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

Little Conservation Station Available for FREE Check-out this Summer!

Would your organization or multi-day event benefit from having one of our Conservation Station trailers on-site? Then we have some great news for you!

Our Little Conservation Station trailer (Lil CS) is available for check-out this summer! But wait, we have even better news. Checking out our Lil CS is FREE! All you need to do is complete the online request form to make your request. Once approved, you will need to come to Iowa State University to pick it up, and return it after your event.

Our Lil CS trailer comes equipped with a rainfall simulator that demonstrates the impacts of land management choices on erosion and water quality.  We provide you with a detailed, illustrated instruction manual on hitching up the trailer, set up procedures, useful talking points for the rainfall simulator, and tear down instructions, to assure your success with the entire process. Check out more information about our Conservation Station fleet by visiting our Conservation Station webpage.

Lil CS

Get Your Requests in for the Conservation Station Today!

If you have a summer camp, county fair, farmers market or other community event in need of unique and educational entertainment, look no further than the Conservation Station. We are currently accepting requests for community events in June, July and August 2017.

The Conservation Station brings with it a multitude of activities that educate and inspire children, adults and families to think deeper about the world around them. Our rainfall simulator demonstrates the impacts of land management choices on water quality. Our hands-on, interactive activities and games emphasize that, if everyone does their part, we can all make a difference in water quality in Iowa and beyond.

Do you want to include the Conservation Station in your summer camp, county fair, farmers market or other community event? Request the Conservation Station for your event this summer!

2016 Highlights: Summer Events Across Iowa 

Julie Whitson

Conservation Station a Hit at the Iowa State Fair


Butter cow carver, Sarah Pratt stopped by the Conservation Station to play the poo shuffle.

Another year at the Iowa State Fair has come to a close. A whopping 1,031,278 people attended the fair, apparently a down year. That wasn’t the case for the Water Rocks!/Iowa Learning Farms team. We spoke to 9,802 people — that’s a 38% increase from the previous year.

That means 9,802 people learned about what a watershed is, and why it matters to have clean water with our watershed game. They saw how important it is to keep the soil covered with our rainfall machine, and why we should pick up after our pets with our famous poo shuffle. These interactions were less, “Hello, are you having fun at the fair?”, and more “What can you do for clean water?”

This amazing outreach effort would not have been possible without the help from our dedicated partners, interns, and numerous volunteers. A big thank you from the entire Water Rocks!/Iowa Learning Farms team!


Jim Gillespie (top left), Mark Rasmussen (top right), John Lawrence (bottom left), and Mark Hanna (bottom right), all did an outstanding job working the rainfall machine.


The signage outside the poo shuffle was a real eye opener for participants.


The Conservation Station offered a water quality lesson for all ages and all backgrounds.

Corn Dogs, Cotton Candy, & Conservation

It’s mid-August, it’s steamin’ hot and humid outside, and that means, of course, it’s time for the start of the great Iowa State Fair!   The Fair is now officially underway (as of 7:00am this morning, for you early birds that want to beat the crowds), and runs August 11-21, 2016.


Photo courtesy of Iowa State Fair

Along with the obligatory stops like the Butter Cow, scouting for freebies in the Varied Industries Building, and the fair food, you should make the Conservation Station a part of your fair adventure this year! The Iowa Learning Farms/Water Rocks! team will be out at the fair every day sharing the water quality and conservation message – we’ve got something for everyone at the Conservation Station!

dscn0108Stop by the Rain Machine to check out how different land management practices can affect water quality and soil health. Yes, we make it rain! We’ll also be talking all about the Nutrient Reduction Strategy and the multitude of different conservation practices that can help reach our state’s goals.

CkHqHLaUUAA_EoS - CopyOr play the hands-on, interactive Watershed Game! See firsthand what a watershed is and how things like soil, nutrients, oil, and pet waste move in the environment.

You can also step inside the (air-conditioned!) LEARNING LAB and check out the “What’s In Your Water?” display. Each of these games/lessons is focused on water quality, and includes both agricultural and urban components.

Finally, it’s back and better than ever – don’t miss the incredible Poo Shuffle! Pet waste is a big deal, and we’re out to share some of the fun facts (and the realities) of what pet waste really means for water quality.

The Conservation Station can be found in Farm Bureau Park, south of the Grand Concourse and directly east of the Varied Industries Building. Look for the big blue trailer along with festive Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks! flags!

We’ll be open every day of the Iowa State Fair, from August 11 through August 21. Hours of operation for the Conservation Station vary by day:

Thursday, August 11 – 9:30am – 6:30pm
Friday, August 12 – 9:30am – 6:30pm
Saturday, August 13 – 9:00am – 8:00pm
Sunday, August 14 – 10:00am – 5:00pm
Monday, August 15 – 9:30am – 5:00pm
Tuesday, August 16 – 9:00am- 5:00pm
Wednesday, August 17 – 9:30am – 5:00pm
Thursday, August 18 – 9:30am – 5:00pm
Friday, August 19 – 9:30am – 5:00pm
Saturday, August 20– 9:30am – 5:00pm
Sunday, August 21 – 10:00am – 2:00pm

We’ll also have a number of conservation partners helping us out during the fair. Who knows, you may get the opportunity to see how your Poo Shuffle skills stack up against folks like Jim Gillespie (Iowa Dept. of Agriculture and Land Stewardship – Division of Soil Conservation and Water Quality) or John Lawrence (Iowa State University Extension and Outreach – Agriculture and Natural Resources).

SEE YOU THERE at the Fair!

Ann Staudt


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!



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!



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!


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

A friendly face of conservation

Congratulations to Iowa Learning Farms farmer-partner Tim Palmer of Truro (Madison County). He was recently featured on the cover of the August issue of Wallaces Farmer along with four of his grandsons, while helping out at the Conservation Station during last year’s Iowa State Fair.


Tim is one of those guys that’s always hard at work promoting conservation, whether it be hosting a field day on his farm, working with fellow Soil & Water Conservation District commissioners, or helping out at the Iowa State Fair – now he has the 15 minutes of fame on Wallaces Farmer to really show for it!

Keep up the great work, Tim!

Ann Staudt