MEDINA – Memories of the dust bowl were still vivid in the minds of farmers when the Medina County Soil and Water Conservation District was formed in June of 1943.
Seventy-five years later, it is flooding, not drought, that has been a focus of the specialist at the conservation district office located next to the Medina County Home on Wedgewood Road in Lafayette Township.
“It’s been an especially wet year and we’ve answered a lot of calls from landowners concerned about standing water in places they don’t usually see it,” said Jim Dieter, director of the Medina County district.
Soil and Water is a legally constituted unit of local government that is established through the petition of landowners and a vote of county residents.
It is an independent subdivision of the State of Ohio associated with the Ohio Department of Agriculture and funded by state and county taxpayers.
Conservation districts around the country are products of the dust storms of 1935. Medina County’s district became the 28th district formed when a number of organizations saw the need for improving and maintaining the productivity of Medina County farms through proper land use and conservation practices. The purpose of the District was to ensure that farmers could secure technical assistance in applying soil and water conservation practices on the land.
Seventy-five years ago, the newly elected board of supervisors developed a work plan that dictated special emphasis be placed on “proper land use.” Demonstration plots were established to show good conservation and erosion control practices. Such practices included contour strip cropping, terraces, rotations, pasture improvement, grassed waterways, forestry improvement and timber management.
The Medina County District is staffed by the director, a conservationist, technician, two education specialists and an administrative assistant.
Growth of the county over the years has also resulted in some important changes in responsibility for the district which now conducts a variety of educational and outreach programs to teachers, students and the nonagricultural community. In recent decades, the agency has broadened its focus to include homeowners in addition to farmers.
The district led an effort to register 400 backyard habitat gardens that led to recognition by the National Wildlife Federation last year. Medina County was the first in Ohio to receive the NWF distinction.
The Medina Soil and Water Conservation District has also embarked on a mission to establish and restore habitat for pollinators and beneficial insects across the county. Part of those efforts was to plant milkweed as part of an international effort to restore the dwindling population of monarch butterflies.
Educator Linda Schneider said district personnel act as guest speakers to various community organizations and offer advice to homeowners on such things as backyard conservation projects, pond construction, and plant selection. The district also sells rain barrels and holds annual sales of tree seedlings and fish fingerlings to stock ponds and lakes.
The district is now in the midst of a new demonstration project to restore native prairie grasses to the county. Dieter said 2.5 acres of grass around the district office has been plowed and will be planted with native grasses and wildflowers this fall.
Schneider echoes the view of many environmentalists that the native, low-maintenance plants found in prairies provide important benefits over the vast lawns we are used to seeing around many public buildings and parks. Among them are a deeper root system that helps curtail flooding, lower maintenance costs, less need for fertilizers and pesticides that can pollute water, and creation of habitat for wildlife and the declining pollinators that are vital to agriculture.
“We’re losing our pollinators because of a lack of habitat,” Schneider said.
She said those bees, butterflies, birds and other insects are necessary for the reproduction of 85 percent of the world’s flowering plants, including two-thirds of the world’s crop species.
The potential for prairies to hold more water runoff from storms could also be valuable to city and township governments in Medina County that are under orders from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to curtail the volume of polluting stormwater runoff from developed areas.
Dieter said he hopes the prairie created at the district office and some Medina County parks will inspire others to convert some of their land into prairies that benefit the environment or at least plant a few of the native plants found in prairies.