Diverting Runoff One Garden at a Time

As part of Kara Salazar’s work  as Sustainable Communities Extension Specialist for Purdue University’s Department of Forestry and Natural Resources and Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant , she runs the Sustainable Communities Extension Program. The program works to support community planning and sustainable community development strategies for communities across Indiana. One of the program initiatives is the Purdue Rainscaping Education Program which works to educate communities about sustainable landscape practices that can prevent polluted runoff.

The Purdue Rainscaping Education Program, which Salazar co-chairs, formed in 2013. The team provides advanced training for Purdue Master Gardeners, conservation agencies and organizations, stormwater professionals, and landscape companies and consultants on installing rain gardens in residential settings or small-scale public spaces. Salazar, along with fellow co-chair John Orick, state coordinator of the Purdue Master Gardner Program, and core team members Laura Esman, Jane Frankenberger, Rosie Lerner and Kris Medic, developed and pilot tested a series of 15-hour rainscaping workshops in 2015 and 2016. The workshops use the flipped classroom technique, in which participants are asked to watch videos on each topic before the in-person training. During the in-person workshop, participants engage in interactive activities and discussions, visit community rainscaping projects to deepen their learning, and even create a demonstration rain garden alongside community partners.

Through the pilot, team members’ extensive evaluation, and a peer review, the team is continuously working to improve the program. In 2017, the team conducted a train-the-trainer workshop for Extension staff. Attendees participated in introductory webinars before attending an all-day training where they participated in hands-on exercises and group discussions, and planted a demonstration rain garden alongside team members. After the training, each participant received a host guide for conducting workshops independently throughout the state, with resources, videos, and a comprehensive participant curriculum.

Since 2015, Salazar, Orick, and the rest of the Rainscaping Education Team have held four programs with nearly 100 participants and created four demonstration rain gardens.  Moreover, many participants have gone on to install rain gardens, conduct tours and community education programs, or host exhibitor booths on the sustainable landscape practices in their communities. Indeed, in 2018 Extension staff trained in the 2017 train-the-trainer workshop will be hosting five community programs throughout the state alongside Rainscaping Education Team members.

Last year the team received the Purdue Cooperative Extension Specialists’ Association Team Award for their efforts. However, according to Salazar the best part is knowing they are making a difference. “The rain gardens installed through the program have the capacity to reduce runoff by over 170,000 gallons a year. Seeing that number and hearing that people are really enjoying the program and planning to implement more projects in their communities – that’s the best part.”

Kara Salazar, Purdue Extension and Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant
Kara Salazar is Sustainable Communities Extension Specialist for Purdue University’s Department of Forestry and Natural Resources and Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant. Working with multidisciplinary teams, Kara develops programs, products, and resources to support community planning and sustainable development strategies in Indiana communities. Focus areas include placemaking and enhancing public spaces, landscaping conservation practices, community development, and natural resources management.

Kara has a B.S. in public affairs and environmental science and a M.P.A. in natural resources management and nonprofit management from the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs. She also received a M.S.Ed. degree from the IU School of Education at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) with concentrations in community building and science education. She is c urrently pursuing a PhD in Natural Resources Social Science in the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources at Purdue University while continuing to work in her full time Extension position. Kara is a certified planner (AICP) and a Professional Community and Economic Developer (PCED) with additional credentials including a certificate in Fundraising Management and LEED AP Neighborhood Development. Kara serves as a governor appointed member of the Indiana Land Resources Council, and as a member of the Purdue Land Use Team, and the Community Planning and Zoning eXtension Community of Practice.

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