Grounded in Conservation

Bill Shininger always figured the better off he did, the more he should give back.
Or, as he jokes, “I’m just serving my debt to society.”

For this Fulton County Farm Bureau member, giving back means caring for the land. In fact, one of the ways he measures his success is by the amount of wildlife he sees on his farm where he grows grain and has a small seed business.

“I guess it’s my personality. I’ve worked hard. I’ve been relatively successful. I see more than the dollars,” he said.

For years, that has led Shininger to serve on the board of supervisors for his local Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD). Throughout Ohio, farmers and other conservation advocates in both rural and urban communities are locally elected to oversee SWCD programs, which aim to enhance the quality of life in the state through stewardship of natural resources.

In all, it’s a group of 440 volunteer supervisors that help direct a staff of technicians and educators.

The agency does everything from helping homeowners prevent runoff by capturing rainwater to developing wetlands in order to clean up a polluted stream to working with a farmer to plant trees and grasses to stop erosion.

Programs are funded by a combination of state and local dollars, which Shininger thinks this is a good investment.

“The old joke is ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help you,’” he laughs. So he sees value in having farmers and other local conservationists oversee the agency.

“People have somebody they can talk to, they can complain to, they can get education from,” he said.

Through a variety of outreach and educational programs, the agency provides communities with a constant reminder of the need to protect resources.

“We’re educating elementary school kids through their grandfathers,” Shininger said, noting that building an ethic of conservation in the community is important, because it often doesn’t come with an immediate economic incentive.

On his own farm, he puts his beliefs into practice by reducing how much he tills the land and planting grasses along ditches to hold back soil and nutrients. And as he looks past the property line, he sees a society that has new expectations for farmers to protect the environment.

But in the end, he has his own reasons for taking action, as simple as they may be.

“I am passionate about it. I think it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “It’s just who I am.”

Return on investment
Following the Dust Bowl in the 1930s, which has been characterized as one of the worst ecological disasters in America’s history, a national movement grew to protect the land.  One public official described Ohio farmers’ ensuing efforts to promote conservation as “an evangelistic fervor.”  Since then, Ohio has provided numerous national leaders to the soil and water conservation movement and is recognized for its public investment in protecting natural resources.

That investment is more important than ever as farmers are acting to make near term improvements and discover long-term solutions to water quality challenges in the state.  During the current state budget talks, Ohio Farm Bureau has been a leading advocate for funding that will support water quality programs at Ohio State University, the National Center of Water Quality Research at Heidelberg University, the Ohio Department of Agriculture and Ohio Department of Natural Resources.    

Attention teachers and parents: See how this story connects to Ohio’s academic content standards.