Val Schroeder stands in the wooded entrance to her home on Camano Island on Tuesday. The Snohomish Conservation District is honoring Schroeder, who started the Backyard Wildlife Habitat Project on Camano Island, with its annual Lifetime Achievement Award for her work expanding awareness on the importance of creating a healthy environment for plants and wildlife in your own yard. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

Val Schroeder stands in the wooded entrance to her home on Camano Island on Tuesday. The Snohomish Conservation District is honoring Schroeder, who started the Backyard Wildlife Habitat Project on Camano Island, with its annual Lifetime Achievement Award for her work expanding awareness on the importance of creating a healthy environment for plants and wildlife in your own yard. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

Conservation District honors environmental volunteers

CAMANO ISLAND — Val Schroeder turned her back yard into a paradise for wild creatures. She’s watched eagles perch in nearby trees and otters shimmy down the stairs from her yard to the beach.

In Lake Stevens, Terry Myer transformed her lawn into a garden that produces enough fruit and vegetables to stock the local food bank. She’s donated more than 2,000 pounds of produce this year. That includes 400 pounds of fresh tomatoes.

At Olivia Park Elementary School in South Everett, 8-year-old Jasmine Kraus leads a group called Nature Kids in a quest to clean up litter. Dalila Habul, 12, visits the elementary school after her middle school classes so she can help in the school garden.

The women and girls are among a dozen volunteers being recognized by the Snohomish Conservation District for their efforts to protect the environment.

Schroeder, 59, is receiving the organization’s annual Lifetime Achievement Award for “her incredible leadership and enthusiasm for training the next generation.”

She started the Backyard Wildlife Habitat Project on Camano Island in 2002. The goal is to help homeowners create sanctuaries in their yards by putting in native plants that provide food and shelter for animals. More than 860 yards have been completed on the island. It was the second community in the state and 10th in the nation to be formally recognized for the habitat work.

“You don’t have to be perfect to have a back yard wildlife habitat,” she said. “It makes you think about what you can do.”

She moved to Camano Island in 1994 and started volunteering with Friends of Camano Island Parks a year later.

Schroeder also teaches English at Stanwood High School. Most years, she gives students an assignment to perform community service projects for national Make A Difference Day. Last year, her class won $10,000 that the students chose to donate to the preservation of Barnum Point on Camano Island.

The award is an encouragement, Schroeder said.

“Sometimes I get tired and so things like this give me a boost to keep on trucking,” she said.

Myer, 39, is one of seven adults honored as a Conservation Leader of the Year. Jasmine and Dalila are two of the four young people celebrated as youth leaders.

A couple of years ago, Myer went to a conservation district class called Lawns to Lettuce. It gave her “an easy, excuse-free way to do things.”

“I challenged myself to do lawns to lettuce, but on a full scale,” she said. “The environmental problems we face in the world are so huge, and it can feel hopeless. I think the worst thing you can do is give people a problem with no hope. This is an easy solution and it’s something anybody can do.”

She started using recycled materials to create garden beds. She found that box springs are ideal for climbing plants and tires work well for raised beds. Local businesses gave her supplies.

She planted berries, apples, zucchini, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, potatoes, carrots, onions, herbs, corn, cucumbers, beets, broccoli, kale and seven kinds of peppers. She weeds maybe 10 minutes a week.

She’s confident she can convince her husband to let her take over more of their property. She wants to double the size of her garden. She also is working on starting a large community garden at Eagle Ridge and a smaller one at the family center downtown.

When she needs help, she rallies volunteers and everyone goes home with produce.

“People got excited about what I was doing, so every Sunday for two hours people would come over in droves. They’d get a tour, I’d give them a handout,” she said. “They get a list of all of my resources.”

Sometimes, she leads specific projects. Earlier this year, people brought in apples from their trees and spices from their cabinets. Someone loaned them a press. They made 60 gallons of locally sourced, home-pressed apple cider. They donated it to the food bank.

“It’s a small thing, really, to give hope and energy, and it spreads to so many other places,” she said.

Dalila and Jasmine learned about protecting the environment at Olivia Park Elementary.

Dalila was in kindergarten when students reclaimed an overgrown patch of ground near the school and turned it into a learning garden. She helped with the garden all through elementary school. Now, the sixth-grader comes back to volunteer.

“When I was in maybe fourth grade, I realized that me and my friends, we are what the future is going to be,” she said. “And I realized that I want to show people who are younger than me, and even people who are older than me, that we can make a difference.”

She joined a group of students who gathered after school with their families. They’d stay until 7 p.m. They weeded and planted, putting in beans, carrots, kale and potatoes. Rhubarb always is popular in the fall. They had a lesson on how to make pie. They’ve also picked apples and made applesauce.

“It’s not just the environment, it’s showing what you can do,” Dalila said. “I’ve had kids come say they made pies with their mom and it was really good.”

She encourages people to start helping around their home or school. No one is too young, and no action is too small. Picking up a piece of trash on the sidewalk or planting flowers for honeybees are important contributions.

As for gardening, it might sound like a challenge, but digging in the dirt can become a haven in a hectic schedule.

“I have a lot of sports and school stuff going on around me, and a lot of people think of gardening as work,” Dalila said. “But for me, it’s just a time to breathe.”

Third-grader Jasmine leads the Nature Kids. They get together and “jot down ideas and see what’s best to do, like how to help the Earth,” she said.

They picked up garbage around the school. They kept track of what kind of litter they found. There were a lot of plastic bags and tissues or napkins, Jasmine said.

She’s proud and happy to receive the leadership award and wants to invite all the Nature Kids to come to the ceremony. She hopes others are inspired.

“The more people, the more better, because then we can help the whole Earth and someday the whole Earth will be clean,” she said.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439;

Better Grounds Awards

The Better Grounds Awards ceremony is free and open to the public. It starts at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 1 at the Rosehill Community Center in Mukilteo. Register online at

Other winners

Conservation leaders of the year: Robbin Ballard, Libby Reed, Tristan Klesick, Greg Moga, David New, Gail Walters.

Youth conservation leaders: Rondi Nordal, Ben Rankin

Conservation business of the year: Boeing Corporation

Conservation partners: The Nature Conservancy, Ron Shultz with state Conservation Commission

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

A big decision for Boeing’s next CEO: Is it time for a new plane?

As Boeing faces increased competition from Airbus, the company is expected to appoint a new CEO by the end of the year.

A Mukilteo Speedway sign hangs at an intersection along the road in Mukilteo. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Mukilteo Speedway name change is off to a bumpy start

The city’s initial crack at renaming the main drag got over 1,500 responses. Most want to keep the name.

Two workers walk past a train following a press event at the Lynnwood City Center Link Station on Friday, June 7, 2024, in Lynnwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Trains up and running on Lynnwood Link — but no passengers quite yet

Officials held an event at the Lynnwood station announcing the start of “pre-revenue” service. Passengers still have to wait till August.

Nedra Vranish, left, and Karen Thordarson, right browse colorful glass flowers at Fuse4U during Sorticulture on Friday, June 7, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
A promenade through Everett’s popular Sorticulture garden festival

Check out a gallery of the festival’s first day.

Left to right, Everett Pride board members Ashley Turner, Bryce Laake, and Kevin Daniels pose for a photo at South Fork Bakery in Everett, Washington on Sunday, May 26, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Second Everett Pride aims for even bigger rainbow of festivities

Organizers estimated about 3,000 people attended the first block party in Everett. This year, they’re aiming for 10,000.

Motorcyclist dies in crash on East Marine View Drive in Everett

Around 8 p.m. Tuesday, a motorcycle and a vehicle crashed into each other at the intersection of 11th street and East Marine View Drive.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Darrington in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Motorcyclist dies in crash on Highway 530

Jeremy Doyle, 46, was riding east near Darrington when he crashed into the side of a car that was turning left.

The I-5, Highway 529 and the BNSF railroad bridges cross over Union Slough as the main roadways for north and southbound traffic between Everett and Marysville. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Highway 529 squeeze starts now between Everett, Marysville

Following a full closure for a night, starting late Sunday, Highway 529 will slim down to two lanes for months near the Snohomish River Bridge.

The Marysville School District office on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023, in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
‘Financially insolvent’ Marysville schools to get unprecedented oversight

Superintendent Chris Reykdal will convene a first-of-its-kind Financial Oversight Committee, he wrote in a letter Tuesday.

Woodside Elementary Principal Betty Cobbs on Monday, June 17, 2024 in Bothell, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett’s first Black principal retires after 51 years

In her office, Betty Cobbs kept a black-and-white photo of herself at age 5: “I am right there, with dreams of becoming an educator.”

Junelle Lewis, right, daughter Tamara Grigsby and son Jayden Hill sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” during Monroe’s Juneteenth celebration on Saturday, June 18, 2022. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
On Juneteenth: ‘We can always say that there is hope’

The Snohomish County NAACP is co-sponsoring a celebration Saturday near Snohomish, with speakers, music and food.

A fire marshal takes photos of the back of a home that caught fire on Tuesday, June 18, 2024 in Tulalip, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Man suffers burn injuries in Marysville house fire

Around 2:30 p.m., firefighters responded to a report of a mushroom cloud coming from a home at 27th Avenue NE and 81st Street NE.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.