Trees focus of celebration in Spink County

Simple act of planting a tree can make a difference

Connie Sieh Groop
Special to the Farm Forum
Angela Ehlers, executive director of the South Dakota Association of Conservation Districts, interacts with students.

How can one little twig in a bag impact a future? When the twigs are actually trees given out to young people to plant at their homes.

Students at Doland and Hitchcock schools eagerly took home small chokecherry and spruce trees after a presentation by the Spink County Conservation District last week. Two students in the district read their winning essays from the statewide Arbor Day Essay Contest.

These are some of the Doland students with the trees they were given to plant at their homes.

In 2020, Lila Johnson of Frankfort penned the winning essay and in 2021, Brodie Boomsma wrote the winning entry. Each winner received a check for $125 from the state, and each school was given $150. The district also gave the winners $50 and Brodie will pick out a bare-root tree for his farm.

Important lessons came through in the essays. “I've been lucky enough to judge the essays for 30 years and what I've noticed is that young people can get their first connection/appreciation to our natural resources through trees,” Angela Ehlers, Executive Director of the SD Association of Conservation Districts said. “A tree can become their refuge, their inspiration, their reminder of a loved one, their happy place and so much more. It's an opportunity for young people - and all people - to realize he/she can make a difference by the simple act of planting one tree. It's the Chinese proverb reminding us that a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.”

At the event at the schools, Jamie Johnson of Frankfort, one of the supervisors for the Spink Conservation District, had the winners share their essays

At the Hitchock/Tulare Elementary School, Lila Johnson is presented with a check for winning the state Arbor Day essay contest for 2020. Shown with her are Nathan Kafer, Angela Ehlers and Jamie Johnson.

South Dakota AgrioForester Nathan Kafer, with the SD Natural Resources Conservation Service, peppered the young people with questions at the event and talked with the kids about the right way to plant and take care of the bare root trees.

“By giving the kids trees, they feel ownership and they will want to take care of it and learn about it,” he said. In his talk, he asked the kids to identify the four dastardly Ds that can hurt trees. They are deer, drought, dogs (as their leash can gird the tree besides urine deposited around the tree) and dads. The kids got a laugh from the last one. Nathan explained that weed whackers and lawn mowers damage a lot of newly planted trees. And rabbits are destructive, too.

At Hitchcock/Tulare, students planted a tree on the school grounds as part of the Arbor Day event.

This Arbor Day event at the schools in Doland and Hitchcock emphasized the importance of conservation. Planting trees has been an emphasis since the district began. Spink County Conservation District celebrates their 80th year of working with farmers.

In 1941, a group of area farmers decided something needed to be done to address erosion from wind and run-off water. Producers exploited soil resources through continuous cropping with nothing returned to protect the land by adding organic matter. The soil blew when winds raged across the prairie. The sandy soils drifted and people became alarmed.

This group organized as the Tulare-Redfield Soil Conservation District. In 1961, the named changed to Spink County Soil Conservation District. Initially, programs focused on preventing wind and water erosion, losing fertility and organic matter in the soil and the dwindling water supply. Across the state, other areas organized for a similar purpose.

Spink County Conservation District manager, Ivy Pazour, said the district plans to offer tours of the Braun Regenerative Ag Plot that shows new conservation practices. They will host a customer appreciation lunch this summer.

“Most people recognize planting trees for farmers as the primary focus of our district.” Ivy said the district offers diverse services such as tree belt planting, fabric application, tree cleaning, grass seeding, spraying, and hand plant sales. They hope to offer workshops in the fall and tours to showcase soil health efforts.

“One of the biggest issues faced by farmers is areas of fields that have saline soils. We work with farmers to implement strategies that may improve the soil quality through planting grass. We are excited to bring more Conservation Reserve Program acres into the program.”

Jamie shared her appreciation for the staff. “My grandfather was on the natural resources board in Nebraska when I was growing up, which piqued my interest. We have exceptional employees who are very progressive in developing workshops which show fresh ways to do things. They work closely with the Natural Resources Conservation Service.”

The Johnson’s conservation work inspired her daughter Lila to enter the essay contest. “She’s our naturalist and really interested in conservation. She takes pride in the fact that our farm won the Leopold Conservation Award and the Olin Sims award this last year.”

While the Johnson kids brought home small trees, the family’s commitment to planning for the future shows as they worked with the district this spring to plant 2,300 more trees on their farm. “Getting the trees through the first year is hard and water is important. The kids are an important part of making that a success.”

This year’s essay winner, Brodie Boomsma, lives just down the road from the Johnsons. Jamie said, “Reading his poem makes you feel that kids understand the value of trees and conservation. It was a wonderful essay!” In Hitchcock, the elementary students planted a Littleleaf Linden tree in front of the school in honor of Lila’s 2020 essay. The Hitchcock -Tulare FFA kids assisted by digging the hole for the tree. The FFA chapter helped sponsor the cost of the seedlings given to the elementary kids.

At the Doland Elementary School, Brodie Boomsma is presented with a check for winning the state Arbor Day essay contest for 2021. Shown with him are Jamie Johnson, Angela Ehlers, Mrs. Johson and Nahan Kafer.

Jamie learned from Dave Mendel of Doland who served for 30 years on the Spink County Conservation board. He appreciates the work of the district in helping producers.

Dave said, “In the 1990s, I got interested in no-till farming practices. I wanted to promote that and help others to pursue it. The district purchased a no-till drill which farmers could lease with no significant investment on their part. Farmers saw the value and eventually purchased their own no-till drills. After a few years, we found we met our objective, and we dropped that service.”

He continued, “Conservation has always been important to me. I think in the long haul those practices that build soil, that are good for the environment are a win. Events where the kids get trees gives the young people an appreciation for planting trees and peaks their awareness. If we emphasize the practice in our family circle, the practice will carry forward.”

While semi-retired, Dave is still hand-planting some replacement trees in his shelterbelt.

“I think we have a responsibility to the land. We are people of faith. I believe we need to be good stewards in all aspects of life. That provides motivation to do the right thing as we make a living out here on the prairies.”

All ages are important. Ivy said, “It is good to have young people involved with conservation. Efforts can be turning off a light, being mindful of the water they use or appreciating what nature provides them. I think the earlier they learn these types of things, the more impact they can have on their environment throughout their life.”