In 1947, the boundaries of the original Brown Creek Soil Conservation District were expanded to include five counties; Anson, Union, Stanley, Montgomery and Richmond.
The Brown Creek Soil Conservation District was created on Aug. 3, 1937, when North Carolina Secretary of State Thad Eure signed the certificate to establish the first district of its kind in the state, the nation and the world.
Anson County’s Soil Conservation District still goes by the Brown Creek name, although the other four counties have separated away into their own districts. Anson County celebrated the 75th Anniversary of the establishment of the Natural Resources Conservation Service Thursday.
Hugh Hammond Bennett, April 15, 1881, - July 7, 1960, born and raised in Anson County, founded and lead the Soil Conservation Service, which today is the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The Brown Creek watershed included the plantation Bennett was born on, where he lived and grew close to the land.
Bennett became a surveyor for the USDA Bureau of Soils after graduating from UNC Chapel Hill. He traveled extensively, conducting surveys on the chemistry and condition of soil. In time, he knew intimately the soils of nearly every county in the nation.
When Bennett discovered that erosion by wind and water was rampant and destructive throughout America, soil science dealt primarily with chemistry, and few wrote of erosion as early as the eighteenth century. Bennett was stumbling into history while others ignored his warnings.
“Year after year, for generations,” he warned, “man has been steadily engaging in ruining millions and millions of acres of this basic resource.”
When farmers in the Southern Plains exhausted the soils growing wheat - supposedly a drought resistant crop, the government assured - and dust storms began to rage over the land in 1933, Bennett knew the causes of the depleted soil, but no one would listen.
Many hopeless families left the region entirely. The Weather Bureau reported that “from sunrise to sunset winds, attaining gale force fill the air and sky with clouds of dirt and dust so dense the light of an otherwise clear day was reduced to a twilight condition.”
Resting on the cusp of the Great Depression, America’s agricultural downward spiral left Dust Bowl farmers barely able to sustain themselves.
“Poor land makes poor people,” said Bennett. “There are thousands of them who are so poor now that they could scarcely be poorer.”
On March 4, 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s inauguration created a vital opportunity for Bennett’s soil conservation work. An enthusiast for conservation, Roosevelt recognized the value of preserving natural resources. Moreover, according to Smith, the Dust Bowl had finally forced Congress to regard the rapid depletion of soil as a menace to national welfare.
The government began federal intervention for individual farmers under the New Deal farm policy, which lead Bennett to recognize the opportunity to submit a proposal in July, 1933 for a national soil program that would move beyond research, beginning with farmer education and progressing to practical conservation assistance.
Today, Richmond County farmers can take soil samples from their fields and send them to Raleigh to be tested for chemical deficiencies, parasites or diseases. These ideas can be attributed to Bennett and the legacy he left behind.
Staff Writer Dawn Kurry can be reached at (910) 997-3111 ext. 15, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.