More than Outreach

ILFHeader(15-year)IMG_4897The majority of my summer internship with Water Rocks! and Iowa Learning Farms has consisted of various types of outreach events all over the state of Iowa. But when we aren’t doing outreach, you may be able to find us in the field helping collect data for a research project. One of the projects we have been working on is monarch monitoring.

Our part in this monarch research starts in a CRP field. We work through 10 different designated points in each of the fields that we survey. Once at a point, our job is to look at the area around that point to find milkweed, as well as flowering plants that serve as a nectar source for the monarchs and other pollinators. I wasn’t familiar with what a milkweed plant looked like before starting this research. The best way to learn is by going out into the field and identifying milkweed over and over, with the help of others that are familiar, until I’m comfortable on my own. Common patterns that milkweeds have to help identify them are the opposite leaves and a milky sap you find when you break a leaf.

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Our area of interest at each site is a circle around the point that has a radius of 30 meters. We divide that circle into four quadrants (NE, SE, SW, and NW) and then start our search. We are looking for a milkweed plant and a blooming plant closest to the center point in each quadrant. If the milkweed plant is flowering then it will double as our flowering plant. The distance of the plants are measured by one of us standing at the center point with a rangefinder. The milkweed plant is inspected for any monarch eggs or caterpillars. As we move through the quadrants we are also on the lookout for adult monarchs flying around or resting on flowers. We repeat this process with each point at each field.

The overall reason for this surveying is to see if the cropland that has been converted into CRP areas is providing food and habitat for the monarchs. Milkweed is that plant we focus on because it is the only thing monarch larvae can eat. That is also why we check each of our milkweed plants for monarch eggs and caterpillars. We look for blooming plants since they will be the nectar source for the adult monarchs and other pollinators. The surveying is repeated at the sites each month to see changes in the habitat being provided for the monarchs.

This internship has allowed me to learn so much whether it was through a research project like this or an outreach event in an Iowan city. And with the summer and this internship coming to an end, I am thankful for every opportunity that has come my way.

Taylor Manemann is participating in the 2019 Water Resources Internship Program at Iowa State University.  Manemann grew up in Huntington Beach, CA and graduated from Johnston High School (IA). She is a senior in Environmental Science with minors in sustainability and agronomy.

“Hey dad, why don’t we…?”

ILFHeaderI amIMG_4902 a farmer’s daughter. Having lived on a farm my whole life, agriculture has always been my passion. This passion was given to me by my dad. From the time I could walk, you could find me out “helping” feed the cattle, riding (more like napping) in the tractor/combine, or running errands around town with my dad. As I have grown up, I became more involved in the daily activities of the farm. I have learned so much from my dad, but I also have so much more to learn. My dad utilizes some different conservation practices on the farm including cover crops, water ways, crop rotations, and no-till. He has taught me the importance of taking care of the land that God has given us and keeping it productive for the next generation.

My dad has heard me say “Hey dad, why don’t we do this?” “Have you ever thought about doing this?” “Why do we do this this way?” over the past year I have gone off to college. Since starting this internship, there are many things I have noticed we could do on the farm to improve the soil and water quality. My current goal is to get my dad talked into planting a prairie strip where we currently have a waterway that is not mowed for hay. This native prairie strip would be full of wildflowers for pollinators and a great habitat for pheasants!

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Watching a saturated buffer get installed at the Fawcett Farm field day on June 6th.

The other thing I think would be beneficial to the farm is a saturated buffer strip along a creek on one of our fields. While these things are very beneficial for water quality, I understand that they do take time and money to implement, even with cost share available for these things.

Coming from an agriculture background has benefited me in this internship. I am not only able to look at the environmental impacts of sustainable practices but also how they affect the farmers and landowners that implement them. Farmers and landowners are in a very interesting spot when it comes to using environmentally sustainable practices. They are stuck between using what they know works and change.

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Attending a field day about cover crops in Adams County on July 9th.

Change is scary, especially when you could be risking the ability of break even over total costs. For example, adding cover crops into your rotation can be beneficial in reducing compaction, erosion, and pesticide usage. But these benefits might not be seen right away so it can be easy to give up when those results are not seen quickly. Another example of how a farmer might be “stuck” is chemical pesticide usage. Pesticide one of the eight main water pollutants in the state of Iowa. But pesticides are something that farmers need in order to protect their crop yield from pests. This internship has helped me talk with farmers, and non-farmers alike, about what can be improved on and why farmers do what they do.

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Teaching students about a watershed and how what we do on land can affect the quality of our water.

My time as an intern has allowed me to apply what I have learned while talking to students, peers, and community members. It has also taught me much more about soil and water quality that I have been able to bring back to the farm. As someone who wants to take over the farm someday, I want to make sure that it is still there for me to come back to.



Ashley Armstrong is participating in the 2019 Water Resources Internship Program at Iowa State University.  Armstrong grew up near Montezuma and is attending Dordt College majoring in Agriculture Education. 

Using Perennials to Manage Water

ILFHeader(15-year)Did you know that for generations humans have used perennial vegetation to manage water for managing food supplies, constructing homes and more?

Thousands of years ago in Bolivia, humans created earthen berms covered in perennial vegetation to capture and store rain during the dry season. These shallow ponds were used for a variety of purposes including water storage, drainage and fish management.  Similarly, Mexico City was once a lake and the Aztecs used perennial vegetation to create a foundation on which to build their homes.

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Miscanthus (left) has been shown to improve water infiltration and protect soil. Photo credit: Emily Heaton

Today, perennial vegetation can continue to be used to manage water, as Emily Heaton highlighted at our third native perennial plantings workshop at Whiterock Conservancy. Her team is exploring using Miscanthus and other grasses in prairie potholes here in Iowa to create a biomass crop for harvest, improve water quality, and improve the management ease for the corn and soybean areas around the pothole. These benefits along with other benefits like supporting pollinator and other wildlife habitat, water quality and aesthetic beauty of using perennial plantings were discussed among the attendees.


A great resource that was shared with the group and we would like to share with anyone looking to establish native perennial vegetation is Plant Iowa Native hosted by the University of Northern Iowa. There you can find links to information about native plants, sources for seeds, plant materials, tips on landscaping, and incentive programs for conservation and preservation. Also find links to educational resources and organizations, as well as finding professional service providers in your area.

These workshops were made possible by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture through the North Central Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program.

Liz Juchems

Two Months of Adventure

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Over the past couple months, I’ve been having a ton of fun with multiple activities of the Water Rocks! and Iowa Learning Farms water resources internship. I started working for them on May 15th and am constantly impressed by how many different things that we do. During the first few weeks I worked, I was assigned to classroom visits and assemblies.

IMG_0073I had a terrific time developing my own style of presenting our information and really enjoyed working with the kids. They tended to grasp the importance of what we taught quickly through the games of the classroom presentations and the songs and activities of the assemblies. My favorite part of working with these kids are the often hilarious answers that they give to questions. I remember during my first week I was telling the kids that we were going to go back in time 200 years, and I asked how long ago that was. One of the kids immediately raised his hand-he looked really confident-and said “1934.” There are tons of answers like that one during our classroom visits.

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Scott as Mr. Raindrop in the watershed assembly skit.

It is also quite fun to see people break out of their shells during our assemblies. They are very participation driven and we ask kids and adults to come up and dance or sing with us. At first, they are hesitant, then once a few of the other kids come up front, they immediately all want to join in the fun. It gets better as the assemblies go on as well, with more kids willing to come forward. At first I was hesitant to sing the song “Scoop that Poop” but once I saw that the kids loved it I found it was much easier to enjoy.

After the first few weeks of the internship, we started doing field work including midden counting, monarch observation, or nitrate level observation. I like almost every part of these activities (except when my waterproof boots get water in them because my jeans are so wet water leaks in through their tops). The field work experience helped the information I had been teaching come to life. As a chemist, I had limited previous exposure to outdoor scientific activities. This allowed me to see how ecosystems function in a way represented by numbers, as opposed to simple observation.

Photo 3I have also recently participated in going around to county fairs and farmer’s markets with our trailers to inform both adults and kids how to protect our environment. These events are fun because I get to directly engage with people who wish to learn about the things we are teaching.

Overall, I have been impressed with the diversity of how we present our information, even though we are presenting very similar information across all of our activities. I have been given the privilege to travel all across Iowa and see the various communities that we have. It is amazing to see everyone so passionate about what we are presenting. If these next few weeks are anything like the last couple months, I can’t wait to see what they have in store!

Scott Grzybowski is participating in the 2019 Water Resources Internship Program at Iowa State University.  Grzybowski grew up in Albert Lea, Minnesota, and graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Chemistry. He is off to the University of Iowa to pursue a graduate degree in the fall.

Secure your cover crop seed for fall 2019 today!


Gaesser Family

We had a great evening for a cover crop field day hosted by the Gaesser family near Corning on Tuesday, July 9th. With nearly 50 people in attendance, there was great interest in adding more cover crop acres among the experienced users and a handful of those looking to try it for the first time.

Sarah Carlson, Practical Farmers of Iowa, helped set the stage by sharing how farmers can help make cover crops pay with benefits beyond improved water quality and soil erosion reduction.

“If we want to get started and make it pay, it is best to start with a small grain like rye or oats,” commented Carlson. “In a corn/soybean rotation, legumes and brassicas are not going to get enough sunlight to justify the seed cost.”

IMG_5746For the more experienced cover crop users, Carlson recommended taking them to the next level by delaying spring termination of rye ahead of soybeans to achieve weed control benefits and reducing herbicide costs. Another suggestion was planting corn in 60 inch rows to interseed the cover crop earlier in the season to achieve more growth.


The Gaesser family has been growing their own rye seed for cover crops for the past few years as a way to control costs and improve soil and water quality on their farm.

“We grow our own cereal rye seed each year averaging between 3,000-7,000 bushels to help us cover about half of our crop acres. We like to include rye in the rotation on fields that have been a challenge before – weed pressure or erosion. Once harvested, we clean and store it for use that same year,” stated Chris Gaesser.

Having your own seed supply is a major advantage this year due to the widespread need for prevented planting seed across the Midwest.

IMG_5788“The cover crop seed surplus from 2018 has been used up already this year,” shared Bert Strayer of La Crosse Seed. “That means this year’s cover crop seed will come from what gets harvested in the next month or so. For that reason it is encouraged to get your seed orders in as soon as you can to make sure you have access to seed when you want to be seeding this fall.”

If you are looking for a seed source near you, check out the Practical Farmers of Iowa Cover Crop Business Directory.

Be sure to stay tuned to our events page for more cover crop field days later this year!

Liz Juchems

An Experience in Learning

When asked to describe my time as an intern with Water Rocks! and Iowa Learning Farms, the first thing that comes to mind is that it’s been a learning experience.  I’ve learned a lot about myself and my specific interests within environmental sustainability and natural resource conservation.  But with a bit more thought, I think it’s more appropriate to call it an experience in learning.

Everybody has different preferences for learning new things.  There’s visual learners and auditory learners, those who learn by observing and those who learn by doing.  

One of my favorite things about Water Rocks! and Iowa Learning Farms is that these organizations cater to a variety of different learning preferences.  The Water Rocks! music videos help to spread the message of conservation to young audiences by providing fun and catchy sing-along opportunities that kids can enjoy at any hour of the day.  The classroom visits and assemblies provide a unique opportunity for students to learn by watching and listening to our educational materials, and then applying their newfound knowledge through trivia questions and team games.

The team’s Conservation Station Fleet is able to reach both urban and rural audiences with our three trailers, which feature examples of ways that any audience member could improve water quality.  With our rainfall simulators, we can show the impacts of various tillage practices on water drainage and quality.  Our on-the-edge trailer shows how two of the newest edge-of-field practices work (bioreactors and saturated buffers).  Lastly, our Enviroscape and poo toss games help us to show kids of all ages what they can do to improve the quality of their neighborhoods and watersheds.  

The past few weeks with Water Rocks! and Iowa Learning Farms have helped me to see that the best way for me to learn is by teaching others.  But that task can’t be done alone – it requires a team of passionate individuals to work together in order to spread our message across the state of Iowa.

Working with a cohort of seven other interns (in addition to all of the full-time staff members) has been a rewarding and interesting experience.  From watching a saturated buffer installation in eastern Iowa to digging a fellow intern out of a mucky mess, I can confidently say that no two days on the job have been the same!

And with each new day, I learn new things about myself, my teammates, and what we can do to improve the quality of the world we live in.  Above all, I’ve learned that it takes a strong team to be able to go out and teach the public about our initiatives.  I’m thankful for all that I’ve learned so far this summer and am excited to continue to add more knowledge as I approach the last month of this internship!

Becca Wiarda is participating in the 2019 Water Resources Internship Program at Iowa State University.  Wiarda grew up near Ackley and is a senior in Agricultural Business and Finance with minors in sustainability and agronomy.

Two Field Day Opportunities July 9th – Native Perennial Plantings and Cover Crops, Grazing and Soil Health!

The Iowa Learning Farms team is pulling a double header and hosting two events on Tuesday, July 9th. We’d love to have you join us!

Both include a complimentary meal, so RSVP today to help with the meal planning.

July 9, Native Perennial Planting Workshop
Whiterock Conservancy Burr Oak Visitor’s Center
1436 IA-141
Coon Rapids, IA
Guthrie County
Partner: Iowa State University Extension and Outreach
Press Release
RSVP: 515-294-5429 or

July 9, Cover Crop and Soil Health Field Day
Ray & Elaine Gaesser Farm
2507 Quince Ave
Corning, IA
Adams County
Partners: Soil Health Partnership, Adams County Farm Bureau, Iowa Corn, Iowa Soybean Association, National Wildlife Federation Cover Crop Champions Program
Press Release
RSVP: 515-294-5429 or

Liz Juchems