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!

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.


(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:

Visit the STRIPS website for more information.

-Ben Schrag

Memories of The Land Stewardship Project: Touching Hearts, Changing Minds

Land Stewardship Project Program Tri-fold 1When I was growing up in rural South Dakota, my mother would talk to crowds about the dangers of soil erosion and unsustainable farming.  She wasn’t a scientist, she was an actress.  Actually, she was a farm wife.

Let me back up and explain.  In 1984, the Land Stewardship Project of Minnesota knew that soil erosion was a problem.  They wanted to get people talking about solutions.  But they also knew that people are, by nature, skeptical – especially when prodded by those outside their community.

Land Stewardship Project Program Tri-fold 2

The Land Stewardship Project took an innovative approach, combining art and education to connect with rural communities across several Midwestern states.  They turned to a Midwestern author and environmentalist, Nancy Paddock, to write a one-woman show addressing themes of agricultural stewardship.

And, in a brilliant choice, they found local women to perform the play – women known and trusted by their communities, women with a solid Midwestern background – women like my mother.

My mother, traveling with a representative from the Land Stewardship Project, performed for audiences in church basements, community centers, even restaurants.  Following the hour-long show, the Land Stewardship representative led a community discussion reflecting on the themes of the play.

Phyllis Schrag and Family

Phyllis Schrag (center right) pictured with husband Larry, son Ben, and Ben’s family.

When I began working for Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks!, memories from this time in my childhood came rushing back to me.  I am proud of my mother for her role in helping foster healthy dialogue surrounding land stewardship, and I am proud of the chance to continue that effort through Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks!

-Ben Schrag

Steve McGrew on ‘Conservation Chat’

Iowa farmer and cover crop enthusiast Steve McGrew stopped by” Conservation Chat” to talk with Jacqueline Comito about sustainable farming practices.

Steve brings a real curiosity and entrepreneurial spirit to the discussion of cover crops, talking about his ongoing experimentation with mixtures and species diversity. He points out the value of early adoption when it comes to finding the most effective solutions for the specific needs of local farmers. Steve works with his three brothers and his nephew on their family farm in Southwestern Iowa. Steve has 20 years of experience with cover crops, and says there is always more you can learn.

You can listen to the conversation here (and enjoy a special appearance by Steve’s singing saw)!Singing Saw

-Ben Schrag