Tips for Programs: “How To”

“How To” Programs: Field Days and Backyard Conservation

Field Days

Field Days – Getting Started

Developing a committee to help with the process of field program planning is often essential. Ask colleague in your area or from across the state what has worked or not worked, for them. Sometimes if the program or presentation hasn’t worked in the past, it might be a good idea to put a new “twist” on it and try again.


Who (Target Audience): The first step to a good field program is knowing who your potential participants might be. Make sure you know the age level (older or younger adults) of your audience and what, if any, special considerations you need to address (e.g., special needs, seating arrangements).

What (Topic): What is your topic for discussion going to be? Decide what type of program you will present and how you will present it. You will want to make sure you cover all points on your topic and always leave time in the program for questions and answers.

When (Time): When your program will be held is a big factor in getting your audience to attend. Make sure you set a time when it is convenient for your target audience to attend. Consider holding a program for adults on a weekday, during an early evening hour after normal work hours. Providing food is a great drawing card.

Where (Location): The location of your program affects your presentation. If it is a pond clinic, consider that the location be by a pond, weather permitting. Pond clinics have been done indoors as more of a lecture. Some other things to consider are electricity and parking. Will you or any of your presenters need electricity for the program? Make sure the area that is selected has ample room to park for the attendees and all who are involved with the program.

Why (Objective): What information is being requested or needed? Why offer this field day or pond clinic? What is the public interested in learning from you and your agency? Why are they attending? If you cover appropriate information and are excited and enthused, your audience will respond in a positive manner.

How (Teaching Strategies): Pond clinics and field days best meet the needs of your audience when you engage them in a variety of teaching strategies. Presenters should be encouraged to go beyond lectures and formal presentations to include discussion, demonstrations and hands-on learning (even for adults!).

Tips for Success

Advertisements: News releases to local papers, radio public service announcements, district newsletters, the district web page and flyers are ways to promote your program to the public. Keep your message short and factual, but remember to highlight all the exciting features that are sure to attract your audience. In your promotions of your program let your audience know the following:

  • What to wear (e.g., warm clothes, boots or walking shoes)
  • What to bring with them (e.g., pen, paper, lawn chair)
  • Rain date (for inclement weather)
  • Who to contact for additional information
  • Location (address and directions)
  • Contact phone number and emergency number

Having these questions answered ahead of time in your promotions will make for a successful workshop.

Resources: It is always nice to leave a pond clinic or field day and be able to take something with you. A short list of follow-up resources should be included and handed out to the participants so they always have a resource to use. Always list yourself as a contact to your local district. Books, brochures, leaflets and websites with accurate information in them are always a bonus, along with a list of experts in the field.

Presenters: When choosing your presenter(s), it is usually best to go with someone that comes recommended or that you have heard yourself. The worst clinic or field day can result from a “dry” presentation! Keep in mind that enthusiasm and crowd participation is a must at these types of programs. When you have your presenter(s) lined up, it’s always good to do a follow-up with them at least two weeks before the event. Send them a letter or e-mail reminding them of the event, date(s), time, location (include a map) and ask what things they will need for their presentation (e.g., easel, markers, photocopies). Ask them to send original copies to you so that you can copy what is needed before the big day. If your presenter(s) need any special equipment, make sure they let you know ahead of time. Tell them to contact you if they have any questions so you can answer their questions ahead of time.

Equipment: Preparing for a pond clinic or field day can be overwhelming, especially if you forget something important like ordering the portable toilets. Trust me, it’s happened! The simplest details often become the most important and most likely to be forgotten. Make sure all your equipment works. This could include: extension cords, batteries for remotes, overhead projection bulbs, computers for power point presentations and sound systems. Always make sure you know how to set the equipment up so you can have all this done in advance of the program. Make yourself a list and check it twice. The list will save both you and your presenter(s) a lot of headaches and will make for a successful workshop.

Facilities: It’s the day of your pond clinic or field day and it’s pouring rain outside. Since the entire event is outside, do you cancel or get wet? Reserve and visit your facilities at least six months to a year in advance of your program. Does the area have shelter houses or a building you can use to get out of the weather? If your budget allows for it, can you rent a tent or borrow one to be set up just in case of inclement weather. You will need to be as accommodating as possible to the people who will attend your event. A little rain never hurt anyone, but a downpour will lose your audience quickly. Tables are also nice to have, especially if a meal is on your agenda. Follow up with the facility owners at least two weeks in advance of the event. Remind them of the event, date(s) and times so that they are aware and ready for you as well.

Evaluation: It is a valuable tool and an important part of your public event. Evaluations give you valuable feedback to use for the next scheduled program or the same type of program next year (although it is always good to change things around and add new things to your schedule). Keep your evaluation simple. Don’t make it too long or difficult to fill out. The information you are asking for is to see how you are doing and find out some ways to improve in the future. On your evaluation, ask what other types of programs they would like to see in the future (e.g., tree farmer, backyard landscaping or other conservation programs). Always thank the participants for coming and welcome them back to future planned activities.

Thank You Notes: Always remember to follow-up after the event and thank all those who were involved. Thank you notes can be written on your district’s letterhead or hand written in a thank you card, which is always nice to receive. Thank your presenter(s) for coming and offering their expertise. It’s always important to thank your host. Whether it was a state park manager or a private landowner, thank them for the use of the facility. These thank you notes will bring your presenter(s) back again and allow you to use the same facilities in the future if so desired. Make a checklist of all the people you need to thank and check it twice.


Best Practices for Field Days, University of Minnesota – Cooperative Extension,


Backyard Conservation

Backyard conservation is comparable to creating a miniature park in your backyard. Many of the backyard conservation examples listed below could also be found in a school land lab. Depending on the natural features, size and location of the backyard and the desires, goals, and budget of the landowner, backyard conservation can be developed in many directions.  

Involvement in Backyard Conservation

  • Construction advice and assistance—Find a community expert to provide technical assistance (e.g., soil samples, cost-share program for buffers) and  resource materials to landowners who desire conservation backyards. The local Soil and Water Conservation District office or Extension office might provide experts and/or materials.
  • Community contest—Develop a conservation backyard contest. Set requirements for the contest (e.g., greatest number of features that attract wildlife) and awards (e.g., 50 pounds of birdseed).
  • Backyard tour—A tour of different conservation backyards recognizes those landowner who have yards to show-off and to share ideas. Tours may inspire future conservation backyards.
  • Education site—A property owner who has a beautiful conservation backyard may agree to allow a workshop featuring his backyard as the learning example for workshop or field day. 

Backyard Water Conservation Examples

  • Pond—smaller water body that contains aquatic plants and animals. If the pond is half an acre or larger and has a minimum depth of 8 feet over 25% of the area or a minimum of 6 feet over 50% of the area, it can probably support a healthy fish population of bluegill, largemouth bass and channel catfish. A variety of aquatic plants can be transplanted around the shoreline for more diversity. To attract wildlife, a variety of trees, shrubs, legumes and grasses can be planted around the pond.
  • Stream—watercourses that feature aquatic plants and animals. Many creeks meander or cut into the stream bank causing erosion. A strip of land paralleling the creek needs to be planted in grasses, shrubs and trees and reserved as a riparian corridor or buffer strip.
  • Stream Bank—the land edge of a stream. Whether the stream bank is sloped or gradual, the presence of trees, shrubs, and herbivores is important. The roots of these plants help stabilize the bank’s soil so its sediment does not erode and wash into the stream’s water.
  • Wetlands—seasonal or permanent shallow pockets of water. To encourage maximum wildlife use, the wetlands should have 25% of its area excavated to a depth of about three feet and the remaining 75% less than three feet deep. This will encourage growth of cattails, bull rushes, sedges, reeds, arrowhead and many other aquatic plants. Many shrubs will attract wildlife to wetlands. Invasive species can be a problem, so consultation with district experts is important.


Adapted with permission from Soil and Water Conservation District Outreach: A Handbook for program Development, Implementation and Evaluation. 2003. Ohio Department of Natural Resource Division of Soil and Water Conservation.