The Duval Soil and Water Conservation District was proud to host our 6th annual Start Farming Panel Discussion and Market on December 7th at the Duval County Agricultural Extension. Each year the event features panelists of local farmers and agency representatives that educate the community on ways in which they can get involved in farming. This year the panel discussion included Charlie Harrold of Charley’s Chicks, Brian Lapinski of Down to Earth Farm, Jon Johnson who is a senior forester with the Florida Forest Service and Tonya Ashworth who is the UF/IFAS Environmental Horticulture Extension Agent.
In addition to our amazing panelists, we heard from participants in our Start Farming Mentorship program and enjoyed a holiday market where attendees were able to purchase locally grown produce and plants as well as holiday gift items from local makers and artisans. Guests also enjoyed an amazing dinner from Wild Pie, a 100% plant-based pizza food truck.
Each year the Board recognizes a “Conservation Teacher of the Year” who has demonstrated a strong conservation ethic and has put conservation into action in the classroom. At this year’s event, we were pleased to recognize Norah Betancourt of Stanton College Preparatory School. Norah teaches AP Environmental Science, has a background in biology and loves the outdoors, particularly our national parks. Her students have won our annual poster contest and have participated in our Regeneration Park project, which is our community stewardship project in the Urban Core. We recognize her dedication to helping the next generation preserve and protect our natural resources.
The Duval Soil and Water Conservation District has been advocating for voluntary, locally-led conservation for 70 years. We want to thank the Jacksonville Environmental Protection Board for making it possible for us to offer this event annually as a free service to our citizens and our agricultural community!
Jacksonville, Florida - The City of Jacksonville Environmental Protection Board has awarded the Duval Soil and Water Conservation District (DSWCD) the 2022 Environmental Achievement Award for Regeneration Park. Regeneration Park is a green infrastructure and community stewardship project that is creating a safe space to demonstrate urban agriculture, cultivate environmental stewardship and empower residents to build with nature for social, economic and environmental health.
The Regeneration Park project was established by board member Jennifer Casey after considering the site during a local cleanup in the Durkeeville community. The project has since transformed a half-acre of vacant public land on the west side of Jacksonville’s Urban Core near the Emerald Trail S-Line Link and the Sugar Hill Mosaic. The property had a troubled history, having been contaminated decades ago when used as a rail yard. The City of Jacksonville has since remediated the contamination with an asphalt cap. In December 2020, the DSWCD began working with the COJ Parks and Recreation department to develop an appropriate plan for the site. The mission was to improve the land and positively impact a vulnerable and underserved population, as most of this community are minority residents who have the lowest average income and highest rate of poverty in Duval County.
Having identified an initial funding priority for bringing conservation technical assistance directly to the community’s residents, the DSWCD formed a working group in late 2020 with prospective partners. The Jacksonville Environmental Protection Board, UF/IFAS Duval County Extension, Groundwork Jacksonville, St. Johns Riverkeeper, NativeJax, and community organizations provided resolutions, consultations and in-kind support to the project. In March 2021, the DSWCD was awarded a $50,000 urban agriculture conservation grant through a partnership with the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). This grant fully funded Phase 1 and allowed the DSWCD to employ a part-time urban agriculture coordinator to begin soil regeneration and install green infrastructure including a bioswale and a pollinator habitat.
Beginning in June 2021 and continuing over the next year, conservation and community partners began providing education, research, hands-on conservation, native seed collection, and technical assistance to develop a resilient and sustainable system. The Duval SWCD hosted a celebration of Stewardship Week, quarterly community cleanups, and a series of hands-on green infrastructure workshops on “Building with Nature” to demonstrate permaculture practices that included creating healthy soil from wood chips, installing a pollinator garden to increase biodiversity, and building a bioswale. The workshops focused on the need to build with nature rather than against it. Participation included everyone from neighborhood residents, to cub scout troops, to sailors from the U.S. Naval Air Station. Over 300 volunteers participated in the project spreading mulch and installing plants including UNF Environmental Leader, April Thomas. Her student project included compiling video interviews into a multimedia project. In August 2022, the City of Jacksonville began installation of educational signage that explains the functions of the green infrastructure within the park, concluding Phase 1 of the project.
The DSWCD is committed to offering ongoing educational workshops at Regeneration Park to help remedy decades of persistent environmental inequality which has disproportionately affected poor and minority communities in the urban core. Regeneration Park is directly impacting the wellbeing and quality of life for the cyclists and pedestrians who routinely use the S-Line link of the Emerald Trail as well as the 35,000 people who live within walking distance of Regeneration Park. Research demonstrates that converting vacant lots into community parks increases socialization, improves mental health, and can even reduce crime.
Over time, the impact on the community will be profound! The DSWCD has raised over $127,000 dollars in 18 months and Phase 2 is already underway including the addition of shade trees to reduce urban heat, a pervious pathway to reduce storm water runoff, solar lighting to conserve energy, an ADA accessible sensory garden, and raised beds for growing vegetables. There are thousands of vacant city-owned properties in Duval County. The Regeneration Park project is not only promoting independence to the community through nature, but is a model for resilient pocket park design in Duval County.
The Duval Soil and Water Conservation District was created in July of 1953 under the authority created by the Soil Conservation Act, passed by Florida Legislature in 1937. The DSWCD is an independent special district organized by concerned citizens of Duval County to help landowners and users to conserve land, water, forests, wildlife and related natural resources. The DSWCD fulfills its responsibilities pursuant to Chapter 580.20, F.S. by placing a priority on planning, implementing and/or facilitating programs, projects and practices that will promote the conservation of our natural resources. The board meets twice a month to hear reports from affiliate agencies, learn about conservation funding priorities in the district, and develop educational programs that meet the needs of conservation within Duval County.
Chimére C. Nieves Pellot, or CC as she is more commonly known, is a Florida native and received her education in Business Operations Management and International Business Administration from UNF. She currently volunteers with the Duval Soil & Water Conservation District to help facilitate our annual Envirothon, a high school environmental sciences competition. She also enjoys lending a hand towards efforts for the Regeneration Park project, an Urban Core environmental stewardship initiative. CC was also selected as a member of the 2021 Start Farming Mentorship cohort.
More About CC:
•She oversees Sourcing Partnerships at Feeding Northeast Florida
•She is a certified Master Herbalist and is currently studying at the apprentice level of the Master Beekeeper program through UF IFAS
•She's an active community volunteer through programming provided locally by Groundwork Jacksonville and the Garden Club of Jacksonville
•She is the Assistant Director at The Garden of Eden Farm, a community garden in the Urban Core of Jacksonville committed to regenerative agricultural practices
•Her knowledge of herbs and expertise in grassroots development positively impacts the field of regenerative agriculture and environmental sustainability through her organization Organic + Green Collective
•Her passions include reading, yoga and activities celebrating nature with her husband and their son
We know it can be difficult to find information on candidates running for local races. Informed voters are key to making wise decisions that will impact our county. Often, candidates don't provide information about themselves, create websites or attend public forums. We want to help make candidate statements and campaign links as accessible as possible.
The Duval Soil and Water Conservation District has 5 voting Supervisor positions who serve at-large to all 918 square miles and ~948,651 people of Duval County with no political affiliation. The seats are numbered, Group 1-5. Every 2 years, a staggered amount of seats are open for re-election. In 2020, Groups 2 and 4 were on the ballot. Supervisors John R. Barnes (2) and Ashantae Green (4) were elected and sworn into office.
In November of 2022, Groups 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 are on the ballot. This is unusual and marks a restructuring of conservation district law in the FL Legislature. After a bill to abolish conservation districts failed to get traction, legislators amended the proposed bill to add new criteria to qualify to hold this office. Barnes is not seeking reelection and Green is a candidate for Group 4. Elected candidates for Groups 2 and 4 will serve a 2-year term and elected candidates for Groups 1, 3, and 5 will serve a 4-year term.
CANDIDATE IN GROUP 1: Tiffany Bess
CANDIDATE IN GROUP 2: Kym Wallace Maye
CANDIDATES IN GROUP 3: Eugene Ford III and Demetris Harrison
CANDIDATE IN GROUP 4: Ashantae Green
CANDIDATES IN GROUP 5: Ray (R.J.) Deacon Jr. and Bryson Kade Morgan
The candidate's photograph and statement are supplied by the candidate and are not endorsed by Duval Soil and Water Conservation District or checked for accuracy.
Group 1, Tiffany Bess
"She’s got soil in her soul, the St. Johns in her veins, and a servant’s heart. Tiffany Bess’s love for her community, and planet, is what drives her every step. Growing up in the rural outskirts of Jacksonville, she has been surrounded by farm workers her whole life. And even though she moved to the “big city” as a young adult, she soon found her hands deep in the soil once again when she created Jacksonville’s first food scrap composting business in 2015. After the launch of her business, she helped create the Gastrofest Green Action Committee and then took over the leadership role the following year. She was then invited to join the board for The Elements, the young professionals group at our beloved cultural institution MOSH. This led to her becoming the President of the Elements and a Board of Trustees member for the museum. She was a founding member of the North Florida Green Chamber of Commerce and consulted with the group on projects including a resource database for hard to recycle items. And her next big adventure will be serving as the Education Director for Compost Jax, our city’s first industrial composting business. But the group that has captured her heart the most is the Duval Soil & Water Conservation District. She has volunteered as an affiliate member and community liaison for the board for nearly 4 years and is eager to continue her service in helping the District to promote the conservation of the natural resources of Duval County, Florida."
Group 2, Kym Wallace Maye
Candidate did not provide a statement or a photo.
Group 3, Eugene Ford III
“Greetings! My name is Eugene Ford III, I am a graduate of Paxon School for Advanced Studies with a Bachelor’s of Science in Agricultural Operations Management with a focus in Construction Planning from the University of Florida. I’ll be transparent in saying that I don’t have a large dose of belief in the political and policy making system as it stands in the United States, however with the little bit I do have I helped with a campaign for the same office Im running for because I saw tangible change in the 2 years from that person running for office and holding the position, and the term “grass roots” felt like more of a double entendre than ever, sparking hope as well as encouraging action in me to be the difference I want to see. That may sound a cliché euphemism but as you get to know me more you will see that I am the “anti-politician” in the sense that I will not change my core essence in order to earn your vote or your donation, it will be because of my differences from the norm that I hope to achieve your trust, because we deserve radical changes to the benefit of all. Vote for me on November 8th, this is only the beginning of my disruption to the powers that be. Power to the People! Gene For The Peeps! Follow @gene4thepeeps on Instagram where I will be most active, I am a millennial after all.”
Group 3, Demetris Harrison
"Demetris Harrison is president of the Jax Lions Quest Cyber Club, an organization that works towards fostering a better community for unprivileged youth. Originally from South Carolina, Demetris grew up as a military brat. After graduating high school, Demetris joined the United States Navy, which led him to the beautiful city of Jacksonville, Florida. Demetris has resided in Jacksonville for over 20 years. A father of two, son, brother, uncle, and a grandfather to a handsome little grandson. Demetris is running for the DSWCD position for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, he believes it is his civic duty and responsibility to give back to the beautiful city of Jacksonville. Furthermore, he is committed to doing his part to ensure that the future generations will have environmental sustainability. With his background as a Call Center Manager for two global companies, Demetris honed his skills to be known to be a motivational thinker with unique abilities in driving results. A dynamic leader with experience in Research & Metric analysis. Reputation as a self-directed individual skilled at developing strong relationships with clients of varying backgrounds. Demetris is confident that he will bring that same creativity, collaborative spirit, and commitment to Soil and Water Conservation (DSWCD) position. If elected, Demetris will work indefatigable to address the Soil and Water Conservation issues."
Group 4, Ashantae Green
Candidate did not provide a statement or a photo.
Group 5, Ray (R.J.) Deacon Jr.
"Ray “R.J” was born in Staunton, Virginia. Growing up off a dirt road on his parent’s farm in Augusta County which they raised corn, soybeans, chickens, and cattle. Ray enjoyed helping his mother with her well known "enormous vegetable garden" every season. He graduated from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. in 2001 with Bachelor of Arts in Business. He then moved to Lexington, Kentucky. to pursue a new job and in which he became involved with many numerous community organizations such as the Kentucky River Keepers and as an active volunteer with the PRIDE Spring Cleanup to collecting over 700 bags of trash at Cumberland Falls. He then moved to Jacksonville in 2019 to pursue a life’s dream to live by the beach, with his husband of 20 years, along with their 3 dogs and cat. After moving to Jacksonville, Ray saw a that Jacksonville needed a change in OUR local environment. He made a clear-cut decision to become a candidate to educate and encourage change to protect OUR water, soil, and beaches. Ray understands that clean soil and water is a necessity for our community now and for future generations. His campaign has also been endorsed by Florida NOW Pac and The Victory Fund."
Group 5, Bryson Kade Morgan
“My name is Bryson Kade Morgan and I am running. Running to be your next voice for Duval County Soil and Water Conservation District 5. As a resident here in Jacksonville, Living on the Southside for the past Seven Years I have seen what overdevelopment has done to our ecosystem. Growing up in Northwest Rural Georgia tending to the family farms I know what is needed for our community. As a recent Graduate of Atlantic Coast High School, it is time we have a Young, Youthful voice in our ecosystem talks as it is drowned out by those who no longer see the issue as a sustainable issue but another can to kick down the road. This is why I ask for your Vote on November 8th, as we need a voice for not only the Future of Jacksonville, but for the Future of Northeast Florida.”
We are excited to announce that one of our winners in our 2022 Poster Contest has won 2nd place at the State Contest hosted by the Association of Florida Conservation Districts. Congratulations to Aadithi Arjun of Stanton College Preparatory School!
This year's theme was, "Healthy Soil, Healthy Life". Healthy soils are the foundation for all life on Earth. Soil is an important resource for everything from human health to agriculture to water filtration. The benefit of healthy soil is food production. Healthy soils also give us clean air and water, plentiful crops and forests, diverse wildlife and beautiful landscapes. It is important that each of us recognize where our food comes from and the farmers and ranchers who are dedicated to ensuring a sustainable food supply and healthy land and soil for future generations.
2022 Duval County Winners:
1st (Grades K-1) - Evan O'Donoughue, Homeschool
1st (Grades 4-6) - Finn Moore, Hendricks Avenue Elementary
1st (Grades 10-12) - Aadithi Arjun, Stanton College Preparatory School
Thank you to all the students who participated!
The Fred B. Miller, Jr. Regional Envirothon was held on Thursday, March 3, 2022 at Tree Hill Nature Center. The annual environmental science competition was open to students in 9th to 12th grade. Students competed in teams and answered questions about forestry, soils, aquatics, wildlife, and a current environmental issue. This year's topic for the current issue was "Waste to Resources". The winners went on to compete at the Florida Envirothon which is a qualifier for national competition. Both of our qualifying teams won big at the Florida Envirothon! Darnell-Cookman's team “The Koalafied” represented Duval County and earned 1st place in the Wildlife category. Yulee's team “Hornets” represented Nassau County and won 3rd place overall. Congratulations to both teams!
Our 2023 Regional Envirothon will be at A. Philip Randolph STEM Center on Thursday, March 2, 2023. The Florida Envirothon Committee has developed a Resource Study Guide that is available to all students and teachers who may be interested in participating in the subject event. Additional materials are available at www.envirothon.org and on the Duval County Envirothon Facebook page.
2023 Envirothon Brochure
Regional Envirothon Website
COMING SOON Envirothon Registration Form
Joyce Miller, Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org or 410-688-2365
Allen L. Moore at email@example.com or 904-465-0678
Advocating for the stewardship of our land, water, forests, and wildlife is at the heart of all we do. For the last 68 years, the District has promoted the wise use of land and best management practices that will conserve, improve and sustain the natural resources of Duval County. It brings us great pleasure to know that we are joined by nearly 3,000 conservation districts across the nation working for voluntary, locally-led conservation. Through this work, we ensure that we always have the ability to feed our communities and that our children and grandchildren will continue to enjoy our beautiful natural resources. We invite you to read our 2021 Annual Report and consider partnering with us. With your help, we can continue to be a model for conservation and stewardship!
The Duval Soil and Water Conservation District board is urging Governor DeSantis to veto SB1078. As Florida’s economy and population continues to grow, Soil and Water Conservation Districts provide a critical service promoting the conservation of our most valuable asset, Florida’s natural resources.
What is the purpose of Soil and Water Conservation Districts? Florida Statue 582.02 identifies the purpose of Soil and Water Conservation Districts as being to promote the appropriate and efficient use of soil and water resources, protect water quality, prevent floodwater and sediment damage, preserve wildlife, protect public lands, and protect and promote the health, safety, and general welfare of the people of this state. The statute also identifies the focus of this mission as being not just on farmlands but also the forest, grazing lands, green spaces, recreational areas and natural areas of the state. Soil and Water Conservation District leadership provides assistance, guidance, and education not just to the agricultural industry, but also to landowners, land occupiers, and the general public in implementing land and water resource protection practices. SB1078 limits board membership to only those with farming or agricultural background which will prevent soil scientists, civil engineers, water quality experts, educators and conservationists from serving. This will severely limit the ability of Soil and Water Conservation Districts to fulfill the obligations of the statute.
It is worth noting that the Governor has made it a priority of his administration to improve water quality across the state and to protect wildlife including Florida manatees. The passage of SB1078 undermines the Governor’s achievements in these areas of natural resource protection.
The Duval Soil and Water Conservation District urges the Governor to veto any bill which weakens any Florida Soil and Water Conservation District, specifically Senate Bill 1078. We urge the people of Florida to join us in this effort!
We are pleased to partner with the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) to increase awareness about the importance of water conservation with our annual Water Conservation Month Proclamation.
This spring is a great time to check your automatic sprinkler system to make sure it is functioning properly to conserve water. Here are some tips to help:
Other great resources recommended by SJRWMD:
The Duval Soil and Water Conservation District would like to thank April Thomas for her contributions to our organization, and especially the S-Line Regeneration Park Project. April was part of the University of North Florida's (UNF) Environmental Leadership Program. In Fall 2021, she and her cohort participated in leadership training and a retreat through UNF. This is also when different organizations participated in an online interview to match students with their community partners. April was matched with us and met with Duval SWCD's Urban Agriculture Coordinator, Alison O'Donoughue, to discuss the plan for her project.
April's project began in the spring. She was tasked with helping develop and advertise the mulch spreading work day and pollinator garden workshop. April researched pollinator plant species, discussed the plant palette, assisted in spreading mulch and planting at the park. She also created a multi-media presentation of the progress of the Regeneration Park Project using photos and videos collected by supervisors and staff over the course of 10 months. Finally, as part of the UNF requirement, she created a poster about her experience and will be presenting it at a future conference.
Thank you again, April! If you're interested in learning more about the UNF Environmental Leadership Program you can visit their website here. If you'd like to volunteer or intern with the Duval Soil and Water Conservation District, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org