CHESTERTOWN — If you want to know the history of a farm, who owned it and when, what kinds of improvements have been made, what’s the most direct route to a man-made pond or drainage ditch, Joe Blizzard is the go-to guy.
For every farm in Kent County.
That’s the kind of knowledge Blizzard acquired in five decades in the Kent Soil and Water Conservation District office, with some of that time as a state employee.
He retired Dec. 17 as a stormwater and sediment control urban reviewer. Kent Soil and Water Conservation District hosted an open house the day before in Blizzard’s honor so the community — especially farmers — could say a proper thank you.
Karen Miller, the district manager here for 32 years, said Blizzard has been “invaluable.”
“There’s nothing about any farm in this county that he can’t tell you. ... That kind of knowledge can’t be replicated,” Miller said.
This is the second time that Blizzard has retired. And it’s not the last.
He has agreed to work on Wednesdays until a successor has been hired or until the end of June, which is when his wife of 46 years, Vickie, will retire from her job with the state assessment office in Queen Anne’s County.
Blizzard, who celebrated his 70th birthday last week, said he never had a bad day in 47 years on the job.
“I loved it,” he said. “I never hated getting up and going to work.”
When asked what he will miss when he retires for good, Blizzard answered, “Mostly just working. I like to be busy.”
Blizzard grew up in the Worton area and he now lives near Still Pond. Other than the four years he served in the U.S. Marine Corps after graduating from Chestertown High School — including three non-combat deployments to Vietnam — Kent County has been his home.
He was honorably discharged in 1972, leaving with the rank of an E-5 sergeant.
That September, Blizzard joined the Kent Soil and Water Conservation District, which works with landowners and farmers to develop Best Management Practices that are needed to maintain agricultural production and minimize downstream water quality problems.
Structural BMPs installed by the district include grade stabilization structures, riparian buffers, grassed waterways and animal waste storage structures. Non-structural practices used to control erosion and manage nutrients include crop rotation, residue management and the planting of winter cover crops to tie up excess nutrients.
In December 1977, Blizzard became a state employee (Maryland Department of Agriculture) working out of the conservation district office in Chestertown. As a soil conservation technician with the MDA he would design BMPs and then follow up the work of contractors to make sure they were done properly.
Blizzard retired, for the first time, at the end of January 2005.
He was retired for a day, and then returned to the Kent district as its urban reviewer.
Miller said Blizzard was instrumental in her becoming district manager in 1987.
“That was the funny thing,” she said. “He got me hired and then had to call me ‘boss.’”
For Kent Soil and Water Conservation District, Blizzard reviews stormwater management and sediment control plans, which are required any time land is going to be disturbed — whether it be the construction of a lane, a house, an outbuilding, an addition, etc.
Blizzard makes Kent the exception to the rule. In every other county in the state, an engineer reviews stormwater plans, according to Miller.
His institutional knowledge alone makes Blizzard an asset to the district.
To the farmers of Kent County, Blizzard is a trusted and valued friend. By writing stormwater management plans, he keeps their costs down.
As you would imagine, there have been a lot of changes in land use in the last half-century.
When Blizzard first started there were 75 dairy farms in Kent; now there are about 10, he said.
The number of man-made ponds has dropped from an average minimum of 25 to less than a handful.
The biggest change, in Blizzard’s opinion, is in farming practices. “Now everyone does conservation planning,” he said. Cover crops are being grown primarily for the benefit of the soil and not the crop yield, and minimal plowing is the new norm.