Guest Column

Rutgers Environmental Stewards Program at Duke Farms

Environmental Stewards Lunch Credits: Anna Merrett
Poster Session Credits: Anna Merrett
Environmental Stewards of New Jersey Credits: Anna Merrett

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

"We won't have a society if we destroy the environment."

Margaret Mead

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If gaining an insight into local and statewide environmental issues is close to your heart and if you are ready to make a difference in your community, Rutgers Environmental Stewards Program may be the answer.

A combination of in-class training, field trips and a final project, allow participants to apply theoretical, science based knowledge directly to their surroundings. Developed in 2005, as a follow up to the Rutgers Master Gardener Program, it has trained over 450 environmental stewards.

The Duke Farms Program meets at the Farm Barn for four months, on Thursday evenings 6:30-9:00 p.m. beginning January and continuing through April. In addition, the program is being offered in five other New Jersey locations, during the daytime hours and in the evenings. Cost to a participant is $250, which covers all of the materials, light (and very tasty!) refreshments and several field trips.

Lectures include but are not limited to such topics as New Jersey geology, climate change, recycling, habitat conservation, watersheds and water systems, sustainability programs and environmental chemistry. University faculty and field specialists share their in-depth scientific knowledge with the participants. There is a question and answer session and a lively discussion following each lecture.

Field trips take the participants to the Bowman Hill Preserve to learn about seed collection, to the Pinelands with the NJ Conservation Foundation, to Stony-Brook Millstone Watershed Association to examine a new LEED certified building and to several other places.

Upon finishing of the theoretical training, all participants are asked to complete a sixty hour internship for a non-for-profit organization or other entity. Some examples include: setting up a program to combat air pollution in Newark, assessing Ash Borer risks, managing aquatic invasive species in Somerset County, installing community rain gardens and protecting nesting spaces for turtles at Duke Farms. Upon the training and internship completion, graduates become members of the Rutgers Environmental Stewards Alumni Association, a lifelong extension of the program, where they share their achievements, attend further training sessions and network.

Pat Rector, a dedicated and enthusiastic State Program Coordinator, keeps everything running smoothly, introducing each lecture, answering questions and leading field trips. She also assists in finding suitable internships for the program participants. Dan Ross, a behind-the-scenes technological mastermind, coordinates our internal Facebook Page, and helps with variety of other issues.

Last year's class, held at Duke Farms, had over thirty participants of various backgrounds. This included two construction workers, several teachers, organic farm growers, a restaurant owner, local high school student, school administrators, a couple of engineers and Duke farm volunteers, all passionate about the environment.

What the participants said about the program:

"Tom and I were impressed with the breadth and scope of topics discussed during the program. Virtually any environmental issue you might be interested in was offered, including contacts for more detailed study, if necessary. We thoroughly enjoyed the program, the instructors, as well as our diverse group of fellow students." Diane, Tewksbury, NJ

"I enjoyed and respected the Environmental Stewards class because it brought relevant issues into perspective. Grasping scientific bases for what appear to be abstract concepts helps me to solidify my own understanding of what is happening in the world right now. More importantly, this knowledge enables me to convey the importance of undertaking small actions now to other people. I cannot stress enough the importance of an educated population on topics that will affect all future generations. I feel that it is our duty to understand what is happening in the natural world around us and our role in its deterioration. It is unconscionable to bury our heads in the sand, dismissing climate change as something in which one believes or not. It is not belief, it is understanding. Either you understand it, or you don't. This class will help you to really understand it. Thanks to the E-Stewards course, I have a firmer grasp on interrelations in the natural world. I will continue to do my part, to share my knowledge and to continue in my quest to protect the planet." Heidi, Hillsborough, NJ

"The Rutgers Environmental Steward program was a wonderful way to meet cool people and learn more about the great state of NJ. A highlight for me was a trip to the Jersey City sewage treatment plant. I was really impressed by what they do, and experiencing first hand what happens to all our wastewater really changed my perspective on what we flush down the drains. You get a unique opportunity to hear from experts in different fields on New Jersey's environmental concerns, and you get truly inspired to see how you can make a difference. Even something that seems small, like a rain garden, can make a difference in flooding and the quality of the water we drink. I stretched out of my comfort food zone to go door to door for the Hillsborough rain garden project, and was pleasantly surprised at how great my Hillsborough neighbors are. I encourage everyone to participate, you won't regret it." Kate, Hillsborough, NJ

"It was a great pleasure to participate with the RES program in 2017. In addition to experts in everything from climate change to soil conversation to native species discussions, our field trips to explore the Raritan River, the Forsythe Wildlife Refuge and the Essex County Sewage Treatment Plant were amazing experiences. My Internship to help with Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey's efforts to survey the Osprey population in Ocean and Monmouth County was also one of the great achievements of my life. Very pleased to have participated with the Middlesex Program in 2016! Kudos to all!" TK

The November graduation ceremony for 2017 graduates, took place at the EcoComplex in Bordentown, NJ. Rachel McCormick, MSN, gave an interesting talk on "Green Space and the Health of our Children." Several program graduates shared highlights of their projects on: Environmental Sustainability, Health and Wellness on Brigantine Island; Edwin B. Forsythe Nautical Wildlife Refuge on Long Beach Island and an Osprey Survey in Monmouth County. Following the official part of the program, we enjoyed our lunch and networking with environmental stewards from other counties.

We hope more people join the program. It is a truly valuable learning experience, easily applied to real life.

For details about the program, please contact Pat Rector, or Dan Ross, or visit the Rutgers Environmental Steward website:

To sign up, please see the link below:

"Keep close to Nature's heart... and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean." 

John Muir also known as "John of the Mountains"

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer. Click here to submit a Guest Column.

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