Soil and Water board promotes environment with ‘Conservation Challenge’

Local members of the National Association of Underwater Explorers along with other volunteers display a small portion of the non-biodegradable beads and other harmful items they retrieved from Tampa Bay. It's one of the many efforts sparked by the Hillsborough 100 Conservation Challenge. Photo courtesy of the Hillsborough Soil and Water Conservation District
Local members of the National Association of Underwater Explorers along with other volunteers display a small portion of the non-biodegradable beads and other harmful items they retrieved from Tampa Bay. It's one of the many efforts sparked by the Hillsborough 100 Conservation Challenge. Photo courtesy of the Hillsborough Soil and Water Conservation District
Published April 10 2018
Updated April 13 2018

Hillsborough County does indeed have a heart for the environment.

Looking to pump up the community’s attitude about protecting natural resources, the Hillsborough Soil and Water Conservation District launched the Hills-
borough 100 Conservation Challenge in 2017.

It sought to enlist a total of 100 various groups — schools, businesses, organizations, etc. — to perform 100 conservation projects within a two-week span in April in tandem with Earth Day and Arbor Day.

The community responded in such overwhelming fashion, the organization’s board of elected officials have decided to make it an annual affair.

"It raised a tremendous amount of awareness through a lot of different vehicles about the importance of conservation and that we need to protect our natural resources," said Betty Jo Tompkins, the Soil and Water District’s executive director. "We all know we cannot live without food and water."

Lipman Family Farms, based in Immokalee, invited Hillsborough County middle and high school students to create gardens from seedlings provided by the farm.

According to Kevin Yue, Lipman’s environmental compliance officer, the project allowed students to learn STEM and research principles while opening their eyes to the importance of food production and conservation.

"Our company has a philosophy of focusing on projects with children, and personally I was pretty blown away with what they did," said Lipman, who in partnership with Tompkins judged the students’ projects.

Lipman again will conduct a similar competition this year, increasing the number of area schools to 16.

"It sparked an interest in some students that I had not seen before and they really did a good job," said Steve Harlow, agriculture science teacher at Tampa Residential Facility, a Tampa high school for incarcerated males operated under the auspices of the school districct.

"Hopefully from what they learned about what goes into growing a crop they could run a lawn maintenance company or a small nursery," he added.

Also in connection with last year’s countywide conservation challenge, a group of local National Association of Underwater Explorers members tackled the task of retrieving beads and other potentially damaging items to sea animals that had made their way into Tampa Bay during the city’s Gasparilla parade.

The NAUI Green Diver initiative cleverly dubbed the Gasp-Our Beads project drew the participaton of Amanda O’Connor, who was among 25 scuba divers and other volunteers on shore who collected and disposed of the non-biodegradable objects that posed serious harm to the bay’s fish and other sea creatures.

"I was glad to help out because I don’t think people think about the fact they are going to harm our water life," O’Connor said.

What’s more, the Coalition of Community Gardens Tampa Bay, led by coordinator Kitty Wallace, took part in the conservation challenge to enrich the county’s ecosystem by creating compost from items that otherwise would be sent to landfills.

Garden club members from throughout the county gathered waste products — including coffee grounds, apple cores and potato peels from area restaurants and school kitchens, plus animal droppings from Busch Gardens — to produce rich, dark compost for their gardens.

Wallace stressed that no meat, bones or oils were allowed in the mixtures as a means to thwart off foul odors that likely would attract unwanted varmints.

It’s a project the coalition will take part in again this month.

"The whole idea is to use resources available to us that improve the soil and our environment," Wallace said.

Contact Joyce McKenzie at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

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