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.
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.