I’ll be honest. Before I was asked to run for the chance to serve on the Soil and Water Conservation District, I was pretty vague about what the SWCD even was and what they did—or are supposed to do. I suspect many of you are uncertain about that, too. Perhaps some of you have even heard that the SWCD in Volusia could disband, but you have no idea why or what might be lost if they did. I’ve spent the past four months learning more about what the Soil and Water Conservation Districts are SUPPOSED to do, what the Volusia SWCD currently does, and what the Volusia SWCD COULD do to protect soil and water resources for the benefit of both urban and rural interests in the county.
Soil and Water Conservation Districts are federally mandated through the USDA and administered through each state’s Department of Agriculture (or, in Florida, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services), and operate at the county level. First established in 1933 after the Great Dustbowl, the Soil Conservation Service agents who provided technical assistance to farmers to help them conserve and build valuable soil and to protect their water supplies were overseen by the SWC District Supervisors who helped bring resources down from the state agencies into the counties to provide cost share funding to farmers to implement the ideas developed in collaboration with the agents. In 1994, the U.S. government changed the name of the Soil Conservation Service to the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to reflect its broader scope of work, which had expanded to include protecting public lands and the products and services they provide, and to promote soil and water conservation in urban areas as well. This is what the NRCS still does, although the bulk of their work, particularly in districts with limiting staffing, still focuses on supporting larger farmers.
The Soil and Water Conservation Supervisors have the opportunity—particularly here in Volusia County where the NRCS staff is one full-time expert, occasionally some interns, and a team of volunteers—to expand on the work of the NRCS staff. We can offer and support more educational programs about soil health, food production, and water conservation; explore opportunities to support smaller farmers in the county and help them seek funding for initiatives that help them grow food more sustainably; promote community, neighborhood, and school gardens; and promote water conservation in ever-expanding residential developments. We can serve as a public partner to seek public and private grants, and thus bring more money into the county to protect the environment, strengthen the economy, and make our communities stronger.
The District Supervisors are volunteers. Currently, they have no allocated budget beyond what they raise themselves. This work does not cost taxpayers a cent, and yet, the work we can do benefits all of us. Disbanding the SWCD isn’t really possible. It could become non-functioning, to be sure, through lack of leadership or enthusiasm on the part of the District Supervisors for actually getting anything done. But the federal and state governments still mandate that they exist, at least on paper. I am committed to bringing a whole new level of energy to the Volusia Soil and Water Conservation District, and enhancing its capacity for innovation, professionalism, and accomplishments. It would be a waste to elect people to these seats who have no interest or passion, no background, and no vision for how the SWCD can serve our county, the state, and the country. Two candidates are on the ballot for Seats 2 and 4 who have a genuine interest in elevating the work of the SWCD to a new level, and two candidates on the ballot appear to have no interest at all. Let’s choose the right people for this job and put them to work for the farmers, teachers, children, and everybody else who eats and drinks and lives in this county! Vote for John Nelson for Seat 2 and Wendy Anderson for Seat 4.