Global Experience Highlights the Importance of Iowa Agriculture

The next guest post in our Water Resources Internship blog series this summer was written by Riley Wilgenbusch. He is a senior at ISU majoring in Agronomy and Global Resource Systems and grew up in Story City, Iowa, where he spent time on his family’s hobby farm and participated in many agriculture-related activities.

Interning with Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks! has so far given me a diverse perspective on Iowa Agriculture to contrast my prior international work experiences and studies in Global Resource Systems. In the summer of 2019, specifically, I traveled across Europe and Africa co-authoring a research paper for the Animal Production and Health Division of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) before working as a public health intern studying the intersectionality between nutrition and health in the context of healthcare delivery systems in Kamuli, Uganda.

Harvesting cacao in Uganda as part of my diversified agriculture education.

This summer, however, my plans brought me back to Iowa where I’m learning about some of the world’s largest agriculture systems with a renewed perspective. I credit my sustainability research at FAO with my renewed sense of urgency in the environmental research portion of the internship. As the interns have been collecting data on monarch habitats in restored prairies, examining soil health data within industrial agriculture systems, and attending webinars and field days focused on a variety of different conservation practices in agriculture, I’m beginning to contextualize the paper I wrote last summer and see firsthand the toll agriculture can take on natural ecosystems if not carefully managed.

I specifically recall a presentation at a field day that highlighted the monocrop systems that dominate Iowa’s landscapes. This is in stark contrast to my experiences working with subsistence farming and nutrition education in Uganda. Understanding the challenges facing people living in food-insecure areas of the world, I’m hopeful to see future crop diversification in Iowa to help make progress toward eliminating food insecurity in the United States.

I also appreciate the diverse landscapes he’s learned about in Iowa this summer, too. In combination with lessons on the history of Iowa’s landscape formation, I have traveled across the state visiting different county parks as part of a project to promote individualized learning activities for youth and families in Iowa’s great outdoors. As I’ve traveled, I’ve gotten to “debunk” the myth that Iowa is all flat cropland. From the steep terrain and terrace farming of the far northeast to the smooth, rolling hills of the southwest, Iowa is full of hidden gems just waiting to be discovered. Having been around the world, I’m thrilled to learn more about the state I’ve always called home.

Working with other interns on prairie plant research related to monarch habitats in central Iowa

As the summer progresses, I’m looking forward to doing more prairie research and monarch monitoring. As pollinator habitats continue to disappear, posing major threats to crop production, the importance of this environmental research can’t be understated. While I’m looking toward a career in healthcare delivery and research, I will always carry an agricultural perspective with me. This internship with Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks! is a tremendous opportunity to learn hands-on and promote the importance of agriculture and sustainability to audiences across the state.

-Riley Wilgenbusch