Ag News

GACD names 2023 award winners

by Georgia Association of Conservation Districts

Posted on Aug 23, 2023 at 0:00 AM

The Georgia Association of Conservation Districts held is annual Hall of Fame Banquet on Aug. 8 during its annual meeting to honor and award those individuals who have gone above and beyond to further conservation efforts. The awards are Superior Professional Support, District of the Year, Supervisor of the Year, Urban Conservationist of the Year and Conservationist of the Year.

Conservationist of the Year

GACD recognizes farmers and landowners that are conducting exemplary conservation work on their land and have demonstrated a strong commitment to soil and water conservation through their land stewardship, outreach, community interactions, and/or education. The recipient of GACD’s 2023 Conservationist of the Year award is Brian Ponder.

Ponder is a fourth-generation farmer from Tift County where he farms 3000 acres of peanuts, cotton, corn, watermelons, pecans, and pine timber.

Soil health, conserving water, and reducing diesel emissions are a few of the factors that go into the management of his farm. All of the peanuts and cotton on the farm are strip-tilled into cover crops which reduces soil disturbance and erosion. He utilizes terraces and waterways to reduce erosion. To conserve water, all of the irrigation systems have drop nozzle technology, regulators, are low pressure, and almost all have been converted from diesel pumping systems to electricity.

Brian also received the National Association of Conservation Districts’ Friend of Conservation award and serves as a local district supervisor for the Middle South Georgia Conservation District and on the GACD Board. He was nominated for this award by the Middle South Georgia Conservation District.

Urban Conservationist of the Year

GACD has a new award this year to recognize urban conservationists for their exemplary work and strong commitment to soil and water conservation through their land stewardship, outreach, community interactions, and education in urban areas of Georgia. The recipient is Dr. Jacqueline Echols.

Dr. Echols has been at the forefront of environmental change in the Atlanta area, serving as the president of the South River Alliance Watershed where she leads efforts to restore the health and integrity of the South River.  She also leads advocacy and community engagement efforts to raise awareness of water pollution issues affecting Atlanta and Dekalb County and was successful in having the DeKalb County sewer overflows to be corrected by the county.

Echols’ more than two decades of work to improve water quality in Atlanta’s waterways and protect the city’s tree canopy earned her the 2017 Environmental Hero Award, the 2016 Community Hero Vanguard Award by Dekalb County, and the 2014 Park Pride Award by the City of Atlanta. She was nominated for this award by the Dekalb County Conservation District.

District of the Year

The District of the Year award was established by GACD and the Tennessee Valley Authority in 2001 to recognize the conservation district in Georgia which best plans, implements, and reports a conservation program in a given year. GACD recognized the Coastal Georgia Soil & Water Conservation District as the 2023 District of the Year.

The Coastal Conservation District has been a consistent leader in its community by providing conservation-based educational opportunities for local producers and students. The district has led and hosted multiple workshops including Level 1A renewal course, estate planning, conservation practices field day at Fort Stewart, and a feral swine control workshop. The district also participates in GACD’s feral swine trapping program and offers trapping services to landowners throughout the district. The district supports local youth conservation education by mentoring FFA students and providing them with opportunities to learn more about forestry, supporting 4H pollinator habitat efforts, and participating in GACD’s Poster and Photo Contest.

Supervisor of the Year

GACD presents a Supervisor of the Year award annually at its annual meeting. The award recognizes exemplary achievements, leadership, and service to GACD, NACD, and local communities. Sonny Turner, district supervisor representing Walton County Conservation District, is the 2023 Supervisor of the Year.

Turner has been a district supervisor since 2010. His efforts toward conservation in Walton County begin with the youth. He is known for mentoring high school students and giving them resources to succeed in the agriculture and conservation fields. He spearheads scholarship opportunities and is a fierce supporter of sending students to the Natural Resources Conservation Workshop every year.

Turner also takes pride in sharing the benefits of conservation to local farmers. He frequently gives tours on his family farm in Greene County to highlight the use of conservation practices such as erosion control, invasive species management and pond  management. He serves on many state and local leadership positions including alternate vice president for GACD Group 2. Sonny is completely dedicated to the success of the conservation district and conservation efforts in Walton County. Turner was nominated for this award by the Walton County Conservation District.

Superior Professional Support

Each year, GACD presents an award to an individual recognized as providing superior support to soil and water conservation districts in Georgia. This year the GACD Superior Professional Support recipient is Tixie Fowler with the Gwinnett County Conservation District.

Fowler has written and received funding for two large grants for the district; one called the ‘Urban Conservation Toolbox Grant’ for $166,000 and the other ‘The Bridge Grant’ for $195,500. Fowler involved the district with a partnership with Mercer University that led to the creation of an AgSTEM project.

One of her biggest accomplishments has been the leadership she has shown with developing district sponsorship and involvement in the very successful Crayfish Creek Restoration Project. Fowler has created educational videos for students and has hosted numerous educational workshops for youth, adults, and educators. Her dedication to the district and her community is to be commended. Fowler was nominated for this award by the Gwinnett County Conservation District.

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