URBANA, Ill. – When Duane Friend shows up to an event towing what looks like an oversized sandbox, he’s hard to miss. Over 30 years, more than 35,000 children have jostled for the best view of “river” water carving through the display as Friend describes how waterways move soil and eventually shape the landscape.

Duane Friend demonstrating how water shapes landscapes using a mobile Stream Table.

Friend, who is a University of Illinois Extension energy and environmental stewardship educator in west-central Illinois, was recently recognized by the Soil and Water Conservation Society for his decades of advocacy for soil and water conservation in Illinois.

“Duane’s professionalism, strong work ethic, and dedication to soil and water conservation education is clear to anyone who meets him,” says Krista Kirkham. “He is an exceptional and integral member to the society’s Illinois chapter.”

In nominating Friend for the annual SWCS Society Service Award, Kirkham, a Nature Conservancy ecologist and past president of the Illinois SWCS chapter, cited his many efforts to engage the community. His outreach includes on-farm research, early development of online soil and water management continuing education modules for certified crop advisers, and soil formation and soil health education for Illinois Extension Master Gardeners and Master Naturalists.

Friend has been a SWCS member since 1988 and said the recognition was both a surprise and an honor.

“Illinois Extension has always supported involvement in professional societies related to our subject area,” says Friend. “I’ve found my involvement with the Soil and Water Conservation Society is a great way to learn about current issues and research in soil and water conservation and to meet people who are truly passionate about their work.”

The stream table is one of Friend’s most successful and long-standing outreach tools. The mobile hydrology demonstration tool engages audiences of all ages and is frequently found at conservation field days.

​Friend is also credited with creating and launching prescribed fire workshops. Noticing many farmers convert fields to prairie habitat under the federal Conservation Reserve Program, Friend saw an opportunity to teach landowners first-hand how to conduct a safe and properly timed burn to maintain prairie vitality.

Friend led the first prescribed burn workshop in 2019 for 55 participants and since then, the workshop has been presented throughout the state and continues to be popular with both landowners and conservation professionals.

“Prescribed fire is largely absent from Illinois, but thanks to Duane, SWCS and its partners have been able to educate and encourage landowners and farm managers to use prescribed fire as a conservation management tool,” says Kirkham.

​Friend was a county executive director for the Farm Services Agency and a resource conservationist for a Soil and Water Conservation District before joining Illinois Extension in 1993. He served as a unit-based educator, then a natural resources management educator.

Now, as an educator, Friend leads engaging programs for adults and youth about soil quality, weather and climate, energy conservation, and disaster preparedness in Calhoun, Cass, Greene, Morgan, and Scott counties. His sessions provide practical solutions for families, farms, and communities.

“The people I work with are sincerely interested in maintaining or improving the local environment, which in turn, is beneficial to the community,” says Friend. “All they need is the knowledge to do that.”

Through his ongoing outreach and educational efforts, Friend remains a trusted source of information for his local communities and a respected leader in the field of agricultural conservation.

The Society Service Awards will be presented at the 2021 SWCS International Conference from July 26 to 28.

WRITERS: Nicole Stewart, Extension Marketing and Communications Associate; Emily Steele, Extension Media Communications Coordinator

ABOUT EXTENSION: Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and communities to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities.