is virtually 100% renewal of projects for 2018, additional new projects and a longer challenge from April 21 – May 6, 2018.