In 1964, Penn Soil Resource Conservation and Development was one of the original nine RC&D councils.
The councils were U.S. Department of Agriculture programs. Funding from the department paid a full-time project manager in addition to providing funding for office space, equipment and services, and a part-time worker. When a volunteer RC&D council decided to work on a project, the department provided funding.
The last week in September is National RC&D week. This year, the week will celebrate an entity that is not part of the federal government.
"RC&D funding was eliminated from the federal budget last year," former project manager Wes Ramsey said.
"I really loved what I was doing with the RC&D," Ramsey said. "It was fun."
Over the years, Penn Soil participated in many projects in Warren County - from installing dry hydrants for fire protection, the Big Bend Bird Viewing Platform, Warren County Winterfest, the Running rEvolution, and GeoWoodstock. "We can be a host or a partner in local events," Ramsey said. "We could provide liability coverage for an event."
"We handle $250,000 to $500,000 worth of grants at any given time," Ramsey said. "In the past two weeks, we've accepted new grant contracts for $263,000."
When the government opted out of RC&D, Ramsey opted out of the government.
"After 37 years, I opted to retire from USDA," he said.
"When the USDA essentially pulled the plug, that didn't mean RC&D" was no longer useful, Ramsey said. "We have projects in the works."
For example, GeoWoodstock was fast approaching. "I was the lead planner for the event," Ramsey said. "I couldn't just walk away."
With Ramsey putting in two months of full-time, unpaid work, the event was very successful. "We think it pumped about $2 million into the local economy," Ramsey said.
After that, the council and Ramsey were on unfamiliar ground.
They decided to continue their efforts.
"There is life after USDA," Ramsey said.
"In some ways, it's made us a little more nimble," he said. "It's given us a chance to reinvent the organization."
Ramsey, the part-time executive director of Penn Soil RC&D, can now make financial decisions
And, the department isn't totally out of the equation. "They're still a valuable partner," he said. "We still have the ability to apply for grants with USDA."
As a 501(c)(3), the organization can serve as the financial agent for groups that would like to solicit tax-deductible contributions.
In order to keep the operation funded, RC&D now charges an administrative fee for pass-throughs and grant work. "Our only self-sustaining funding is pretty nominal dues of $200 per year for the eight counties," Ramsey said.
Penn Soil works on projects in four main areas: water conservation, soil conservation, land management, and community development.
Whether a group is looking for help with a grant application, a non-profit financial agent for contributions, or some planning assistance, Penn Soil can help.
"Traditionally, for every dollar that's been invested in RC&D, it usually leverages $7 or $8 in benefits to projects," Ramsey said. He attributes that multiplying factor to low overhead costs and a group of dedicated volunteers.
At the moment, the group is looking to hire. Taking on a part-time person would allow Ramsey to focus more on "planning, partnering and fund-raising."
That's just another sign that the organization has plans to stick around.
"We're going to be here and keep going," Ramsey said. "As long as there are people out there who have projects they want to do and want to partner with us we'll keep pursuing our mission."
"Our mission is solid," he said. "We've got valuable services to provide."