Tireless NRCS conservationist Brad Harrison honored on RRVT

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Brad Harrison, a superhero of Dallas County conservation, was honored last week with a memorial sign on the Raccoon River Valley Trail. Harrison died last April, but his vision for the Adel trailhead of the RRVT lives on. Photo courtesy NRCS

ADEL, Iowa — About 200 people attended Sunday’s dedication ceremony for Brad Harrison, a superhero of Dallas County conservation. Harrison worked for 36 years as a district conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

He died last April at the age 58 from colon cancer, but Harrison’s vision for the Adel trailhead of the Raccoon River Valley Trail lives on.

The RRVT ceremony dedicated a trailhead sign in honor of Harrison that reads: “Harrison envisioned a conservation education area with a miniature wetland, an Iowa native arboretum and a blooming Iowa prairie. In partnership with the Dallas County Conservation Board, Dallas Soil and Water Conservation District, City of Adel, United Brisk and Tile Co. and many volunteers, his vision is now a reality.”

Many tributes were offered Sunday to Harrison and his dedication to the natural resources of Iowa and Dallas County. Those from his friends at the NRCS and the Dallas SWCD deserve repeating here. Commemorating their longtime friend and colleague, his fellow workers at the NRCS wrote:

District Conservationist Brad Harrison worked for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) for 36 years, 30 of those years in Dallas County. He was a passionate and creative conservationist who never gave up on a good idea for selling conservation. Brad wrote and successfully pitched his idea for a national NRCS agency tag line: Helping People Help the Land. And that is what Brad did, helped people, help the land.

His promotions were innovative and reached out to all ages. He created a soil health rap song and music video called, “Don’t Treat It Like Dirt.” Because of Brad’s passionate and persistent enthusiasm, he successfully recruited a team of talented volunteers who performed, recorded, produced and wrote the music for his rap lyrics. Every person donated their time and resources to his project. The video has been viewed nearly 7,500 times on YouTube and downloaded by teachers around the country.

Brad created a team of natural resource conservation superheroes called The Whobuddies. After developing the Whobuddies concept, Brad reached out to countless movie production companies and animation studios to see if they could help bring his band of six owl superheroes to life. After receiving at least one cease-and-desist letter from a well-known animation studio, which sternly yet politely asked Brad to stop contacting them, he didn’t give up. He redirected his energies, and found his own illustrator to give visual personalities to Bubo, Otus, Tyto, Strix, Ninox and Asio — always the educator, he named the characters after the actual genus name of each owl species.

With Brad the Iowa NRCS has developed posters, trading cards, a board game and has recently released his fourth Whobuddies comic book and video. The Whobuddies resources have been shared with school children all across the U.S. You can search for “Whobuddies” on the web or stop in the local office to pick up your own copies.

Brad was a tireless advocate of the soil, launching his newest soil health promotion idea in March 2017 called the 1 Percent Challenge. His local project encourages farmers to work towards a 1 percent increase in soil organic matter through soil health practices.

But Brad was much more than a persistent conservation promoter. He was a seasoned and skilled conservation planner, a trusted resource for local farmers and a selfless mentor to young NRCS employees. He felt strongly that getting out in the field and developing a trusting relationship with farmers was key to getting conservation on the land.

He was a kind, generous and encouraging friend. Brad’s daughter Megan wrote, “My Dad was the hardest working man I’ve ever known and an amazing husband, father, son, brother, grandpa and friend. He had the best attitude, even in his weakest moments. My hope is that he is never forgotten and always honored for all that he accomplished in his beautiful life.” This is our hope too.

Harrison and the NRCS worked closely with the Dallas County Soil and Water Conservation District Commission. The current chair of the commission, Eric Wessels of Dallas Center, spoke for the group when he said at the dedication ceremony:

We are here today to celebrate the life of Brad Harrison through the dedication of this plaque and the eating of these cookies. As I recall, Brad was not shy in partaking of treats when they were available at the meetings.

I regret that I didn’t get the opportunity to know Brad better. I met Brad in January of 2015 at my first DCSWCD meeting. From the beginning, he made me feel welcome and hid any doubts he may have had about me. I saw immediately the love and dedication to Iowa and Dallas County brad embodied. Brad understood that this globe we walk on is more than just a precious commodity. It is life itself.

Brad understood the words of Aldo Leopold, who said, “Conservation is getting nowhere because it is incompatible with our Abrahamic concept of land. We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

Brad cared about the people he engaged with every day. He was able to help many farmers, operators, and land owners realize their conservation goals. Some may have frustrated him with a lack of interest in conservation efforts, but that didn’t diminish his willingness to engage in a dialogue about their work and what he could do to help. He also saw that Dallas County was growing more urban every year.

In “A Sand County Almanac,” Leopold wrote, “There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.”

Brad knew that we all have a limited time on this Earth. He knew the need to engage the next generation in conservation efforts and responsible land management. Brad enjoyed working with children and to further this effort created the Who Buddy characters. These characters embodied the resources of the environment: energy, water, animals, air, soil, and plants. You can see them over there and we hope you all take an opportunity to get your picture taken with the cutouts.

Brad spent a lifetime caring for Iowa and Dallas county, doing what he could to leave behind a world better than the one he inherited. I believe this is our responsibility as humans. He affirmed my belief that the energy I put towards conservation and helping others implement conservation efforts is never a waste of time but rather a journey to be undertaken, inviting others to join you and an opportunity to befriend those you come in contact with.

 

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