Hello to all! My name is Sharma Torrens, and I am thrilled to have joined the AAEE Board recently. I am the Conservation Education Director for Arizona Association of Conservation Districts (AACD). The AACD is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizationthat supports and promotes Arizona’s 42 Conservation Districts and their statutory responsibilities. Conservation Districts were formed by the state government in the 1940s in response to the devastation wrought by the Dust Bowl, to protect public lands, conserve natural resources and wildlife, restore and conserve soil resources and prevent soil erosion, and protect and restore the states rivers and streams. The Districts work across the entire state, all land types (federal, state, private, etc.), and with a diverse group of organizations, agencies, and landowners to successfully see natural resource conservation efforts established across Arizona. Districts are administered by farmers, ranchers, private landowners, and others who volunteer their time to see that our limited natural resources are effectively managed for the benefit of all. Districts and their Education Centers provide environmental and conservation education to local schools and communities, agricultural professionals, and others, focusing on topics like soil health, water conservation, sustainable agriculture practices, and our criticalnatural resources.
Districts are truly unique in that they are local experts of local conservation and hubs of conservation education for all Arizonans. Districts can unite diverse and disparate groups to find common ground and foster collaboration to educate the public about the value and importance of agriculture, how to wisely use our natural resources, and how by applying best practices we can protect our environment.
It was not too long ago that I, like many Arizonans, didn’t understand where our food comes from, thinking it just appeared in the grocery store without considering the supply chain. Most people don’t comprehend that farms and ranches not only supply the food we eat every day, but also support open space, wildlife habitat, and healthy soil and water conservation. Farmers and ranchers are not often thought of as “good land stewards” but they are. In fact, they are the original conservationists of our natural resources, taking great care in their animals, the land, and the wildlife that need open space and forage to thrive.
What changed things for me was when I learned about the Districts. If others knew about these dedicated individuals and families that work to keep food on our tables while volunteering their time to conserve our limited natural resources and educate others, it would begin to change any preconceived notions about farmers and ranchers. These dedicated men and women are advocates not only for agriculture, but also for environmental and conservation education.