Conservation Chat Ep. 14 with Dr. Angie Carter

carter_Angela_photoIn Episode 14 of the Iowa Learning Farms Conservation Chat, Angie Carter and Jackie Comito chat about women landowners and the role they play in conservation practice adoption here in Iowa.  As a 7th generation Iowan, who experienced the toll of the 1980s farm crisis, Angie has a strong connection to Iowa’s landscape and protecting it for future generations

Angie is a recent doctoral graduate from the Department of Sociology at Iowa State University where she co-majored in the Graduate Program for Sustainable Agriculture.  Her dissertation, Constructing and contesting narratives: women and farmland ownership in Iowa, took an in-depth look women landowners and some of the difficulties they face in caring for their land.

Throughout the chat, Angie shares stories from her interactions with women landowners.  Some stories are uplifting and empowering, while others highlight the lingering challenges of gender and land ownership established decades, even centuries ago.  With over 47% of Iowa’s land owned or co-owned by women, we are an important factor in conservation adoption and sustainability (economically and environmentally) of agricultural production in Iowa.

Working with organizations like Women Food and Agriculture Network (WFAN), Practical Farmers of Iowa and many more, we can work together to empower women and future generations of Iowa landowners.  WFAN is a great organization dedicated to linking and empowering women to build food systems and communities that are healthy, just, sustainable, and that promote environmental integrity. For more information visit:

Check out the podcast today to hear the full interview!

Liz Juchems

Generosity, Gratitude, and Conservation

Most of my best thinking happens when I am walking my dog Charlie. You might know Charlie, the Conservation Dog. He has been helping us teach elementary and middle school students about conservation over the last five years as part of the Conservation Pack.

He works pretty cheaply. He insists on getting a little something off my plate and twice daily walks. Part of his contract is that we have to walk out at Ada Hayden Heritage Park at least once a week. Ada Hayden is small lake outside Ames that is surrounded by prairie, wetlands and marked by rocks with the images of famous conservationists, such as Ada Hayden and Aldo Leopold, carved into them. Charlie always tends to pee on Aldo for some reason. Perhaps he is hoping that someday his face will grace a rock out at the lake to commemorate his contribution to conservation in Iowa!


Yesterday morning, despite the cold weather and the snow, Charlie and I headed out to Ada Hayden. It was a gorgeous morning. There was a mist over the lake because the lake was still warmer than the air above it. The trees were covered in a snowy frost. There were hundreds of geese and ducks on the lake. Charlie was as happy as Charlie gets when we are out there. Charlie did his sniffing thing and I did my thinking thing. We are both as happy as we get when we are out there.


I was hoping to come up with some kind of idea to write as a Thanksgiving blog. As we walked, I kept thinking about gratitude and generosity. Now most people understand that Thanksgiving is about giving thanks and being grateful. We have all experienced Thanksgiving meals where we go around the table and express our gratitude for something. If you think about it, behind every grateful thought is usually an act of generosity. If we go by the story of the pilgrims we were taught in grade school, they wouldn’t have survived without the generosity of the native people and so it was right for them to be grateful.

We also would not survive without the generosity of people around us. It is one of the most powerful things we can do as human beings. Generosity is the only thing that I have ever seen that motivates people to change their lives. You can’t force people to be generous — it has to be inspired. An act of giving that is forced is not generous. Generosity is an act of love. Likewise, true gratitude also comes from the heart. I know there are studies that document that generosity is hardwired into our human psyche. It doesn’t mean we innately know how to be generous but it means that our bodies respond positively to acts of generosity. The same is also true of acts of gratitude.

I was thinking about the Iowa Learning Farms farmer partners. The ones who seem to influence their neighbors the most are the ones who practice generosity and gratitude. I have seen them go out of their way to help others and to share their knowledge, time and resources. Their generosity extends beyond other people to the very land that has given them their living. They express their gratitude to the land by nurturing it through cover crops, wetlands, no-till, rotational grazing, native plantings, and other acts of conservation. Such acts aren’t just generous in the present moment but are gifts to future generations. Regardless of commodity prices and the costs of farming, you will always get a high return on your generosity and gratitude.

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What we do to our environment, we ultimately do to ourselves. I know it is crazy to ask people to simplify their lifestyles and focus more on their human relationships and their relationship with the earth. We won’t sustain our land and water if we don’t respond both individually and systemically. None of us are insulated by the consequences of our personal, institutional and policy choices when it comes to our natural resources. Is it crazy to ask people to do a little less so that we can give more to future generations? Crazy — yeah. The only way we get to a more sustainable future is for everyone to get a little crazy in their generosity!

During this Thanksgiving Week, I am really grateful that I get to work with such a wonderful team at the Iowa Learning Farms: Matt, Ann, Liz, Nathan, Mark, and Jamie. Grateful for the dedication of our partnerships: farmer partners (yes, even you Jerry!), IDALS, IDNR (USEPA), NRCS, PFI, Leopold Center, the Iowa Water Center, and USDA-ARS. I am grateful to work at such a wonderful institution, Iowa State University, and be a part of Extension and Outreach. Of course I am grateful for the Conservation Pack: Charlie, Jackie and Stewy! Thanks to all of you for making my job such a great job. Your generosity is inspiring change in me and others in the state.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. They seem so arbitrary. This year I will try some Thanksgiving commitments. I vow to be more generous in the amount of time and resources I put into both my personal environmental choices and in my role as program director. I vow to be grateful for everything, even those things that challenge and frustrate me. I vow to keep walking Charlie at least twice a day as long as we both are able.


I know I am never going to be carved into a rock as a great conservationist but hopefully the exuberance of my generosity might inspire others who will go on to do great things to sustain and protect our common home. I would like to do what I need to do today so that people in the future will be grateful. Happy Thanksgiving!

Jacqueline Comito

The weather outside is frightful… but the cover crops are oh SO delightful!



If there was ever a picture perfect fall season for cover crops, 2015 would absolutely be it! Rainfall was timely – there was sufficient precipitation in August and September – to help the freshly seeded cover crops germinate and kick start their fall growth. Beyond that, we’ve had beautifully mild temperatures for the majority of October and November.

While many parts of the state experienced freezing conditions back in October, cover crops are quite hardy – just one cold night that drops below the freezing point is not enough to knock them out! So as the fall marched on, the cover crops grew and grew…


However, winter-like weather has arrived this week, which meant it was high time for the Iowa Learning Farms team to get out there and take care of our fall field work responsibilities. As part of our National Conservation Innovation Grant/Cover Crop Mixtures demonstration project, we were collecting fall cover crop biomass at each of our demonstration sites across the state. In order to obtain the most accurate cover crop growth data, the collection of cover crop biomass is ideally done as close as possible to the time of an extended hard freeze – which is now looming very near. So Iowa Learning Farms team members have been “on the clock” this week trying to complete all of our fall field work and sampling before the cold is here to stay!



Included below are a number of photographs from our cover crop mixture plots at the ISU Armstrong Research Farm near Lewis in southwest Iowa. These photographs were all taken on Wednesday, November 18. We hadn’t been back to the Armstrong Farm since the cover crops were seeded in early September, so it was thrilling to see the beautiful growth that has been achieved!

In the plots that had soybeans in ‘15 (going to corn in ’16), the cover crop treatments included:

Single species cover crop (oats)

Cover crop mixture (oats, hairy vetch, and radish)


Now in the third year of this project, this is the first time that we really definitively saw strong growth of all species in the mixture!

While there is no denying the amount of intrigue in using radishes as a cover crop, we typically have not seen as much success with it in Iowa when compared to other states, due to our shorter window of opportunity for fall growth. This year is turning out to be a good year for the radish, as well. Healthy radish growth was found throughout our mixture plots, with many radishes forming tubers around 1/2” in diameter. However, there were a few big boys that just went crazy…


Moving across the farm to our corn plots (going to beans in ’16), the cover crop treatments included:

Single species cover crop (cereal rye)


Cover crop mixture (rye, rapeseed, and radish)


While the dates of cover crop planting and growing conditions (temperature, precipitation, sunlight – as related to leaf drop/canopy opening with the cash crop) certainly vary across the state, it is exciting to see such vibrant cover crop growth this fall.

How are the cover crops looking in your area? We’d love to see any photographs that you may have. Send them to us at, or share with Iowa Learning Farms on social media (we’re on Facebook and Twitter).

Ann Staudt

Moving on

It seems like yesterday that I walked into my first Iowa Learning Farms meeting of 14 team members, faculty advisers and grad students. Wide-eyed and ignorant – I had a lot to learn.

I knew about writing for the media, designing print publications, and marketing. It was what I didn’t know that was the issue. I had a general knowledge of agriculture but I had to learn quickly about strip-tillage, cover crops, buffers, and more.

Carol-Newsletter07bDuring my first month with ILF in May 2007, I took a crash course on no-till planters with ISU Extension Ag Engineer Mark Hanna. We went to his lab in Davidson Hall, and together, we took apart the planter with Mark naming each part and explaining what it did. I learned about wavy coulters, residue movers, and down springs.

My first field day was at Joel and Linda Zwiefel’s farm near Fenton. I had no idea what one did at a field day but I took pictures of it all. Joel had a soil root pit dug in his cornfield, which was already shoulder high in late June. It brought back (not so fond) memories of my days of detasseling, a rite that all Iowa youth should endure.

My first office-mate was Jamie Benning, who is now the Water Quality Program manager for Iowa State Extension and Outreach. Jamie is an agronomist and I took advantage of my captive audience. I picked her brain a lot and she is a wealth of knowledge. Thanks for putting up with me.

I got to be part of this great project, coming on board in the early stages of what was supposed to be only three years long. ILF will begin its 12th year in 2016! I have been able to apply my creativity to many things—from brochures and flyers to DVDs to exhibit Carol-ConservationStation-IIdisplays and even the Conservation Station trailers. I’ve worked for ILF in four buildings on campus, one of which has been torn down and is now a parking lot. And I’ve met some fantastic people on campus and across the state.

Thank you to our farmer partners who indulged me with quotes and photos when prompted. You are a great group of folks who are as proud as I am to call Iowa home.

Thank you to ILF director Jacqueline Comito, who allowed me to grow creatively with each new project. And thank you to the team for keeping me young at heart!

Carol-StateFair15bNine years later, I am moving to a new position as the communications specialist for the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University. I didn’t move far (just across campus), but that doesn’t reflect my growth in knowledge about Iowa agriculture, water quality, sustainable farming practices, and the views of Iowans who regularly work on the land.

I’m applying my knowledge and experiences to help advance the Leopold Center as it grows and evolves with the times. I have big shoes to fill. Laura Miller was with the Center for 17 years as the communications specialist. She knows (like the back of her hand) 17 years of grants that have been awarded, the research that has been accomplished, and probably who’s on the mailing lists for all the newsletters. I still have a lot to learn.

— Carol Brown

Every Watershed Needs A Hero

Love robots?  Watersheds? How about a robot on a quest to protect watersheds? If you said yes to any of those things, then this Friday the 13th may just change your life!

The Environmentally Conscious Robot will premiere Friday, November 13th exclusively on the Water Rocks! YouTube page but you can catch a sneak peak early!


Official Movie Poster


The Environmentally Conscious Robot on set.

I know what you’re thinking… you are going to wait until Star Wars comes out to see some cool robots doing robot things. Well, fun fact. The Environmentally Conscious Robot was originally cast to play the third robot but quit due to creative differences.

So this Friday, let us celebrate watersheds together with a good laugh and remember, every watershed needs a hero!


New! Iowa Cover Crop Research and Demonstration Directory Now Online

Cover crops are an important tool in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy that can help meet the goals of reduced nutrient loss from the state.  From the ability to protect the soil from erosion when the fields are typically brown to cycling nutrients and improving soil, cover crops can provide many benefits.


Cover crop mixture demonstration site in Madison County fall 2015. Photo credit: Anna MacDonald

However, there are still many questions that come into the Iowa Learning Farms about cover crops.  Most asked questions include: what kinds of plants can be used, when and how to seed and when and how to terminate. With help from fellow Iowa State University, Practical Farmers of Iowa, USDA-ARS-National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment researchers, ILF strives to help farmers, and other interested people, find the answers to these questions and more through ongoing cover crop research and demonstration projects.

Now available on the ILF webpage is a directory of 60+ cover crop projects led by ISU and colleagues.  This sortable file contains brief descriptions of the projects, as well as contact information to learn more about each one.   Also available, is a list of cover crop research and demonstration projects in Iowa compiled by Clean Water Iowa through the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Liz Juchems