Janet Lorton (second from the left), executive director of the Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission (EPC), and her staff accept the Hillsborough 100 award on behalf of the EPC.

Award recipients and supporter testimonials gave color to the stories that unravel annually as part of the Hillsborough 100 Conservation Challenge, which kicked off with a well-attended luncheon and awards ceremony.

Held this year on April 12 at The Regent in Riverview, Betty Jo Tompkins, executive director of the Hillsborough Soil and Water Conservation District (HSWCD), emceed the ceremony, first held in 2017.

“The idea behind the challenge is at the very core of what our conservation district stands for, and that is that conservation is everybody’s business,” Tompkins said, noting the involvement of agricultural interests, schools, civic organizations, businesses, service clubs, individuals, families and more in action awareness projects. “We take a womb-to-tomb approach. If you’re alive and breathing, we have a program for you.”

Along with 16 mini grants and two student scholarships, the luncheon ceremony recognized the 2023 Outstanding Supporter, Outstanding Project and Outstanding Cooperating Partner.

On behalf of herself and her staff, Janet Lorton, executive director of the Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission, accepted the award for Outstanding Cooperating Partner.

Having grown up on a 3,000-acre cow farm that’s now developed, and active in 4-H, through which she showed cattle, Lorton said it is imperative to “continue working to save the environment,” especially in light of the community’s burgeoning growth.

“We all need environmentalists and conservationists to take care of what we have going on here,” Lorton said, “because we have a lot more people coming in with a lot more impacts.”

Hillsborough County Property Appraiser Bob Henriquez, who could not make the luncheon, was recognized with his staff as the Outstanding Supporter of the Year. For helping HSWCD spread the word about tax exemptions for Florida agricultural interests, for providing detailed information about HSWCD district representation boundaries and for “participating in our projects, programs and activities,” Tompkins said the award was well-deserved.

On behalf of the Hillsborough County Fair, Robert Griffin, chair of the Greater Hillsborough County Fair Board of Directors, accepted the award for Outstanding Project of the Year. The fair each year on the last Sunday of its 11-day run hosts the HSWCD Great Plant Auction, which raised roughly $8,000 in 2022. The money funded two $1,000 scholarships and the $250 mini-grant awards.

The Roy Gene Davis Scholarship, named for the plant auction chair and auctioneer, went to Morgan Chancey, president of the Turkey Creek 4-H Club. Madison Leiner received the Michael Hepburn Memorial Scholarship, named posthumously for the former HSWCD board chair and beloved Riverview High teacher.

In kicking off the awards ceremony, Jackie Barren, of The Mosaic Co., the luncheon sponsor, welcomed the more than 170 attendees as she praised the work of Tompkins.

“I don’t need to tell this crowd, when Betty Jo calls you, answer on the first ring,” Barren said. “When we look across this room today, we recognize and realize that we’re very fortunate to have the opportunity to see that our community is in good hands for the long haul with the great work and projects being taken on and carried out and overseen by our young and future community leaders.”

For more information, visit www.hillsboroughswcd.com.

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