Guest Blog: Making A Difference

Today’s guest blogger is Iowa Learning Farms/Water Rocks! student intern Pacifique Mugwaneza Simon, or Pac for short!  Pac is a fourth year student at Iowa State University studying Industrial Technology and Agriculture System Technology.  His family is originally from Burundi, a small country in East Africa, but Pac spent most of his childhood in refugee camps throughout Rwanda, Congo, and Tanzania.  He has lived in the United States for almost eight years. 

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Pac setting up the Enviroscape watershed model at the Howard County Fair

Growing up in a different part of the world, I saw first-hand how agriculture and natural resources are vital to everyone.  A large percentage of people in Burundi depend on agriculture, but there are many problems. The amount of land available is scarce, while the quality of arable land is diminishing through over-use and erosion.  To make things worse, about 60 percent of the population still doesn’t have access to clean water because they don’t have anyone who can help them understand how to properly care for and use the available water.

I decided that I would do my best to educate as many as I can about water quality.  When I began looking for an internship, I could not find one that seemed like a good fit.  Then I discovered the internship opportunity with Water Rocks! and Iowa Learning Farms.  Since then, I have been working with an awesome group of people who have such a large depth of knowledge and understanding about our environment and who do their best to help keep the earth as it should be. Throughout the summer I have been busy doing field work, such as collecting lysimeter samples and soil samples.  We have also been doing many outreach events, where we go out to different parts of Iowa and try to teach the people of the communities, and hopefully, in turn, they will help each other with local conservation practices.

I can honestly say I enjoy doing everything this internship has to offer me, especially the outreach events!  I like talking to the local youths about conservation in their community. Recently, I went with our team to the Howard County Fair.  It was one of my favorite outreach events because we had lot fun and when we were done we walked around and explored the different types of food the fair has to offer!

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Pac and fellow intern Sam at the Howard County Fair.

Since joining the Water Rocks! and Iowa Learning Farms team this summer, I have seen what is best for us and the environment and what is not. I hope to one day return to East Africa, to Burundi, so that I may impart what I have learned. I want to help the people to work together to improve their soil and water quality.  I want this not only for agricultural success and clean drinking water, but to help keep the earth healthy as well.

Pacifique Simon

Chatting with Sarah Carlson

In the latest Conservation Chat podcast, Jacqueline Comito sits down to talk cover crops with Midwest Cover Crop Coordinator and Practical Farmers of Iowa agronomist Sarah Carlson. Driven by her own powerful curiosity, Carlson is willing to ponder some tough questions – and arrive at some interesting insights!

The discussion begins with challenge of how to incorporate not just the early adopters but also the rest of Iowan farms in the cover crop movement.  Carlson and Comito also talk about farm legacy and the issues revolving around passing down farm ownership.  And, last but not least, Comito gets Carlson to weigh in on the burning question: what style of music best fits cover crops?

You can listen to the conversation here and watch Sarah Carlson’s recent webinar here!

WR! Summit: Opportunity for teachers to dive in

Our next Water Rocks! Teacher Summit kicks off this afternoon at Iowa State University in Ames.  We are very excited to welcome ten different school teams from across the state, chosen by application earlier this spring.  This group includes teachers in Grades K-12, as well as a variety of subject areas: science, social studies, math, art, TAG, and more…

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For a preview of what goes on during the Water Rocks! Summit, check out this blog post from the Water Rocks! Summit we held two weeks ago.

Teachers are key partners in sharing the conservation message across our state, helping the next generation to better understand water, soil, and all of the natural resources that we rely upon here in the great state of Iowa!

Ann Staudt

June 2015 Webinar: Cover Crop Research Update

Check out the ILF June Webinar featuring Sarah Carlson, Midwest Cover Crops Research Coordinator at Practical Farmers of Iowa.

Sarah provides a great update to ongoing cover crop research in Iowa including: variety and mixtures trials, planting date trials into seed corn acres, and results from years 5-6 of the joint ILF/PFI long-term rye cover crop project.  More detailed information about each of the studies can be found here.

At PFI, Sarah helps promote agronomic research about cover crops through articles, blogs and presentation materials while working to improve the support for cover crop research. She also serves as an agronomist, transferring ideas for solutions to integrated crop and livestock concerns from farmers’ stories, results from on-farm research projects and her own knowledge as a trained agronomist.

Watch the recorded June Webinar any time. The link is found on the webinar page on the ILF website. In fact, links to all of our 53 webinars are found here!

For a bonus cover crop webinar, watch the archived presentation on Application of Cover Crops in the Midwestern U.S. from the North Central Region Water Network’s The Current webinar series. The webinar features Dean Baas, Senior Research Associate, Michigan State University Extension; Tom Kaspar, Plant Physiologist, USDA-ARS, National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment- Ames; and Matt Ruark, Asst. Professor and Extension Soil Scientist, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Liz Juchems

Recap of Water Rocks! Summit, June 10-11, 2015

This guest blog post was written by Emily Rehmann, a high school intern with the Water Rocks! team.  Emily will be starting her senior year at Ames High School this fall, where she is involved with band, jazz band, cross country, track, and more. 

Teachers from around Iowa attended the Water Rocks! Summit on June 10 and 11. A two-day, professional development workshop, the Water Rocks! Summit is for K-12 teachers and has two main purposes: expanding teachers’ knowledge of water and conservation and giving them resources and lesson ideas to use in their classrooms.

To educate the teachers, different guest speakers spoke about their fields. Dr. Cinzia Cervato, ISU Morrill Professor of Geological and Atmospheric Sciences, spoke about climate change and presenting information on climate change effectively to students in different grades. Dr. Matt Helmers, ISU Professor of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, presented on the importance of soil. He discussed how soil is Iowa’s foremost natural resource but also the main pollutant of water, and he presented ways to solve problems with soil and erosion.

Matt Helmers presents about soil erosion and conservation practices that can help protect the soil.

Matt Helmers presents about soil erosion and conservation practices that can help protect the soil.

The Water Rocks! staff and interns presented lessons that are taken into classrooms and libraries throughout the year. Teachers were asked to channel their inner students when participating in the various hands-on activities!

The first module that teachers participated in was the We All Live in a Watershed program, focused on watersheds, water quality, and the collective impact of everyone’s choices.

Teachers combined their small, single hand watersheds to create a large, multiple hand watershed, showing how little watersheds are ‘nested’ in big watersheds. Notice that they also are using their brand new Water Rocks! water bottles!

Teachers combined their small, single hand watersheds to create a large, multiple hand watershed, showing how little watersheds are ‘nested’ in big watersheds. Notice that they also are using their brand new Water Rocks! water bottles!

With five million (imaginary) dollars, teachers got to be creative and do whatever they wanted with their plot of river or lakeside land in the watershed.

Ann Staudt, Water Rocks! science director, describes what was built in the watershed, such as horse ranches and playgrounds.

Ann Staudt, Water Rocks! science director, describes what was built in the watershed, such as horse ranches and playgrounds.

Each individual received a glass of water representing the water that ‘sheds’ off of their land. Then added to each cup was their main source of pollution, such as animal and human waste (cookie crumbs), fertilizer (green drink mix), or oil (soy sauce). The cumulative effects of each person’s choices in the watershed were shown when all of the pollution was combined together into the large jar.

When each of the small watersheds combined their pollution into the larger watershed, the water quality quickly got worse. In the second picture, Mary Glenn is pouring fertilizer from her land into the watershed.

When each of the small watersheds combined their pollution into the larger watershed, the water quality quickly got worse. In the second picture, Mary Glenn is pouring fertilizer from her land into the watershed.

It was fun to see Mrs. Glenn, since she was my seventh grade life science teacher at Ames Middle School. When I asked her what she enjoyed, she said, “I really liked quite a few of the activities, like the poo races, Jenga, and the water jar water quality activity.” Another Ames Middle School teacher, Kerri Marsh, added, “We do something similar to the water jar activity, but this would be easier to use and clean up after when doing six science classes in a row.”

The “poo race” that Mrs. Glenn was referencing is shown below: the Great Poo Pickup Relay Race!

Teachers pick up fake dog poo in a competitive relay game while learning how animal waste can pollute water if not properly disposed of.

Teachers pick up fake dog poo in a competitive relay game while learning how animal waste can pollute water if not properly disposed of.

I got to teach the poo relay at the Ellsworth Public Library a few days after the Summit with Megan Koppenhafer, an undergraduate intern. It was entertaining and engaging for the kids, and the librarian gave us superhero capes to wear, fitting the library’s summer reading program theme. We were superheroes for conservation!

I got to teach the poo relay at the Ellsworth Public Library a few days after the Summit with Megan Koppenhafer, an undergraduate intern. It was entertaining and engaging for the kids, and the librarian gave us superhero capes to wear, fitting the library’s summer reading program theme. We were superheroes for conservation!

Back to the Summit, teachers got to learn more about water quality in the What’s in Your Stormwater? breakout session.

In this session, teachers played Duck, Duck, Pollute, a game that demonstrates how rainwater picks up pollutants as it travels, by using the stormwater sombrero. (They learned quickly not to tag a runner like me!)

In this session, teachers played Duck, Duck, Pollute, a game that demonstrates how rainwater picks up pollutants as it travels, by using the stormwater sombrero. (They learned quickly not to tag a runner like me!)

Another program that Water Rocks! does for kids is The Wonderful World of Wetlands. It discusses wetlands and the many reasons why they are so important: filtering water, helping during floods and droughts, and providing a place for plants and animals to live.

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Habitat Hopscotch shows how it is easy to migrate from Canada to Mexico when there are lots of wetlands to go to…

...but it is much harder when wetlands start disappearing!

…but it is much harder when wetlands start disappearing!

The Wonderful World of Wetlands unit also includes Wetlands Bingo, introducing the large diversity of plants and animals that wetlands support, with over 50 different organisms.

The Wonderful World of Wetlands unit also includes Wetlands Bingo, introducing the large diversity of plants and animals that wetlands support, with over 50 different organisms.

Jackie Comito and Ben Schrag presented on how to incorporate music into the classroom. They performed original songs that discuss water conservation and more. They also had more activities for the teachers to channel their inner students and included the teachers in their songs with dances and simple refrains.

Ben waters the teachers, who are pretending to be plants, to help them grow.

Ben waters the teachers, who are pretending to be plants, to help them grow.

At the end of the Summit, each teacher team went home with a Water Rocks! activity kit, full of games and materials that were used in the Summit. Our hope is that the Summit expanded the teachers’ background knowledge about conservation and water and soil quality through talks and gave the teachers new ways to teach their classes with hands-on activities and games. Suzanne Petersen, a fourth grade teacher for Southeast Polk , said, “We are making lesson plans already!”

Emily Rehmann

 

The Water Rocks! Summit has been funded in part through the Section 319 of the Clean Water Act. Partners of Water Rocks! include Iowa Department of Natural Resources (United States Environmental Protection Agency), Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Iowa Water Center, Iowa Learning Farms, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, and personal gifts of support.

 

Great Interest in Prairie Strips at the McNay Research Farm

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Prairie strips installed at the McNay Research Farm near Chariton.

Last night kicked off the first of our STRIPS field days this month at the McNay Memorial Research and Demonstration Farm near Chariton.  There was a great turnout and good discussion about how prairie strips and cover crops can help meet the goals laid out by the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. By converting just 10% of a crop-field to diverse, native perennials, farmers and landowners can reduce the amount of soil leaving their fields by 90% and the amount of nitrogen leaving their fields through surface runoff by up to 85%. Prairie strips also provide potential habitat for biodiversity, including pollinators and other beneficial insects.

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Tim Youngquist discusses the prairie strips program on June 16, 2015.

Gary Van Ryswyk, farm manager at the Neal Smith Wildlife Refuge, kicked off the field day by sharing his experiences managing the prairie strips installed at the Refuge in 2007 and fielding questions from the audience.  Tim Youngquist, STRIPS Farmer Liaison, then led the group outside to the strips installed on the farm and discussed how they seeded, managed and resources for technical and financial assistance.  With the stiff stemmed prairie plants, the flow of water from rainstorms is slowed, encouraging infiltration and reducing soil movement out of the field.  As Tim put it, “the water is walking off land instead of running.”

There are two more opportunities to attend a strips field day and we hope to see you there! Click the links below to read the press release for more information about the field days.

June 18, 5:30-7:30pm
Dick and Diana Sloan farm
3046 Harrison Ave., Rowley

June 23, 5:30-7:30 pm
Donna Buell farm
Southeast corner of Harvest Ave. and D15, northeast of Holstein

Each field day wraps up with a complimentary meal and fellowship.  All are free and open to the public.

Contact ILF to let us know which field day you are attending and the number of guests, and we’ll be glad to feed you!  You can reach us by phone 515-294-8912 or email: ilf@iastate.edu.

Visit the STRIPS website for more information.

Liz Juchems

Celebrate National Pollinators Week at a STRIPS field day!

When I was a teenager, my mother did something unconventional with the lawn.  She took a small area and replanted it with native prairie. I remember really loving that stretch of lawn. It was beautiful, it was unusual, and (perhaps most compelling to a teenager) it made it easier to mow!  As an adult, however, I appreciate something else about that small stretch of reclaimed prairie: the pollinators.

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(Photo by Danny Akright)

Pollinators help strengthen crop yields.  In the US, pollinators help produce nearly 20 billion dollars with of products.  80% of the world’s flowering plants rely upon pollinators to thrive.  The plain fact is that we need our pollinators!  But our pollinators are under a lot of pressure.  Pesticides, pathogens, and loss of habitat are all reasons that their populations are in decline.  I see now that my mother gave them a better chance to survive and even thrive, just by planting a little bit of prairie.

It is National Pollinators Week and this week we hope to give our bees, birds, butterflies, and bats a little extra appreciation!  Iowa Learning Farms is hosting several field days talking about the STRIPS project.  STRIPS stands for Science-based Trials of Rowcrops Integrated with Prairie Strips, but you might just think of it as similar to what my mother did with our lawn.  The STRIPS project strategically plants perennial prairie on 10% of a field.  The results include reduced soil erosion and nutrient loss as well as increased habitat for pollinators!

This National Pollinators week, we hope to see you at one of the upcoming STRIPS field days!  Farmers, landowners, and STRIPS project experts are scheduled to talk and answer questions.  Cover crop experts and farmers using them will be on the agenda as well.  On the 18th, one of the speakers will be Iowa State University’s Dr. Mary Harris who will talk specifically about the pollinators!

June 16, 5:30-7:30 pm
McNay Research and Demonstration Farm
45249 170th Ave., Chariton

June 18, 5:30-7:30 pm
Dick and Diana Sloan farm
3046 Harrison Ave., Rowley

June 23, 5:30-7:30 pm
Donna Buell farm
Southeast corner of Harvest Ave. and D15, northeast of Holstein

Each field day wraps up with a complimentary meal and fellowship.  All are free and open to the public.

Contact ILF to let us know which field day you are attending and the number of guests, and we’ll be glad to feed you!  You can reach us by phone 515-294-8912 or email: ilf@iastate.edu.

Visit the STRIPS website for more information.

-Ben Schrag