A ceremony marked the annual Governor’s Agricultural and Urban Conservation Awards recently. DNREC Deputy Secretary Lisa Borin Ogden, Delaware Association of Conservation Districts Vice President Gwen Pierce, and USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service State Conservationist Kasey Taylor, led a ceremony recognizing this year’s honorees and signed a proclamation officially designating April 30 -May 7 as Stewardship Week in Delaware under the theme, “One Water.”
“Stewardship Week helps to remind us all of the power each person has to conserve natural resources and improve our world.” said Pierce, “The Stewardship concept involves personal and social responsibility, including a duty to learn about and improve natural resources as we use them wisely, leaving a rich legacy for future generations.”
“Conservation is a collective effort” said Deputy Secretary Borin Ogden. “Just as streams and rivers connect to bays and oceans, the collective efforts from our cooperators and our organizations join together to protect the natural resources that we rely on and use every day.”
This year’s agricultural honorees include Jacob Urian, a Kent County farmer dedicated to conservation on his beef cattle, grain and hay operation, Guy Philips, a Sussex County farmer passionate about soil health, and Carousel Farm Park and Equestrian Center, an equine facility in New Castle County focused on protecting the environment as they provide services that build up the local community.
Urban conservation award recipients demonstrate innovation and exceptional community service. Sarvil Patel and Jigar Patel of Kent Del Properties, LLC utilized a novel underground stormwater management system. In Sussex County, Rich Rishel was recognized for exemplary leadership in his long-serving role as the director of construction and land development with the Carl M. Freeman group. New Castle County recognizes the Terraces in Rockland Mills for a retaining wall project that improved management of stormwater runoff and eliminated erosion issues.
“These honorees worked with Delaware’s conservation partners to implement model conservation practices on their farms and in their businesses and projects.” said Borin Ogden. “I would also recognize a great partnership between DNREC and Delaware’s conservation districts, who provide invaluable support to DNREC’s conservation mission. These awards highlight the beneficial outcomes of these relationships, and we’d like to take a moment to recognize the hard work that’s been done.”
Representative Ron Gray was recognized as DACD’s Legislator of the Year. Rep. Gray’s advocacy for conservation district programs was instrumental in allocating Community Reinvestment Funds to launch Sussex Conservation District’s Tax Ditch Pilot Program, a program that provides enhanced support to address current and future tax ditch maintenance needs. He is also a strong supporter of stormwater programs, and an advocate for agriculture and a champion of Conservation Cost Share and Cover Crop programs.
Delaware’s Conservation Districts, one in each county, are a unique governmental unit in partnership with DNREC. Their mission is to provide technical and financial assistance to help Delawareans conserve and improve their local natural resources, including solving land, water and related resource problems; developing conservation programs to solve them; enlisting and coordinating help from public and private sources to accomplish these goals; and increasing awareness of the inter-relationship between human activities and the natural environment. Delaware’s district supervisors have a statewide organization, the Delaware Association of Conservation Districts (DACD), a voluntary, non-profit alliance that provides a forum for discussion and coordination among the Conservation Districts.
Additional details for this year’s Conservation Award winners:
NEW CASTLE COUNTY
AGRICULTURAL: Carousel Farm Park & Equestrian Center
The 217-acre Carousel Park & Equestrian Center, part of the New Castle County Parks and Recreation, houses over 35 exceptional equines, including 11 New Castle County Police Mounted Patrol Unit Clydesdales. By installing a manure storage building and concrete pad, Carousel Park is reducing erosion and runoff entering White Clay Creek, a major public water supply source. The manure storage building is an improvement, not only to the existing open manure storage facility but also water quality.
URBAN: The Terraces in Rockland Mills
Stormwater runoff was impacting vehicles, parking areas, and residential units in the community. Replacing a deteriorating 30-year-old creosoted and salt-treated timber retaining wall, located at The Terraces in Rockland Mills, with an engineered, pre-cast modular block retaining wall improved management of stormwater runoff and eliminated erosion of the steep slopes that ultimately flow into the Brandywine River, the primary source of drinking water for the City of Wilmington. Utilizing pre-cast block and constructing in stages reduced the overall disturbance required to replace the wall.
AGRICULTURAL: Jacob Urian (Kent County Farm Bureau Board Member)
Jacob Urian’s current operation consists of beef cattle, hay, corn and soybeans. He is very active in the Delaware farming community, being a member of the Farm Bureau as well as the Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee. He has served in different positions in both organizations and has had many responsibilities throughout. Mr. Urian is very dedicated to conservation, implementing numerous practices for his livestock as well as using cover crop to stop erosion concerns. BMPs have also been implemented through drainage practices like ditching and tiles. Jake has also been a part of campaigns like “Soil Your Undies”, which brings awareness to soil health and the importance of maintaining it.
URBAN: Kent Del Properties LLC- Sarvil Patel & Jigar Patel
Transforming a vacant lot within the City of Dover, with seasonal groundwater and poor-draining soils required unique systems to mitigate stormwater. The compact footprint of this urban development sites did not allow for a traditional stormwater best management practice, such as wet ponds. Kent Del Properties utilized the RTank modular detention system to manage stormwater underground. The site had limited outfall making permeable asphalt a great choice to allow additional infiltration for the five-unit retail facility.
AGRICULTURAL: Guy Phillips (Sussex County Farm Bureau Board Member)
Guy Phillips farms 300 acres of no-till corn, soybeans and wheat in Georgetown. He plants a variety of cover crops and implements soil health practices, which increases organic matter, improving sustainability and profitability. Although he retired from poultry farming in 2022, Phillips operated two poultry houses for over 25 years and installed numerous best management and conservation practices. Phillips is the current secretary/treasurer of the Koeppel-Robinson Tax Ditch which recently joined Sussex Conservation District’s tax ditch pilot program to provide a holistic approach to tax ditch maintenance. Other roles and accolades include county president of the Delaware Farm Bureau, Sussex County Farm Bureau Farm Family of the Year, Delaware Nutrient Management Commission’s Environmental Stewardship and the National Association of Conservation Districts Soil Health Champion. His passion and commitment to improving soil health benefits water quality; however, his goal is to pass on the land better than he found it.
URBAN: Rich Rishel
Rich Rishel has been the director of construction and land development for the Carl M. Freeman group for over 18 years. In this role he is the “boots on the ground” for all Freeman construction projects, working hard to build nationally recognized communities while being a good steward of the land. One example is the Bayside community, located in the Inland Bays watershed, on nearly 1,000 acres, the community is four miles from the beach and overlooks the Assawoman Bay. Rishel has worked closely with the Sussex Conservation District since 2003, managing site and homebuilding contractors throughout to ensure that regulations are followed and protect adjacent tidal wetlands.
It is without a doubt that no one cares more about doing what is right and ensuring that everyone who steps foot on site maintains his same high standards. Rishel received the 2023 Conservation Stewardship Award from SCD, further solidifying how his actions make him a leader, not only for the Freeman organization, but the entire industry.