Cue Conservation!

A sequel is such a daunting thing because you don’t want to lose the magic and the charm of the first one. – Sandra Bullock

Returning for a second summer with Water Rocks! left the door open for so many opportunities to make it amazing just as last summer had been. Coming in to this summer, I knew I wanted to help with as many of the creative projects as I could. Particularly I love the videos… as you may remember from Please the Bees!


When given the opportunity this summer to participate in storyboarding a music video, I was really excited to jump on the opportunity! The project was a new song called “Keep That Soil Alive,” a throwback to the Johnny Cash era of country music.

Storyboarding is the process of mapping out the story that will be told in the video. To begin, I sat down with our director, Jackie, and got some preliminary ideas for the video. The main theme that she envisioned was female landowner empowerment. It was my job to help that story, of a daughter returning to the farm, come alive.


Actors practice the line dance before filming.

My creative process is almost always collaborative and I would be neglectful if I didn’t mention my coworkers’ role in bringing this video to life. Much of the story was thought up on the road as we traveled to different events. I talked out ideas with my peers and they gave feedback, especially when I wanted to make some of the scenes really complicated and involved….

Initially I had us going to at least three different filming locations that were not at all in close proximity to one another. Locations, I learned, are easily combined with some creative simplification. For example, a small test bean field can be a great setting rather than a full scale one, and utilizing B-roll (footage not necessarily taken with the rest of the story) helps out as a filler, too. The same simplification was done with the cast list. The characters needed to tell the story wore different clothing so they could play dual roles, as we only have so many interns and staff to help us in this endeavor.

Next, Jackie and I recruited actors and located a place to film. We decided on the ISU Horticulture Research Station, which had several different buildings we could use, including a farm house, as well as crop fields and equipment galore!

The weekend before we filmed I shared a few phone calls and texts with Jackie to make sure we had all the needed props. Because a few of the scenes involved dancing, we needed to have speakers, so I was in charge of securing those as well as bringing some costuming items.

On the day of filming, Jackie directed while I got the opportunity to participate once again in being a part of the video. You can see some of our action shots below and watch a clip of the song on Facebook to tide you over until the music video comes out later this year!


Interns Amanda Marlin and Kate Sanocki smile for the camera while practicing their line dancing moves!


The music video has an underlying theme of female empowerment and land ownership. Shown above are the female interns with the next generation of agriculturalists… our youth!


The amazing and talented Alyssa Dreeszen was our cinematographer. Here she is seen with our director Jaqueline Comito.


In a flashback scene, our main character remembers all the things her dad taught her about agriculture when she was young.

From here the video will enter the editing stage where the shots will be stitched together, with b-roll and the music added, as well. This process usually takes several months as other projects are also in production; for instance, I am currently in the process of drawing out the storyboard for a video entitled “Interesting Things Underground.” You may have heard the little ditty in the Conservation Dogs episode featuring Marty Adkins (Episode 18) – it’s his original tune!

And so the sequel has been a success and I look forward to my remaining weeks of the summer to see what it has in store!

Megan Koppenhafer

Building a Culture of Conservation: A County Fair Experience

Hello, my name is Nathan Waskel and I am one of the undergraduate interns working for Water Rocks! and the Iowa Learning Farms this summer. I have had the opportunity to visit several counties to discuss and teach conservation practices to diverse audiences of children and adults. However, the event last Sunday, July 10th at the Calhoun County Fair stood out vividly in my mind as a great example of the type of conservation culture that Water Rocks! and ILF are trying to inspire through visiting these community events.

MeetTheInterns-NathanHannah and Amanda (two other summer interns) and I arrived a little after 10:30 a.m. to the Calhoun County Fair and immediately began preparing for the day’s events. After setting up the Rainfall Simulator, the EnviroScape Watershed Activity, the Conservation Station Learning Lab, the popcorn machine, and the Poo Toss, we patiently waited for people to come visit the Conservation Station.

Calhoun-SetupCalhoun-RSInitially we had a competition of interest among the fairgoers as we were next to a giant inflatable obstacle course, slide, and Velcro wall, but a few curious people came our way to see what we had to offer. Then a few more people came, and a few more people came after them until we were fully into the swing of things. Kids were enthusiastically learning about being stewards of their own watershed and excitedly taking turns at the Poo Toss, while adults were engaging with our Rainfall Simulator and discussing the different land management practices that they use on their fields.

Calhoun-EnviroscapeCalhoun-PooTossWe had one little girl in particular who visited the Conservation Station several times that day. She had been to one of our events at the Lake City Public Library a few weeks prior and she was especially excited to see us again at her county fair. She enthusiastically played the Watershed Game where she learned about pollution, water quality, and how to take good care of the environment around us. She also played the Poo Toss, ate some of our popcorn, and was back and forth between us and the inflatables most of the day – just to say hello and see how we were doing.

When she saw that we were starting to pack up, she ran off, exclaiming, “I’ll be right back, you absolutely have to wait for me to get back before you leave!” A short while later she ran back with three rubber balloon dogs. She gave them to us, chattering, “Their names are Charlie, Jackie, and Stewy. I named them after the Conservation Dogs.”

Calhoun-NathanWithBalloonsShe then helped us pack up our stations and went back to the inflatables. As I started to drive out from the parking lot with trailer in tow, I heard the little girl yell out, “Bye Nathan!,” and saw her eagerly waving goodbye from her spot in line next to the inflatables. I waved back as we drove out and hit the road back to Ames.

When I go to events like the Calhoun County Fair, my goal isn’t to just teach people about conservation. My goal is to also forge strong bonds with communities. It’s through these bonds that we will inspire a culture of conservation. I know that I made a connection with that little girl last Sunday. I hope that I will make many more in the future.

In an effort to bring to light more stories like my own, I’ve started a hashtag campaign using #conservationculture. Follow along at @WaterRocksISU and @ialearningfarms and tweet your support using that hashtag.

Nathan Waskel

Conservation Chat features farmer Rick Juchems and daughter Liz

In the latest episode of the Conservation Chat podcast series, Jacqueline Comito interviews farmer Rick Juchems and his daughter, Liz. Rick farms in Butler County, Iowa, and is no stranger to conservation practices such as cover crops, grassed waterways, no-till and wetlands.


Rick started as one of the first farmer partners with the Iowa Learning Farms and has also served in various positions with Conservation Districts of Iowa, SARE, NRCS Butler County, FSA Butler County and the Northeast Iowa Research Farm. Rick won the Iowa Farm Environmental Leader Award in 2012 and continues to be a resounding voice for conservation in the agricultural community of Iowa.

Rick got his kids involved in his operation at an early age.  He shared his spreadsheets and put his daughter Liz to work on data entry. As Liz said, “none of it was ever kept secret.” Along with this knowledge, Rick inspired his kids to look at agriculture from a different perspective. Liz remembers:

“We would travel growing up and [he] would be like ‘There should be a waterway there. There should be terraces here. What are they thinking out there?’ And now I do it as I travel across the state. I’m like, ‘There should be a waterway there.’ ”
                                                                                                                    -Liz Juchems

Liz 3 - Mueller Field Day Nashua 11.19.15

Liz talking with farmers about conservation practices at a recent ILF field day

The message stuck: Liz now works with the Iowa Learning Farms and promotes the same lessons her dad taught her early in her life. Liz coordinates over 200 events for Iowa Learning Farms and its sister program, Water Rocks!, each year. Many of these events include field days and other learning opportunities for farmers. Liz feels motivated to work in this role because, “It’s our responsibility today to take care of what’s going to be here after we’re gone. . . the fact that I have a role to play in the future of agriculture is incredible to me.”

This father and daughter duo continues to inspire those around them near and far. In Rick’s eyes, conservation doesn’t cost: it pays. What’s Rick’s main motivation?

“It’s trying to get the message out that we have a long way to go. . . The ground needs help, too, if it’s going to be there for the future.”
                                                                                                                      -Rick Juchems


Rick River Stomping at a recent ILF event

It all comes back to doing what they love. When they got together for the podcast, Liz commented on her recent travels through the state, saying, “I get excited when I see cover crops.” Immediately, Rick followed: “I did too yesterday.”

Listen to this episode on the Conservation Chat website, ILF website, or through iTunes.

There are many more episodes of the Conservation Chat podcast available in the archives. Recent episodes include Dr. Matt Helmers  discussing the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy and farmer Seth Watkins talking about conservation and happy cows.

Julie Whitson


Coming to a fair near you…

Check out the full lineup of county fairs that the Conservation Station will be visiting across the state of Iowa this summer!  We’ll be showing off the Rainfall Simulator, playing the hands-on, interactive Watershed Game, and of course the (in)famous Poo Toss! Stop out and see us at a fair near you!

Conservation-Station-PosterIn addition to fairs, check out our 2016 Schedule of Events to see the full lineup of Conservation Station stops this summer… we’ll also be visiting farmers markets, youth camps, festivals, and more. We hope to see you there!

Iowa Learning Farms team


Water Rocks! Teacher Summits!

NOTE: This guest blog post was written by Noah Stevens, a Water Rocks! high school intern for the summer. He will be a senior at Ames High School in the fall.

WRSummitLogo-NoYear(Print)On June 14 & 15 and 22 & 23, teachers from all across Iowa came to the Iowa State University Alumni Center in Ames to attend a Water Rocks! Summit.

The Summits are two-day professional development workshops for K-12 classroom teachers that offer timely, pertinent, and hands-on training on environmental and agricultural topics to help them develop a deeper understanding of water quality and conservation, as well as provide them with materials and resources to use with their students.

MattThe workshops featured presentations by ISU professors. I enjoyed listening to Dr. Matt Helmers talk about Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy, water quality, wetlands and soil erosion. I learned things and I didn’t have to worry about grades. There were other presentations on climate change and the environmental impact of a t-shirt.

The Water Rocks! team did interactive demonstrations of their classroom modules for the teachers. Modules included lessons about watersheds and water quality, biodiversity, soil, and wetlands. It was fun to see the choices the teachers made when they were given the chance to develop a piece of land in a watershed. Teachers came to the Summit hoping to gain more knowledge regarding Iowa’s environmental issues, as well as obtain techniques and activities to share that knowledge with their students.

As a high school intern with the Water Rocks! program, I was asked to help with the Summits. My job was to see how the teachers were responding to the program. I decided to create a Water Rocks! Interaction wall. wgameThis activity consisted of posing two questions to the participants: “Water Rocks! will help my students by (blank)?” and “Why should students learn about water quality and conservation?”

Each questions was written on a large sheet of paper and then posted on the wall. Teachers were invited to write their answers on Post-it Notes to either one or both questions and stick it under the question they answered. The amount of feedback they gave me was impressive. Teachers posted things ranging from “water is a limited resource” to “learning about water quality helps develop strong citizenship.”



The WR! team also used the Summit as an chance to launch a new fall program, the Water Rocks! Assembly.

Headed by Todd StevenWR!assembly-(headline)s, WR! music and outreach specialist, the assemblies use music, dancing, and even acting to engage people on water quality issues.Assembly

Todd wanted to sample the program at the Summit so that teachers could promote the assemblies to their schools. The Assembly features original music. As an intern, I got to be a backup dancer and singer. Teachers were asked to help with the singing and dancing. Some of them had some good moves!

All in all, the Water Rocks! Summit flooded teachers with information on water quality and conservation and even sent them home with activities and materials to teach to share with their students.

The teachers got to learn and have a good time. If you don’t believe me, check out this short video of Summit highlights pulled together by WR! college intern Megan Koppenhafer.

Noah Stevens

River Stomping with ILF

As Dr. Tom Isenhart, Iowa State University Professor of Natural Resource Ecology and Management, tells his students,

“You can’t understand the health of our rivers by driving by in a car. You have to get down to the bank. Better still, get in the river…”

So we partnered with Tom this week to do just that with a group of our farmer leaders on a section of the Skunk River north of Ames.

The dozen farmer leaders from across the state were joined by members of our Iowa Learning Farms Steering Committee and our summer college interns. Tom divided the group into four teams, upon which they donned boots and waders and got to work looking for the biological indicators of river health.

SouthSkunkRiverThe group was told to explore under branches along the bank, stir up the bottom, and capture the insects that might call that location home…


… pick up rocks and search the moss for insects…


Participants like southwest Iowa farmer Seth Watkins were not afraid of getting wet and going to deeper sections of the river where the little creatures would make their home.

SethIowa doesn’t get any prettier than the Skunk River was that day as intern Kate Sanocki and farmer leaders Craig Fleishman and Tim Smith would tell you. The water was clear and the bottom was rocky. Rumor has it that there are good smallmouth bass to be found here!

CraigTimKateParticipants were told to put their finds in insect collection receptacles (i.e. ice cube trays).

TrayJakeJim Gillespie, Director of IDALS-Division of Soil Conservation and Water Quality, was heard to comment that he hadn’t done something like this since he was in college — that was a long time ago!

MattJimAfter about 45 minutes, it was with big smiles that the group left the river with their finds. Their job was not yet done.

SteveHTom put them to work identifying the insects using tools from IOWATER.

InsectIDThe group was happy to learn that they found macroinvertebrates such as caddisfly and stonefly that are pollution intolerant. Their presence suggested that this section of the South Skunk River is fairly healthy.

RickNathanThe crawdads they found belong in the “somewhat pollution tolerant” category. Tom pointed out that they make good smallmouth bass bait.

CrawdadsThis damselfly was as curious about us as we were about her. Damselflies belong to the somewhat pollution tolerant group and are good to find at our rivers, lakes, and wetlands.

DamselflyTom told the group that the health of a stream or river fluctuates by season and rainfall. During times of drought and floods, life on the river can be stressed. The Iowa DNR has put a lot of resources into making the Skunk River a healthier body of water.

While the group would have been content to stay at this beautiful stretch of the South Skunk River for the day, we headed on to our next stop at one of the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) wetlands where Dr. Matt Helmers discussed the use of these wetlands as part of our new Conservation Learning Labs project (stay tuned to the blog for further information).

WetlandWe ended at the site of the very first saturated buffer in Iowa (possibly the world) along Bear Creek. Here the group asked Tom many detailed questions about how the buffers worked.

SaturatedBufferAll in all, the group had fun and asked great questions at every stop of the field day. The participants went away with a better understanding of river ecosystems and its relationship to our land management choices. Everyone returned to Ames grateful for the quality time spent near (and in) an Iowa river!

Jacqueline Comito



Second Year Perspectives: Back for Round II

NOTE: You’ve been meeting our great group of college interns through their guest blog posts these past couple weeks, but it’s time now that we show some love to our outstanding high school interns, as well!  Kicking things off is Jessica Rehmann, a 2016 Ames High School graduate who is back for her second year in the high school water resources internship program.

My name is Jessica Rehmann, and I have come back to intern with Water Rocks! and Iowa Learning Farms for a second year. I just graduated from Ames High School, and I will be a freshman at Washington University in St. Louis in the fall.

MeetTheInterns-JessicaLast year, I enjoyed my experience with the internship, and I appreciated the variety of tasks, including field research and outreach. I learned a lot about conservation practices and farming methods, and I saw them in use when I worked in the fields collecting data for research. At outreach events, I learned how to effectively communicate field research results and conservation practices to the public.

Soybeans flowering in the field, June 2016

Soybeans flowering in the field, June 2016

Because I have grown up in a suburban environment, I had little prior knowledge of anything related to farming before the internship. Now I can have educated discussions on conservation practices. I decided to do the internship again this year because I wanted to continue working on research projects from last year, doing more outreach with the community, and learning more about conservation and sustainable farming practices.

As I did last year, I have counted earthworm middens in the fields. This year the counting was easier and faster because I knew better what I was looking for in each plot!

Counting earthworm middens in cover crop strips at the ISU Boyd Farm earlier in June.

Counting earthworm middens in cover crop strips at the ISU Boyd Farm earlier in June.

I have also collected water samples from lysimeters in the field. The last time I went, the field had just had a large rainfall, so the lysimeters were very full. I am excited to learn how to analyze data from the lysimeters.


Tools of the trade for collecting water samples from the suction lysimeters.


The internship has also involved two of the extracurricular activities I enjoy the most: music and art. Last year, one of my favorite parts of the internship was getting to play saxophone in the recording studio for two of the tracks on the new children’s music CD Trees, Bees, and More Nature Songs for Water Rocks! I liked the opportunity to tie my work and music together. I also saw how an analog recording studio works, which was a neat experience.


Recording at Junior’s Motel Recording Studio, near Otho, last year.

This year, I have a new creative side to the internship: I am helping to redesign the website for the Conservation Pack and helping to write an interactive “Letters to the Conservation Pack” activity for kids.

I am also excited for the fair season to reach full swing! My first event was recently working in the Keosauqua Farmers Market, and in the upcoming weeks, I will attend more county fairs.


Leading the hands-on Enviroscape activity (aka Watershed Game) at the Dallas Co. Fair last summer (TOP) and the Keosauqua Farmers Market this year (BOTTOM).

My experiences with this internship and my love of hiking and the outdoors have made me want to study environmental science in college. In the fall I will be taking a class on Missouri’s natural heritage, which will cover environmental science and more. Because sustainable practices are important and relevant–especially in the Midwest–I am interested in their technical foundations and the social and political aspects of implementing them. I am excited to see where the rest of the internship this summer will take me!

Jessica Rehmann