Observations from a First Time County Fairgoer


Student intern Nick Hunter uses the Enviroscape model to teach Conservation Station visitors about watersheds and water quality at the 2014 Central Iowa Fair

NOTE: This guest blog post was written by Nick Hunter, one of our summer interns with Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks!.   Hunter is starting his senior year at Grinnell College, double majoring in Physics and Spanish.

I’m a pretty big fan of the Iowa State Fair. Mostly for the fried pickles and other greasy goodness, but also for the eclectic crowd that gives the fairgrounds such a unique atmosphere. As a Des Moines native, it’s the only fair I had ever known until I started going to county fairs this summer with our fleet of Conservation Station trailers. I had been accustomed to the crowded and epic fried food mecca that is the Iowa State Fair.  County fairs were going to be something mighty different.

For the most part, they’ve been much less crowded and mostly attended by rural Iowans. Honestly, at first I didn’t think we would be able to meet with a very significant amount of people, and sometimes we don’t.  Many kids often bolt away right in the middle of a conversation to show their chickens or hogs at the 4-H events. Yet, no matter how small the fair, there always seems to be groups of fair-goers – families, groups of kids, seniors – who sincerely enjoy doing the activities at our Conservation Station.

Recently at the Central Iowa Fair in Marshalltown, a young girl came to watch the Enviroscape watershed activity. When it finished, she entered the trailer’s learning lab, we talked through the module, and went outside to play the poo toss activity.  She absolutely loved that game. She came back all afternoon to play and when it was time to leave she insisted in helping us pack up.


Intern Nick Hunter (left) proudly holds a chicken for the first time in his life

When we finished, she brought us over to her chicken coop to see the chickens she had shown earlier that day for 4-H. She opened the cage, yanked out her prized chicken, and shoved her into my arms before I could object.  It wasn’t exactly one of the most monumental moments in my life, holding live poultry in my arms, but it certainly was the first time I had held a chicken and for that I was proud.

I could tell that our young friend really enjoyed the presence of the Conservation Station at her fair. I also noticed the appreciation in almost every visit from the group of summer school kids that were bussed in to the fair that afternoon. By the end of the day, 110 kids and 20 adults had actively participated in our activities and had learned all about pollution, water quality, and conservation — a pretty successful day. Plus, I even held a chicken.

- Nick Hunter

July Webinar Recap: Riparian Forested Buffer Strips and Farm Windbreaks

Dr_Randall_150-largeOur July webinar features Jesse Randall, Associate Professor in Natural Resources Ecology and Management and ISU Forestry Extension.  He shared his knowledge of riparian forested buffers and farm windbreaks as a researcher as well as a landowner implementing these practices on his own property.

Riparian buffers along streams and rivers provide additional benefits to those provided by grass buffers.  When properly constructed, these riparian buffers have the ability to reduce stream bank erosion by about 80% and protect these sensitive sites, all while improving wildlife and aquatic habitat, creating a recreational area and enhancing aesthetics.

Randall describes the process of retiring a pasture and utilizing cost-share funding through CP22  within the Conservation Reserve Program on his own property.  Over the past three years, he has installed cedar revetments where the stream was likely to flood and/or cause stream bank erosion. They have shown to demonstrate a remarkable decrease in stream bank erosion, especially during flood events. The photo below shows a cedar revetment installation along Randall’s stream.

Jesse Randall

Be sure to check out the archived webinar to learn more about Jesse’s stream bank project and to learn more about the CP5A program that looks at establishing field windbreaks.

Also available in our archive is the June Webinar featuring Dan Jaynes, research soil scientist at the USDA-ARS National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment, who discusses the use of saturated buffers for nitrate removal.  Saturated buffers enhance the benefits of riparian buffers by redirecting some of the water from tile drainage that typically bypasses the buffer into the buffer as shallow groundwater flow.  Once there, the roots can utilize nitrates and the microorganisms can assist with denitrification of the drainage water.

Using these buffer techniques in tandem will help reduce erosion, sediment and nitrogen in the water body, all of which help with the goals of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

-Liz Juchems

A St. Louisan’s Perspective on Environmental Awareness in Iowa

NOTE:  This guest blog post was written by Anna Chott, a summer intern with Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks!. Chott is pursuing Environmental Science and Environmental Policy at Drake University.


Intern Anna Chott, center, teaches the Enviroscape watershed lesson to Conservation Station visitors

One of the first distinctions I noticed when I moved to Iowa from St. Louis, Missouri, was the incredible friendliness of Hy-Vee employees. The drivers here are very courteous as well, sometimes giving a friendly wave as they pass me in the opposite lane. I was also astonished to see an Iowan leave her car parked with her purse in the front seat, rather than hiding it in the trunk. These are some of the ways that living in Iowa, first as a student in Des Moines, and now as an intern with Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks! in Ames, has been different from life in St. Louis. During this internship, I have traveled to outreach events at smaller towns across the state and taken note of not just the friendliness of Iowans, but also of their views on the environment.

There is a stark difference between environmental appreciation in rural Iowa compared to a relatively big city like St. Louis. In my hometown, people strive to be environmentally friendly by recycling, driving hybrid cars, and eating tofu. While there may be fewer vegetarians in Iowa, the number one pork producing state in the nation, there is no shortage of environmental awareness; it’s just expressed in different ways. Iowans, in fact, have a greater appreciation for the outdoors than the people back home.

The Iowans I have met have a genuine appreciation for nature. They enjoy boating and fishing in their many rivers and lakes. Stargazing and hosting enormous bonfires are also popular outdoor activities in rural Iowa. Every spring, the Decorah Eagles website becomes painfully slow, as millions of people log on to watch live footage of a family of hatchlings as they grow. Children in St. Louis grow up with a backyard barely big enough for a swing set. In rural Iowa, kids have entire acres to explore.

Iowans understand what’s at stake if they fail to protect their rivers and lakes. There are alarming water quality issues facing this state, the primary one being sediment from agricultural runoff. The farmers involved with Iowa Learning Farms never fail to surprise me with the extent of their commitment to investigating up-and-coming conservation practices like cover crops. However, solving the state’s water quality issues will require widespread participation. I hope to see even more Iowans join in and take steps to protect the natural places in which they enjoy spending time.

- Anna Chott

Lance Henrichs: My internship so far…

I am one of seven student interns this summer so I will introduce myself. I am Lance Henrichs and I am going into my third year of college at Iowa State. I grew up on a farm in south central Iowa, New Virginia specifically. We raise around 600 acres of row crops and a herd of about 30 beef cows. Since I came from a farming background, fourth generation of farmers, I realized how important Iowa and its natural resources are to everyone at a young age. I decided to come to Iowa State University my senior year of high school for some sort of agriculture program. After about a year I found the Agricultural Systems Technology degree and choose the option of bio-systems management. I soon found out that in my program I needed an internship to graduate. That is when I began looking and found Water Rocks!

This internship has been a learning experience from the start. I felt pretty confident coming into this since I had grown up on a farm that had done many conservation practices, but I have learned so much more thus far. We have attended seminars on cover crops, soil health, and have participated in the Iowa Learning Farms’ webinars. I have had my eyes opened to how much more is needed than no-till and crop rotations. There are many pieces to the clean water and healthy soils puzzle. There is no “one time/fix all” solution. There are many tools that each producer can use to reach the goals of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, but no one practice alone will get us there. So, with this increasing knowledge and my connections to farms through friends and family, I am going to try to convince agricultural producers to do more than they currently are.


Pulling the mound off of a worm burrow at the ISU Ag Engineering and Agronomy Research Farm

This summer has been busy for me, with field work, project work, and events. My main individual project that I have for the summer is researching if there is a relationship between cover crop presence and earthworm presence, specifically lumbricus terrestris (nightcrawlers). I have been researching how they operate and what they do for our soils. In a nutshell, worms are bio-indicators of good soil health. From there I measured their presence by counting mounds on the soils. Since the nightcrawler is a worm that tends to live in one single burrow during its lifespan, it is easily counted by finding its burrows. To feed, these worms pull crop residue over the burrow and slowly pull it into the hole, creating an easily visible mound to count.

As this summer carries on, I hope to be able to continue learning and reaching out to people. I want to be a resource to many people and answer their questions best that I can. Aside from the many two and a half hour car rides, this internship has been a wonderful learning and teaching experience. Thank you to the Water Rocks! and Iowa Learning Farms members for granting me this experience!

-Lance Henrichs

A Spectacular 4th in Storm Lake

We had a spectacular time celebrating the 4th of July in Storm Lake!    Here are a few photographs and anecdotes of our visit.


The Conservation Station was on display right by the lake and along the parade route.  We were also situated next to the Port-A-Potties, which ended up being prime real estate – a great opportunity to visit with people about conservation while they waited in line!    We had 335 visitors to the Conservation Station during our Independence Day visit to Storm Lake.



Their Independence Day parade was a showcase of freedom and independence, as any July 4 parade should be, but it also celebrated the amazing diversity of the Storm Lake community.

Intern Anna Chott jumped at the opportunity to teach the Enviroscape watershed lesson in Spanish to a multi-generational group of visitors to the Conservation Station!photo (3)

Four-legged friends were also out in full force on the 4th…    future members of the Conservation Pack?

One visitor to the Conservation Station commented that it was unfortunate we didn’t get to celebrate the 4th of July.  Our response was that we were celebrating – celebrating the USA and spreading the conservation message all in one!

Thanks to the City of Storm Lake for inviting us to be a part of your Star-Spangled Spectacular celebration.

-Ann Staudt


Cost-share funds for cover crops and radish info

Mix1An article on the Wallaces Farmer website, “Ready For Radishes?”, editor Rod Swoboda reported on the increased use of radish as a cover crop in Iowa. The story includes interviews with ILF farmer partners Seth Watkins and Steve McGrew, along with northwest Iowa farmer Mark Korte, Sarah Carlson with Practical Farmers of Iowa, and others. The article is in-depth and contains data from a 2012 study on using radish as a cover crop for weed control. If you have considered trying radish as a cover crop, this is good information.

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey announced in a news release yesterday of $1.4 million available in cost-share funds for Iowa farmers to aid in water quality improvement.

The news release from the Iowa Department of Agriculture in its entirety:

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey announced today that $1.4 million in cost share funds are available to help farmers install new nutrient reduction practices.  The practices eligible for this funding are cover crops, no-till or strip till, or using a nitrification inhibitor when applying fertilizer.

“We continue to hear from farmers interested in doing even more to limit nutrient loss and better protect water quality and these funds will help them try new voluntary science-based conservation practices on their farm,” Northey said.  “We were extremely pleased by the response last year from farmers and we are excited to have funds available again this year.”

The cost share rate for farmers planting cover crops is $25 per acre and for farmers trying no-till or strip till is $10 per acre.  Farmers using a nitrapyrin nitrification inhibitor when applying fall fertilizer can receive $3 per acre.

Any farmer not already utilizing these practices can apply for this assistance.  Farmers are only eligible for cost share on up to 160 acres.  The funds will be made available on Thursday, July 17, but farmers can immediately start submitting applications through their local Soil and Water Conservation District office.

Farmers that have already used these practices on their farm and are ineligible for this funding are still encouraged to visit their local Soil and Water Conservation District office to discuss other cost share funding that may be available.

“By allowing farmers to try new practices on a limited number of acres at a reduced cost we want to showcase the benefits of these practices and encourage farmers to incorporate them into their operation,” Northey said.

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship received $4.4 million for the Iowa Water Quality Initiative in fiscal 2015.  These funds will allow the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship to continue to encourage the broad adoption of water quality practices through statewide cost share assistance as well as more intensive work in targeted watersheds.

Last year in just two weeks over 1,000 farmers signed up for cost share funding to help implement new nutrient reduction practices on 100,000 acres.  The state provided $2.8 million in cost share funding was available to help farmers try a water quality practice for the first time and Iowa farmers provided at least another $2.8 million to support these water quality practices.

You may want to apply for cost-share dollars for some cover crop acres with radishes, cereal rye or a mixture, for their many benefits.

-Carol Brown

County fair season in full swing



Keep an eye out for the Conservation Station coming to a fair near you!   Over the next four weeks, our team will be criss-crossing the state of Iowa, bringing the conservation message to fairgoers statewide.  Our schedule of 2014 county fair appearances is as follows:

June 26                 Linn Co. Fair
July 8                     Delaware Co. Fair
July 10                   Central Iowa Fair
July 12                   Webster Co. Fair
July 14                   Adams Co. Fair
July 15                   Mahaska Co. Fair
July 15                   Washington Co. Fair
July 16                   Allamakee Co. Fair
July 17                   Taylor Co. Fair
July 17                   Palo Alto Co. Fair
July 18                   Poweshiek Co. Fair
July 18                   Buchanan Co. Fair
July 19                   Keokuk Co. 4-H and FFA Expo
July 19                   East Pottawattamie Co. Fair
July 22                   Union Co. Fair
July 23                   Louisa Co. Fair
July 25                   West Pottawattamie Co. Fair
July 31                   Fayette Co. Fair
August 7-17        Iowa State Fair

We are typically set up at the fair during the late afternoon and early evening hours, though there can be exceptions.  Please contact us and/or check local media if you’re curious about specific hours for a fair near you.

-Ann Staudt

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