By LINDA CHION KENNEY
As winter folds into spring, conservation and sustainability take center stage with events, contests and hands-on activities for southeastern Hillsborough County residents of all ages.
Timed to coincide in the weeks leading up to and after National Arbor Day and Earth Day are poster and speech contests for school-aged children, a blueberry U-pick in May, the planting of up to 20,000 pine tree seedlings in June, the Hillsborough 100 Conservation Challenge showcase and the Florida State Fair in Tampa at 4800 U.S. 301.
The fair, scheduled for April 22 through May 2, has its own set of conservation-minded offerings and exhibits, including Florida Forest Discovery; Florida Fish & Wildlife; Florida Learning Garden and Ag-Venture; a hands-on learning experience designed to teach children where their food comes from and the impact of agriculture on everyday lives.
On June 12, at the 80-acre Lower Green Swamp Preserve in Plant City, at 3540 East Knights Griffin Road, thousands of pine tree seedlings will hit the dirt.
Due to COVID-19 protocols, the tree planting is limited to the first 200 people to pre-register by June 4. It costs nothing to participate and refreshments will be provided. Participants are set to receive a free commemorative T-shirt.
The tree planting is presented by the Hillsborough Soil and Water Conservation District (HSWCD), the Sustany Foundation, TREE Inc., Hillsborough County Conservation and Environmental Lands Management, and the Global Rotary Club of Brandon South, which meets at 6 p.m. Monday twice monthly and is open to membership worldwide. Its focus area is conservation.
“Rotary International last year adopted protecting the environment as its seventh area of focus, which joins the list with promoting peace, fighting disease, saving mothers and children, supporting education, growing local economies and providing clean water, sanitation and hygiene,” said Rotarian and HSWCD Executive Director Betty Jo Tompkins.
“Brandon South Global is committed to projects that drive home the point that conservation is everybody’s business,” Tompkins said. “The annual Hillsborough 100 Conservation Challenge is a great showcase for these efforts, which this year includes the June 12 pine tree planting.”
Launched in 2017, the Hillsborough 100 Conservation Challenge asks individuals, schools, service clubs, families, neighborhoods and other groups and organizations to consider and demonstrate what people can do to become better stewards of soil, water and air. Participants individually and in groups are asked to create, advance and register projects, ongoing and short-term, at any time throughout the year.
Highlighted annually during a showcase period are projects that run the gamut of the imagination, including road, bay, beach and park trash cleanups; recycling efforts; composting and rainwater harvesting; garden plantings; and strawberry and blueberry U-picks at local farms.
The Hillsborough 100 showcase this year is set to run April 17 through May 9, which encompass Earth Day (April 22), National Arbor Day (April 30) and National Stewardship Week, held annually from the first Sunday in April to the first Sunday in May. Established in 1955 by the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD), this year’s stewardship theme is, “Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities.”
The annual HSWCD/NACD poster contest this year invites school-aged children and teens to apply their creative talents to their interpretation of the current stewardship theme. The NACD represents nearly 3,000 soil and water conservation districts nationwide, including 58 in Florida, with some districts representing more than one county.
Representing the Tampa Bay area, the HSWCD oversees the contest locally, with children from kindergarten through high school encouraged to compete. This year’s deadline for poster entries is April 30.
The HSWCD also conducts a speech contest focused on the stewardship theme. That entry deadline is also April 30.
Moreover, the HSWCD runs an annual summer poster contest, which this year runs June 1 through Aug. 31. “Why Conservation Matters” is this year’s theme.
Both poster contests include cash prizes for first- second- and third-place finishers in five age categories. Participation in the HSWCD/NACD contests allows for a chance also to advance to area, state and national competitions.
Each entrant receives a certificate that includes an image of their poster and a free pass to the Hillsborough County Fair, where posters are put on display.
The 2021 Hillsborough County Fair is set to run Sept. 23-26 and Sept. 30 through Oct. 3 at the Hillsborough County Fairgrounds in Dover at 215 Sydney Washer Road.
For fair information, visit www.FloridaStateFair.com and www.HillsboroughCountyFair.com/. For more on tree-planting presenters, visit the Sustany Foundation at https://sustany.org and TREE Inc. at https://treeinc.org/. Rotary information is available at www.rotary.org/en/. Visit the Global Rotary Club of Brandon South on Facebook. For more on HSWCD offerings and the Hillsborough 100 Conservation Challenge, call Betty Jo Tompkins at 813-477-8332. Visit: www.HillsboroughSWCD.com or email: email@example.com/.