It is a timely truism that none of us can go through alone; we all need friends, family and partners to make the most out of the opportunities life puts before us.
This is certainly the case for me, both personally and professionally. On the personal front, I sing the praises of my neighbors, who helped me shovel rare snow from my driveway this morning or my local grocer who knows me by name and what cut of beef I like.
Times beyond count I have been shown kindness and camaraderie from people known and unknown, constantly reaffirming my faith in the community and my place within it.
Professionally, I have found this to be equally true. For the Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District, partnering is the most vital ingredient for project success. Our Mission reads: Providing resource conservation for a quality environment demonstrated through active leadership, cooperation, and partnership.
By design, partnership is a key component of our mission, as the VSWCD is a small local government body and lacks sufficient resources on its own to address the many community priorities related to natural-resource management. Time and time again, we see projects empowered by partnership contributions successfully get over the finish line, be it through partner-provided funding or through a wise nugget of advice from a partner’s lived experience.
Long ago, our district recognized that our ability to further community priorities is best achieved when we play the role of cooperator and bridge builder, actively looking to leverage resources — both financial and intellectual — from diverse quarters within our local, state and national communities.
As I reflect on the many partners the district has had the honor of working with, the first on the list is an easy one: the public.
Within our district, VSWCD has worked with dozens of citizens in recent years on a wide variety of projects, from farm field leveling to establishing fresh vegetable and pollinator gardens to designing and installing water catchment systems.
We have seen brilliant ideas from local citizens who are trying new organic cropping techniques with insect-resistant plant varieties that use less water, and from others who are out of necessity trying to affordably grow fresh vegetables in their own back yards to feed their families. Individual members of the public have made all the difference for our organization. Taking one farmer’s — or one conservationist’s — project at a time, working it start to finish; who knows what can be achieved!
Beyond our most critical partnerships with individuals from our local community, I am also mindful of the many organizations we collaborate with for mission achievement.
As I noted in last month’s introductory column, our district’s beginnings harken back to the Dust Bowl years. From those dust-filled days to the present, the USDAS’s Natural Resource Conservation Service has been the soil and water conservation districts’ most important federal partner, supporting a wide range of private-land management activities that improve production and resilience of range and farm lands.
The NRCS’s Martin Meairs serves as Los Lunas district office’s district conservationist, and is a critical partner who really helps align local citizen needs with matching federal funding opportunities.
Closer to home, the New Mexico Department of Agriculture is our key state agency partner, providing substantive technical and administrative support of the state’s 47 SWCDs. Katie Mechenbier is our NMDA liaison, and we are so thankful for her vital coordination efforts.
Similarly, we partner with Lynda Garvin, who represents the NMSU Valencia County Cooperative Extension Service, utilizing their incredibly diverse offerings in science education, land management and soil health practices.
On the topic of key partner groups, nearest and dearest has to be our district’s closest partner organization, namely the Friends of Whitfield (friendsofwhitfield.org), a group of dedicated volunteers who have long supported the Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area by promoting our habitat restoration, education and conservation endeavors. This group (truly our district’s BFF) was established in 2009, and its members have volunteered hours beyond count, helping deliver services to the community including teaching during school tours, being ambassadors at Whitfield’s Visitor Education Center and helping on environmental monitoring (bio-surveys, depth to water well measurements and the like).
In closing, I celebrate the core human need to work together to do great things, one shovelful of dirt at a time.
“It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) that those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” Charles Darwin.
(Andrew Hautzinger is the district director of the Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District.)