Conservation, Recreation, & Rhubarb Meet on the River

You were first introduced to our summer student interns in a blog post earlier this week (Meet our 2017 Water Resources Interns) – now it’s time to hear from them in first person!  Each student in our Water Resources Internship program will be blogging at some point over the course of the summer, so you can get a sneak peek into the many different projects they are involved with, from school visits, camps, and community outreach, to all kinds of field work related to soil health and water quality.

Our first student guest blog post comes from Kaleb Baber, who has just completed his first year of studies at Iowa State University, majoring in Agronomy. Kaleb grew up on a family farm near Weston, MO (north of Kansas City), where he grew sweet corn, raised beef cattle, and was actively involved in FFA. We’ll let Kaleb take it from here!

This past Saturday, June 3, I had the pleasure of traveling with the Conservation Station to Rhubarb on the River, an event held in Manchester, Iowa. This was the first community outreach event I have been to for Water Rocks!/Iowa Learning Farms. It was a fun-filled day of tasty rhubarb creations and great live music – all just a stone’s throw away from the beautiful Maquoketa River.

We left Ames around 6:30 in the morning, Conservation Station in tow (and coffee in hand). We arrived in Manchester around 9:00 and set up the Rainfall Simulator, Enviroscape, and Poo Toss game just in time for the event to start.

Families soon began to visit the Conservation Station. We spoke to over 180 people, ranging in age from babies to seniors. Children got a kick out of tossing (fake) dog poo and making it rain at the Enviroscape (what we call the Watershed Game), while their parents learned about land management practices, soil health and water quality at the Rainfall Simulator.

One conversation I had with a couple from Marion stood out in particular. They were interested in permeable pavers since it is a practice they could potentially implement on their patio. I told them about all of the benefits, such as improving infiltration, potentially reducing the impacts of flash floods and improving water quality. After that, they began asking about the agricultural practices represented by the other trays. The husband showed particular interest in cover crops. I explained the benefits of having the soil surface protected by the plant matter. The wife was curious about the role of nutrients and how they are lost from agricultural landscapes. I told her how the two main nutrients of concern, phosphorus and nitrogen, move through the environment and how cover crops are important since they have shown to reduce losses of both nutrients. The interest the couple had in the steps farmers are taking to improve Iowa’s soil and water quality was very exciting to me. It was great to be teaching the community about Iowa’s water resources, and it was an added bonus that we were right next to the river that flows through the heart of Manchester.

The city has recently built a series of rapids on the Maquoketa River. People were kayaking, floating, and swimming down the river. Children shrieked as their tubes tumbled over the whitewater. One girl who had played Poo Toss game earlier in the day even brought over a baby soft-shelled turtle she had found along the bank. Everyone along the river looked like they were having a blast, especially when it began to heat up in the afternoon!

Another highlight of the day was the delicious food the Manchester Chamber of Commerce was selling. I took a quick break to go grab a rhubarb bratwurst and a slice of rhubarb pie. Both were fantastic! Along Main Street, vendors were selling other rhubarb treats, such as ice cream and wine, as well as quilts and other handmade crafts.

Overall, Rhubarb on the River was an outstanding community event. The City of Manchester did an excellent job organizing it, and their hard work was rewarded by a beautiful day and a great turnout from the area residents. The interest that the public showed in making meaningful strides to cleaner water for the state of Iowa encouraged me, and I am excited to travel to more events like this throughout the rest of my time here as an intern.

Kaleb Baber

ICYMI: June Webinar Features New Ideas for Community Engagement in Watersheds

In the Iowa Learning Farms June webinar, Dr. Angie Carter (Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Social Welfare at Augustana College) discussed several great approaches that she has used to increase community involvement at the watershed level.  Carter used participatory research methods to engage different groups of people in conversations about water quality, conservation, and their connection to the land in the watershed.

One project Carter described was the “River Stories: Views From an Iowa Watershed.”  The project asked landowners in the Raccoon River watershed to document their experience in the watershed through photos.   Then, they added short narratives, or “photostories,” to describe the pictures.  The results were quite unique.

One participant, Jan Kaiser, created a photostory in which she underwent a prairie burn for the first time as a way to manage her prairie land.

Burning the Prairie! by Jan Kaiser

CarterWebinar_crop“It took me a while to be convinced of burning the eighteen acres we planted to prairie six years ago.  Last year, the big blue stem was over seven feet tall and the pollinator habitat was buzzing with bees and butterflies!  Did I really want to jeopardize all that, plus the twenty acres of timber adjoining the prairie?  Since it was part of the Conservation Reserve Program, it required Mid-Contract Management, meaning I needed to either disc it under or burn it.  On a still and humid evening, the fire folks lit the blaze under a full moon.  A beautiful sight – and it all went off without a hitch!”

Watch the archived webinar to hear about how Angie Carter used this and other participatory methods to create community in watersheds.  Carter’s work can be used for any group in a watershed that has not previously been brought into the conversation about water quality and conservation.

Angie Carter was also featured on the Iowa Learning Farms podcast, Conservation Chat, in November of 2015.  The episode discusses women landowners and the role they play in conservation practice adoption here in Iowa.

Julie Whitson