ILF Partner Seth Watkins hosts 3rd Grade Field Trip

On Wednesday of this week, we had the pleasure of traveling down to our friend Seth Watkins’ farm in southwest Iowa to help out with a special field trip. A small group of 3rd grade students in the Corning schools, working with TAG Instructor and STEM Coordinator Tabatha Klopp, have been studying water quality, pollution, animal waste, nutrients, and more, and she was looking for field trip ideas to engage this great group of kids.

The Iowa Learning Farms program works with farmer-partners across the state, so we called upon Seth Watkins, near Clarinda, to help out and serve as host – a great opportunity for these 3rd grade students to see a wide variety of good conservation practices all in one place!  We brought the Conservation Station trailer down, as well, and had an awesome morning touring Seth’s farm, talking about water quality, and doing some water quality monitoring. Continue reading for the highlights!

The rain had been pretty relentless across southwest Iowa over the past week, so when the skies cleared on Wednesday morning, we immediately hopped on Seth’s hayrack for the farm tour first.  After the recent deluge of rain, one might be leery to be out driving through any field. But thanks to cover crops and perennial cover such as alfalfa, it was no problem at all!

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First we stopped to check out Seth’s grassed waterway. The students were in awe when Seth told us that the water moving down his grassed waterway eventually ends up at the Gulf of Mexico!  We worked together to trace the entire path of those raindrops, from Seth’s waterway, to the stream, to the 102 River near Bedford, to the Missouri River, to the Mississippi River, and ending up in the Gulf of Mexico. Before moving on, they collected water samples.

As the tour continued, we got to see several different types of cover crops, both living as well as recently terminated. We looked at the extensive roots of the cover crops and talked about how they make “tunnels” or pathways for water to move. As if on cue, an earthworm crawled out of the root bundle just as we were talking about soil structure!

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We also got to visit Seth’s pond; while we didn’t get to see the beavers that have taken up residency there, we did see other creatures like birds, frogs, and fish. Seth emphasized the importance of providing habitat for these creatures out on the landscape, whether it’s in a filter strip or around the pond, and how each one is an important part of our ecosystem.

Finally, Seth shared his golden rule of agronomy, which is if you take something from the land, you have to put something back – e.g. protecting the soil however we can, growing cover crops and perennials that put nutrients back in the soil, grazing livestock, etc.

Back at the shop, we gathered around the Conservation Station’s rainfall simulator, giving students the opportunity to see up close how different land management practices affect where water flows and how clean or dirty it is. The 3rd graders saw erosion happening right before their eyes and learned how long it takes new soil to form – 500 years for just 1 inch.

One of the students replied, “500 years?!  I wouldn’t even be alive!”

We wrapped up the morning by trying out some water quality monitoring. We tested different water samples for nitrate, pesticides, copper, iron, and transparency.  Several of the tests required dissolving a tablet and then shaking for 5 minutes, which quickly turned into a Taylor Swift dance party (Shake It Off!) …

To wrap things up, here are the 3rd grade students’ take home messages from the field tour and the Conservation Station trailer:

Water from here ends up in the ocean
Soil can get into water and make it dirty
Water can get polluted pretty fast
Don’t till the land
And you should plant cover crops!

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Thanks to Seth, Tabatha, and the Corning 3rd grade group for letting us spend part of the day with you. We had a great time!

Check out more photos on the Corning ELP & STEM Facebook page.

-Ann Staudt

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