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Sammy Soil Educates America on Soil Conservation for 40-plus Years

Sammy Soil is NRCS' mascot and was created by a district conservationist back in the 1970s. NRCS photo.

Sammy Soil is NRCS' mascot and was created by a district conservationist back in the 1970s. NRCS photo.

Teaching people about soil conservation is one of our top goals at the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and fortunately, we have a special helper.

Sammy Soil, everyone’s favorite little clump of earth, has managed to capture the public’s attention for more than 40 years. The little dirt clod, as he is sometimes called, was birthed through rock particles, water, air, leaves and the artistic mind of long-time employee Ernest “Howard” Whitaker.

Sammy Soil started as a water color drawing by Whitaker, who worked as a NRCS district conservationist in Tennessee.

“The idea came to me in a dream,” Whitaker said of the illustrated hero. The character of Sammy Soil was launched in 1967, at a time when soil conservation was not yet part of America’s mindset, Whitaker said.

Before long, Sammy became a popular teaching tool for children. Whitaker’s wife, Nell, a teacher, helped him polish Sammy’s appearance for youngsters.

Sammy Soil was brought to the national level through a series of school activity books to help school children learn the many different aspects of soil conservation. For almost 50 years, Whitaker has seen his “son” Sammy evolve from a simple water color drawing, to a national symbol for soil and land conservation.

In the 1970s, Jack Winstead and Jeannine May, NRCS employees in Mississippi, transformed Whitaker’s drawing into a multi-dimensional mascot.

“I can’t tell you how well received he is… he’s been so popular that we were asked to create two more to meet the demand,” said May, NRCS former public affairs specialist.

Sammy Soil costumes and puppets were developed by different NRCS offices, and Sammy quickly became a very important teaching tool across the country — from South Carolina to Utah.

“Sammy has come a long way and has enabled students to understand the importance of soil,” said Lynn Porter, district administrator in the Hinds County Soil & Conservation District in Jackson, Miss.

Porter uses the district’s Sammy costume to teach youngsters in the Jackson, Miss. area about the many different layers of soil.

Kari Cohen, a senior adviser to the Deputy Chief for Science & Technology, often dons the Sammy Soil costume at NRCS’ headquarters, even storing Sammy in his office.

“The best part about being Sammy Soil is being able to make people happy,” Cohen said. “Kids love him and it’s great to be able to interest people in soil conservation, and have fun while doing it!”

Sammy Soil has taken many forms over the years, but still remains one of NRCS’ most fun and effective teaching tools. NRCS also offers a Sammy Soil coloring book, available free through the agency’s distribution center. Celebrate back to school with the coloring book and NRCS’ other educational resources!

NRCS mascot Sammy Soil visits the Sunny Ridge Farm in Laytonsville, Md. earlier this year. NRCS photo.

NRCS mascot Sammy Soil visits the Sunny Ridge Farm in Laytonsville, Md. earlier this year. NRCS photo.

2 Responses to “Sammy Soil Educates America on Soil Conservation for 40-plus Years”

  1. Andy Qualls says:

    The Sammy costume is an amazing attention getter at grade school events, and conservation education activities but..the foam liner inside Sammy’s head is waaaay too hot to survive more than a few minutes at a time without ventilation. Kids that would otherwise be completely uninterested, warm up to Sammy and being Sammy is one of the more fun things I’ve ever done. Still too hot inside for long events, at least in Oklahoma.

  2. Howard Whitaker says:

    I wrote every word of the Sammy Soil coloring Book It was illustrated by Sandra Little now Herd in 1970 It has been adapted by several agencies, Sammy needs to be protected by NRCS There are several unotherized Sammy Soil sites on facebook Some of them areverybad obnoxusNrcs should get a trademark on Sammy to protect his image.

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