Past and future. The Blount County Soil Conservation District’s 63rd Annual Conservation Awards Banquet celebrated the first and looked ahead to the other.
Erich Henry, the district’s director of conservation, opened the banquet that recognized achievements by exceptional contributors to agriculture in the county.
He also introduced keynote speaker Jennifer Tsuruda, who also spoke on Oct. 17 at William Blount High School about what’s happening now with an yet to the future in her address on “Promoting Pollinators in Tennessee.”
She recently joined the faculty at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, with responsibilities in extension and research and a focus that includes pollinator nutrition. She discussed foraging behavior behavioral training for beekeepers and non-beekeepers to improve the management of pollinator habitats.
Internships and workshops
Julie Konkel, watershed coordinator for the county’s Soil Conservation District, talked about educational opportunities including internships and workshops. She oversaw the launch this year of a internship program through Maryville College that allows students to earn course credit. In an interview after the banquet, she said the internships were going well.
“We’re doing a wide range of things from roadside rehabilitation to stream bank restoration development of outdoor learning areas at school campuses, which includes interactive outdoor stations for kids for planting trees and for maintaining wetland buffer,” Konkel said.
The MC students also assist Konkel in education and outreach events when she goes to schools. She also provides information at the Maryville Farmers Market.
One intern helped develop a low-income, tech-assistance outreach program the Soil Conservation District relaunched this year.
“He did a really great job and got out at the Farmers Market and started advertising for that,” she said. “I try to empower the interns so that they have a project of their own. Sometimes that ends up being something on the grounds — downstream restoration or otherwise related. Or sometimes they really want to reach out to the community.”
Kunkel announced at the banquet that she has funding for workshops that will be free to the community. They’ve done workshops on landscaping with native plants and on rain gardens. Next year they’ll have variations of those again.
“We’ll also be doing something that will address peoples’ questions on soil health and their garden and how to manage their soil, whether it be your backyard in Maryville or a the production site on a farm,” Kunkel said.
When information about workshops become available, it will be posted on the Blount County government website, www.blounttn.org or by phone at 865-983-2011.
During the awards ceremony, Scott Edmondson of CBBC recognized the 2019 Envirothon winners. Participants compete against other high school teams in the fields of aquatics, forestry, wildlife and soils.
Heritage High School secured first- and third-place, while William Blount High School earned the second place award.
The district presented six awards to community members who excelled in implementing or enhancing conservation programming in Blount County:
The cover crop system allows Bender to approach a zero-till garden with the goal of eliminating tillage.
Limousine cattle are rotated among multiple paddocks to improve the quality and quantity of the forage. Green has qualified as a beginning farmer via the Environmental Quality Incentive Program, which provides financial assistance for conservation practices.
A forest management plan identified existing conditions of the forest including species composition and health. The plan outlined permanent wildlife habitat openings and other aesthetic and recreational goals that could be implemented over time.
She has helped develop educational activities that meet school curricula and take place outdoors. She shares her experience and helps to lead other educators, driving the development and maintenance of outdoor learning areas on the Eagleton Middle campus.
As the personal property director for Blount County government she routinely refers clients to the district office in regard to natural resource issues.
Gentry, whose family raises goats in the Baker Creek and Nine Mile Creek Watersheds, has regularly volunteered at Farm Day sponsored by the Blount County Farm Bureau’s Women’s Association and other agricultural events.