Who would have thought when we celebrated the first Earth Day in 1970 that we would still be celebrating it 42 years later? Earth Day is a great time to highlight what the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is doing to benefit the soil, water, air, plants and wildlife for productive lands and healthy ecosystems.
On April 19, NRCS employees in Florida hosted their third annual Earth Day celebration at the NRCS Brooksville Plant Materials Center (PMC) in Brooksville, Florida. Children planted a pollinator garden with Florida wildflowers supplied by the PMC.
Partner organizations hosted fun and educational exhibits and hands-on demonstrations for school children and members of the public. Organizations present included the Hernando County Florida Yards and Neighborhoods Program, Chinsegut Conservation Center, Florida A&M University and many others.
“Celebrating Earth Day reminds us that we all have a common interest in conservation,” said NRCS Florida state conservationist Carlos Suarez, in his opening remarks. “In 1960, one farmer fed only 25 people; today, one farmer can produce enough food to feed 129 people. We have come a long way, but there is much more to do and it’s going to be up to us to help preserve our land, air and water for future generations.”
The NRCS soils division demonstrated the NRCS Web Soil Survey and helped local school children make a soil profile card to educate them on the different soil types in Florida. NRCS employees also worked with children to harvest vegetables grown in the office’s People’s Garden. All food harvested from the garden was donated to The Way Family Farm in Brooksville.
This year, in addition to Earth Day, the gathering honored the 150th Anniversary of USDA. Abraham Lincoln founded the U.S. Department of Agriculture on May 15, 1862, referring to it as “The People’s Department.”
To highlight the anniversary, PMC staff distributed ‘Abraham Lincoln’ tomato seedlings, grown in the PMC greenhouse. This heirloom variety, introduced in 1923, has proven itself to be one of the great tomato classics, with a large, flavorful red fruit and good pest and disease resistance.
The PMC’s Earth Day event ended with the dedication of a sabal palm (Sabal palmetto), the Florida State Tree.
“We dedicate this tree in tribute to the 150th anniversary of the creation of the USDA—and honor the hard work of all the dedicated USDA agency personnel,” Suarez said.
It was a fitting end to the day of environmental and conservation education. As Hugh Hammond Bennett, the first director of our agency said, “Take care of the land and the land will take care of you.” Earth Day, USDA, and NRCS go hand in hand to help take care of the land.
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