More than 200 area residents shared their opinions in a recent survey about conservation and nature. The survey was part of Oak Heritage Conservancy’s annual Nature and Farm Photo Contest.
“We know this survey isn’t a complete cross section of Indiana, but we were still encouraged by how many Hoosiers told us they value protecting natural areas and open spaces like small family farms,” Liz Brownlee, executive director of Oak Heritage, wrote in a news release. The nonprofit protects natural areas across southeast Indiana and opens them to hikers, birdwatchers and other visitors. Their partners on the project, George Rogers Clark Land Trust, protect working farmland.
Brownlee said participants in the survey talked about ways they help protect the natural world every day, from the basics, like recycling and using less water, to projects like planting more native trees and shrubs around their home, adding native wildflowers to their flower beds, supporting conservation with their votes or installing solar panels.
Here’s a couple of their responses.
- “Everyone can do something to help care for the earth each day.”
- “I want a better earth for future generations.”
While voting for a grand prize winner, area residents also weighed in with their thoughts about the year’s theme, “Earth Day Every Day.”
Each year, the two groups hold a Nature and Farm Photo Contest to get Hoosiers thinking about how natural areas and farms contribute to the beauty and character of Indiana.
This year, they added a “youth” category and the grand prize winner was actually a youth entry.
Joshua Chastain’s winning entry earned the top spot for the online exhibit. The Westport youth, who will be entering seventh grade this fall, wants to be a wildlife biologist when he grows up.
He said he loves wildlife of all sorts especially turtles. His winning photo was a close up of a turtle native to Indiana, a red-eared slider. Joshua takes the “Earth Day Every Day” pledge to heart.
“I save turtles and crawdads when I see them on the road by picking them up and moving them the direction they are going. I also catch insects, fish, and other creatures and study them. Then I release them.”
Joshua’s mom, Jennifer Chastain, said she is amazed at her son’s love of nature and his natural gift with spotting unusual and rare wildlife and plants.
He also has an uncanny knack for handling insects, frogs, toads, and other animals without harming them, she said.
"My husband, Derek, teaches biology and has encouraged him to explore nature," Jennifer Chastain said. "There are a lot of other adults and teachers in Joshua’s life that encourage him to learn about and love nature also.”
Joshua wasn’t the only one to take on an “Earth Day Every Day” challenge. After voting for a grand prize winner, area residents also selected a challenge that fit their lives. Most people decided to plant native trees, shrubs or wildflowers — or visit the farmer’s market to buy local food.
“Eating local is a super way to care for the planet,” Brownlee said. “Most food travels over 1,500 miles to get to our plates. That doesn’t make any sense when farmers here in Indiana are growing lots of good food, from vegetables to honey, meat, popcorn, mushrooms and more. And a lot of those small farmers really love the land where they farm. They care for wildlife habitat on their land, including forests and wetlands. We can reduce our ‘food miles’ and the carbon emissions all that hauling creates — and support local farmers who are caring for the land on family farms. Plus, it tastes so much better when it’s fresh.”
If people want to celebrating Earth Day Every Day, Oak Heritage hosts programs around southeast Indiana, including hikes and other events on their preserves. On July 21, they will host a volunteer event building trails at Webster Woods Nature Preserve in Lexington, Indiana. To RSVP, visit oakheritageconservancy.org/events.
The photo contest is made possible by the Indiana Arts Commission, and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.