Two Months of Adventure

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Over the past couple months, I’ve been having a ton of fun with multiple activities of the Water Rocks! and Iowa Learning Farms water resources internship. I started working for them on May 15th and am constantly impressed by how many different things that we do. During the first few weeks I worked, I was assigned to classroom visits and assemblies.

IMG_0073I had a terrific time developing my own style of presenting our information and really enjoyed working with the kids. They tended to grasp the importance of what we taught quickly through the games of the classroom presentations and the songs and activities of the assemblies. My favorite part of working with these kids are the often hilarious answers that they give to questions. I remember during my first week I was telling the kids that we were going to go back in time 200 years, and I asked how long ago that was. One of the kids immediately raised his hand-he looked really confident-and said “1934.” There are tons of answers like that one during our classroom visits.

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Scott as Mr. Raindrop in the watershed assembly skit.

It is also quite fun to see people break out of their shells during our assemblies. They are very participation driven and we ask kids and adults to come up and dance or sing with us. At first, they are hesitant, then once a few of the other kids come up front, they immediately all want to join in the fun. It gets better as the assemblies go on as well, with more kids willing to come forward. At first I was hesitant to sing the song “Scoop that Poop” but once I saw that the kids loved it I found it was much easier to enjoy.

After the first few weeks of the internship, we started doing field work including midden counting, monarch observation, or nitrate level observation. I like almost every part of these activities (except when my waterproof boots get water in them because my jeans are so wet water leaks in through their tops). The field work experience helped the information I had been teaching come to life. As a chemist, I had limited previous exposure to outdoor scientific activities. This allowed me to see how ecosystems function in a way represented by numbers, as opposed to simple observation.

Photo 3I have also recently participated in going around to county fairs and farmer’s markets with our trailers to inform both adults and kids how to protect our environment. These events are fun because I get to directly engage with people who wish to learn about the things we are teaching.

Overall, I have been impressed with the diversity of how we present our information, even though we are presenting very similar information across all of our activities. I have been given the privilege to travel all across Iowa and see the various communities that we have. It is amazing to see everyone so passionate about what we are presenting. If these next few weeks are anything like the last couple months, I can’t wait to see what they have in store!

Scott Grzybowski is participating in the 2019 Water Resources Internship Program at Iowa State University.  Grzybowski grew up in Albert Lea, Minnesota, and graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Chemistry. He is off to the University of Iowa to pursue a graduate degree in the fall.

The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy Measurement Project: Tracking Progress Towards Iowa’s Water Quality Goals

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Today at noon, Laurie Nowatzke, Measurement Coordinator for the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy at Iowa State University, discussed the progress and challenges of Iowa’s water quality improvement efforts.

Nowatzke_photo thumbnailThe webinar covered how progress towards the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy (NRS) is measured, how much progress has been made and what challenges remain. The NRS is a science-based strategy to reduce nutrients in surface water from both point and nonpoint sources. Nowatzke shared a brief history of the measurement tracking associated with the NRS and then discussed the recently published 2017-2018 Annual Progress Report.

She explained how the NRS uses a logic model framework to track quantifiable change in inputs, the human dimension, land use and water quality. The 2017-2018 Annual Progress Report shows an increase in funding for conservation practices and programs, mostly due to an increase in Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) rental payments. It also shows an increase in outreach and education events. Farmer attitudes towards and awareness of the conservation efforts is being measured through a five year survey. Summaries of the survey results for two HUC6 watersheds are available in the report.

INRS Logic Model

Image from the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy: 2017-2018 Annual Progress Report

Nowatzke also described how conservation practices are tracked, including the tracking of CRP land retirement, cover crop use, and the installation of bioreactors and saturated buffers. Water quality progress is assessed using a two-pronged approach of measuring nutrient concentrations in surface waters and modeling nutrient loss reductions that are associated with different conservation practices.

To learn more about how progress towards meeting the NRS goals is measured, how much progress has been made and the challenges that remain, watch the recorded webinar!

Join us next month, on Wednesday, August 21 at noon, when Jacqueline Comito, Iowa Learning Farms Program Director, will present an Iowa Learning Farms webinar titled “15 Years of Iowa Learning Farms”.

Hilary Pierce

July 17 Webinar: The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy Measurement Project: Tracking Progress Towards Iowa’s Water Quality Goals

Join us on Wednesday, July 17 at noon, when Iowa Learning Farms will host a webinar about the progress towards Iowa’s water quality goals.

Nowatzke_photo thumbnailHow many acres of cover crops are planted each year in Iowa? Are extended rotations and perennials increasing? Laurie Nowatzke, Measurement Coordinator for the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy at Iowa State University, will discuss the progress and challenges of Iowa’s water quality improvement efforts by addressing these questions and others. Find out how progress is measured, where to find the data, and what questions remain about Iowa’s water quality improvement.

“Water quality challenges are on the minds of many Iowans. In this webinar, I hope to shed light on where we’re currently seeing progress in conservation practice adoption and where there are still challenges,” said Nowatzke. She hopes that webinar attendees will understand how conservation practice adoption in Iowa is tracked, the “bright spots” and challenges of water quality progress, and where to find data and information about Iowa’s water quality improvement efforts.

A Certified Crop Adviser board approved continuing education unit (CEU) is available for those who are able to watch the live webinar. Information for submitting your CCA/CPAg/CPSS/CPSC number to earn the credit will be provided at the end of the presentation.

Don’t miss this webinar!
DATE: Wednesday, July 17, 2019
TIME: 12:00 p.m.
HOW TO PARTICIPATE: visit www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/webinars and click the link to join the webinar

More information about this webinar is available at our website. If you can’t watch the webinar live, an archived version will be available on our website:
https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/webinars.

Hilary Pierce

Secure your cover crop seed for fall 2019 today!

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Gaesser Family

We had a great evening for a cover crop field day hosted by the Gaesser family near Corning on Tuesday, July 9th. With nearly 50 people in attendance, there was great interest in adding more cover crop acres among the experienced users and a handful of those looking to try it for the first time.

Sarah Carlson, Practical Farmers of Iowa, helped set the stage by sharing how farmers can help make cover crops pay with benefits beyond improved water quality and soil erosion reduction.

“If we want to get started and make it pay, it is best to start with a small grain like rye or oats,” commented Carlson. “In a corn/soybean rotation, legumes and brassicas are not going to get enough sunlight to justify the seed cost.”

IMG_5746For the more experienced cover crop users, Carlson recommended taking them to the next level by delaying spring termination of rye ahead of soybeans to achieve weed control benefits and reducing herbicide costs. Another suggestion was planting corn in 60 inch rows to interseed the cover crop earlier in the season to achieve more growth.

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The Gaesser family has been growing their own rye seed for cover crops for the past few years as a way to control costs and improve soil and water quality on their farm.

“We grow our own cereal rye seed each year averaging between 3,000-7,000 bushels to help us cover about half of our crop acres. We like to include rye in the rotation on fields that have been a challenge before – weed pressure or erosion. Once harvested, we clean and store it for use that same year,” stated Chris Gaesser.

Having your own seed supply is a major advantage this year due to the widespread need for prevented planting seed across the Midwest.

IMG_5788“The cover crop seed surplus from 2018 has been used up already this year,” shared Bert Strayer of La Crosse Seed. “That means this year’s cover crop seed will come from what gets harvested in the next month or so. For that reason it is encouraged to get your seed orders in as soon as you can to make sure you have access to seed when you want to be seeding this fall.”

If you are looking for a seed source near you, check out the Practical Farmers of Iowa Cover Crop Business Directory.

Be sure to stay tuned to our events page for more cover crop field days later this year!

Liz Juchems

An Experience in Learning

When asked to describe my time as an intern with Water Rocks! and Iowa Learning Farms, the first thing that comes to mind is that it’s been a learning experience.  I’ve learned a lot about myself and my specific interests within environmental sustainability and natural resource conservation.  But with a bit more thought, I think it’s more appropriate to call it an experience in learning.

Everybody has different preferences for learning new things.  There’s visual learners and auditory learners, those who learn by observing and those who learn by doing.  

One of my favorite things about Water Rocks! and Iowa Learning Farms is that these organizations cater to a variety of different learning preferences.  The Water Rocks! music videos help to spread the message of conservation to young audiences by providing fun and catchy sing-along opportunities that kids can enjoy at any hour of the day.  The classroom visits and assemblies provide a unique opportunity for students to learn by watching and listening to our educational materials, and then applying their newfound knowledge through trivia questions and team games.

The team’s Conservation Station Fleet is able to reach both urban and rural audiences with our three trailers, which feature examples of ways that any audience member could improve water quality.  With our rainfall simulators, we can show the impacts of various tillage practices on water drainage and quality.  Our on-the-edge trailer shows how two of the newest edge-of-field practices work (bioreactors and saturated buffers).  Lastly, our Enviroscape and poo toss games help us to show kids of all ages what they can do to improve the quality of their neighborhoods and watersheds.  

The past few weeks with Water Rocks! and Iowa Learning Farms have helped me to see that the best way for me to learn is by teaching others.  But that task can’t be done alone – it requires a team of passionate individuals to work together in order to spread our message across the state of Iowa.

Working with a cohort of seven other interns (in addition to all of the full-time staff members) has been a rewarding and interesting experience.  From watching a saturated buffer installation in eastern Iowa to digging a fellow intern out of a mucky mess, I can confidently say that no two days on the job have been the same!

And with each new day, I learn new things about myself, my teammates, and what we can do to improve the quality of the world we live in.  Above all, I’ve learned that it takes a strong team to be able to go out and teach the public about our initiatives.  I’m thankful for all that I’ve learned so far this summer and am excited to continue to add more knowledge as I approach the last month of this internship!

Becca Wiarda is participating in the 2019 Water Resources Internship Program at Iowa State University.  Wiarda grew up near Ackley and is a senior in Agricultural Business and Finance with minors in sustainability and agronomy.

A Conservation Chat with Ingrid Gronstal Anderson and Jennifer Terry

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On the latest episode of the Conservation Chat, host Jacqueline Comito discussed the Iowa Environmental Council with Ingrid Gronstal Anderson and Jennifer Terry. Gronstal Anderson is the new Water Program Director for the Iowa Environmental Council and Terry is the Executive Director and they chatted about how the Iowa Environmental Council is striving toward cleaner water for all Iowans to enjoy.

Ingrid Gronstal Anderson

Ingrid Gronstal Anderson, photo credit: Iowa Environmental Council

Gronstal Anderson and Terry talked about how the Iowa Environmental Council is a watchdog that holds government agencies accountable on behalf of Iowans. That accountability is important when it comes to natural resources because of the relationship between natural resources and public health, such as in the case of regulations for drinking water quality. They stated the importance of working with partners from diverse sectors at the Council.

The talk then turned to the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy and the Clean Water Act.

“We also would like to see the Clean Water Act adhered to more stringently here in Iowa. In terms of using our beaches and protecting drinking water sources and our lakes, its imperative that we have better enforcement in Iowa of the Clean Water Act.” – Terry 

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Jennifer Terry, photo credit: Iowa Environmental Council

They discussed the importance of showing progress toward our water quality goals and the struggle against the lack of urgency that many feel regarding adoption of conservation practices. Although anti-regulation sentiment is common, Gronstal Anderson and Terry talked about how not only would jobs and industries follow regulation, but that it would help to provide a level playing field for farmers across the state.

To hear the rest of the chat and learn more about the work the Iowa Environmental Council does, listen to the podcast here!

Hilary Pierce

The Awesome Junior Naturalist Adventures

Today’s guest blog post is provided by Joshua Harms, part of the Iowa AmeriCorps 4-H Outreach program, serving with Water Rocks! in 2018-19.

This past month I had the opportunity to help Polk Co. Conservation with two Junior Naturalist Camps at Jester Park. We did many different things to help encourage the 10-11 year old campers to explore nature around them. Each camp lasted four days and was led by Polk Co. Conservation naturalists. I was on site to assist with whatever was needed.


Day 1. Habitat Exploration Day.
The first day of camp started off with the kids making little creatures out of pipe cleaners and UV beads. These creatures would then be used later on for another activity. After they made their creatures, we played some name games to help everyone learn each other’s names.

The rest of the day was dedicated to habitat exploration. The kids got to explore three different habitats: a prairie, a pond, and a forest.

The first habitat we explored was the pond. The kids were given nets to try and catch some aquatic life to observe. They caught lots of different things including mussels, snails, minnows, and dragonfly larvae.

We then went on a hike which would take us through our next habitat of the day, the forest.The first part of our hike started with finding walking sticks. When everyone found the stick that they wanted we stopped at a nearby outdoor shelter where the kids were then able to decorate their walking sticks with colorful tapes. When everyone completed their walking sticks we continued our hike through the forest. We ended up coming across a creek which the campers were all wanting to explore so we stopped and allowed them to look around for a while. Many of them ended up putting mud all over their faces! We then continued on our way to our next stop where we tasked the kids with building shelters for their creatures that they made at the beginning of the day. The goal was to build shelters to protect the creatures from sunlight so that the UV beads would not change color. All of them made pretty good shelters and their creatures were successfully protected.

We continued our hike back to where we started, which was near our last habitat of the day, the prairie. Here the kids were able to use nets again, this time to try and catch bugs and other creatures to observe. They did that for a while and then we played a game of hide and seek in the prairie but this game had a twist. The person that is seeking can not go into the prairie; they must stay at the edge and see if they can see anyone. If they happen to spot someone they call them out by what color they are wearing and then that player is out. When the seeker can no longer spot anyone else they will turn around and close their eyes while all the hidden players stand up and take five steps forward. This game continues on until everybody but one is found. After we played a few rounds of the game we went back to the nature center where each of the kids would be getting picked up at the end of the day.


Day 2. Field Trip Day.
When everyone arrived we piled into a van to drive to Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt. This day entailed canoeing and a marsh exploration. When we arrived at Chichaqua we rounded up all of the needed supplies for canoeing. Then Andrew and Heidi, the two naturalists, explained all of the safety rules everyone must follow while canoeing. After they were done, we started on our canoeing adventure. During this time many people were looking out for different aquatic creatures. We ended up canoeing a long way and when we were finally done we put everything away and then moved on over to the marsh. The kids caught lots of different things there, including tadpoles, snails, crawfish big and small, water scorpions, baby bullheads, and a giant frog which they named Biggy Big Big. After a while of searching the marsh, it was time to head back to Jester Park as day two was coming to an end.


Day 3. Fishing Day.
After everyone arrived we started with some practice casting outside of the nature center. This gave all the kids the chance to try and catch some plastic fish and win some prizes. When they finished up with that we went down to the pond where we would be spending most of our day trying to catch some real fish. Several kids caught some fish – a few bluegills were caught along with a few bass. After several hours we went back to the nature center for a short time to do some knot tying. We did a few different knot tying competitions for a chance to win more prizes. And then we went back to the pond to continue fishing until day three was over.


Day 4. Final Day of Camp.
Day four included lots of different things. The first thing that we did was archery where each of the kids got a chance to shoot some targets and also try and shoot some balloons. After archery we went on an orienteering scavenger hunt which allowed the kids to use a compass to help them find different things and answer questions. The next thing that they did was fire building – yes, I said fire building! They worked in small groups to try and collect good materials for a fire. Then they were given different fire starting tools such as a magnifying glass and steel and striker to try and light a sustainable fire. After trying for a while each group had lit a fire, although most did not last as long as they hoped. No worries though as Andrew and Heidi lit their own fire and everyone was able to make themselves some s’mores! And finally to finish off the day the kids went geocaching using GPS devices to help them find the locations of a few different geocaches. When all of the activities were finished each camper was given a certificate and an official Junior Naturalist badge to show that they officially completed Junior Naturalist Camp.


Joshua Harms