Internship offers new perspectives, new direction

Today’s guest post in our Water Resources Internship blog series was provided by Andrew Hillman. Hillman grew up in Bettendorf, Iowa, and went to school at Pleasant Valley. He will be entering his junior year at ISU in the fall, majoring in Biosystems Engineering. Read on for his unique perspectives in the internship coming from an urban background!  

It has been a fun, wild ride in a way for me this summer. Coming from a completely urban background in the Quad Cities and starting this internship, I had little to no idea about any of these issues, or really anything about agriculture at all to be honest. But, from the pre-job training to all the experiences I have had this summer, from field work to outreach events, I have learned quite a bit. I never thought before this summer that I would ever be excited to go out and see things like bioreactors and restored oxbows, but here I am!

I have always been somewhat informed about environmental issues, but the thing that I have enjoyed the most about this summer is that I now have more nuanced and informed opinions about issues. And I can actually draw on my own experiences now, which is very neat. I knew that erosion and nutrient loss and runoff were environmental issues on the forefront in Iowa, but now is the first time that I can say that I feel personally connected to these issues, which is always something I felt that as an Iowan I should be doing, but never knew enough about.

Going to Iowa State University for Biosystems Engineering, I quickly was exposed to how little I knew about agriculture in Iowa, and so this summer has helped me fill a gap in my knowledge that was fairly noticeable compared to some of my peers. Now that I have experience going out to a field, seeing cover crops and collecting water samples, some of the things we talked about in my ABE classes are suddenly much clearer to me now that I have the context.

Something specific that I did in my ABE 218 course was build a table-scale system for reducing nitrate levels in water. Now that I have seen an actual bioreactor site, and presented the model bioreactor that Extension has, I have a greater appreciation for that project and the things that I learned while doing it. I even had the opportunity to work with Chase, one of the other interns, to come up with a preliminary design of our own for a model bioreactor to possibly be placed in one of our conservation trailers in the future. Edge-of-field practices like bioreactors are really fascinating to me.

Back on July 12, I had the opportunity to go to my home county for a Scott County soil health and cover crops field day. This was a great event for me, because growing up in Bettendorf, I really did not associate Scott Co. with much farming compared to the other places I had been in Iowa. It was interesting to see all the things that farmers in my area were doing to further soil and water quality goals.

The host location, Cinnamon Ridge Farms in Donahue, Iowa was amazing. It was eye-opening to hear the owner talk about all the strategies he was using, including his methods for integrating cover crops into his operation. Because their operation does tours year-round, including tours to farmers from all around the world, he had a unique perspective on many of the government cost share programs that are available to farmers, noting that there are not very many countries in which the government will pay you to adopt a farming practice. I think that this is very important, and one that people should keep in mind as Iowa communities look to adopt more parts of the Nutrient Reduction Strategy in the future.

I am currently in the Biorenewables option right now in Biological Systems Engineering, but after my experiences this summer with the Iowa Learning Farms, I am seriously considering switching my option so I can continue to learn more about the issues that I have been exposed to this summer! As an engineering student, this is where I can see so many opportunities to get involved after graduation.

Andrew Hillman

Join us Nov. 1-2 for Water Rocks! Multi-State Youth Education Summit

Our next Water Rocks! Summit is just around the corner on Nov. 1-2, and this time around, we’ll be bringing together youth educators from across the North Central region! Read on for more information about this great professional development opportunity…

novembersummitgraphic-ilfblogWho can attend the Water Rocks! Multi-State Youth Education Summit?
4-H and extension educators, SWCD youth outreach coordinators, watershed coordinators, naturalists, municipal/public works education personnel, scientists who frequently conduct youth outreach in the classroom, and STEM coordinators are all welcome — anyone who is involved with youth education outside of the traditional classroom setting!  We will be bringing folks together not just from the state of Iowa, but also extension educators from land grant universities in several surrounding states from across the North Central region.

TEACHERS: Visit the Water Rocks! website to learn more about our Teacher Summits, offered during the summer, which are designed exclusively for you.

What is the Water Rocks! Summit all about?
This professional development workshop offers training on a multitude of interactive and hands-on educational lessons covering water, soil, agriculture, environmental science, and more. The November Water Rocks! Summit will cover a wide variety of topics including the water cycle, watersheds, connectedness of agriculture and the environment in Iowa, agricultural management practices, wetlands, biodiversity, and more. Music, videos, technology, and super fun hands-on activities will be woven throughout!

How much does it cost?
The full cost of the November Summit is $800, which includes the WR! activity kit ($800+ of materials), plus lunch and snacks during the day. Financial assistance is available to qualified individuals/organizations.

What’s included in the WR! activity kit?
The Water Rocks! activity kit features numerous original, interactive educational modules that Water Rocks! has developed to help teach classroom lessons on water, soil, agriculture, environmental science, and more. It’s chock full of original hands-on learning activities and games (We All Live in a Watershed, Habitat Hopscotch, Wetlands BINGO, Biodiversity JENGA, Dig Into Soil, What’s In Your (Storm)water?, and more) that can be used time and time again with Grades K-12.

There are several people from our county/organization that would like to attend. Can we all come to the Summit? Do we each have to buy our own activity kit?
Multiple individuals from the same county office or local organization are encouraged to attend the Water Rocks! Summit together (up to 3 people on a team); please apply together so we know you are a team. In this case, only one shared Water Rocks! activity kit would be required.

Ready to apply?
Space is limited, so apply right away!  Financial assistance is available to qualified individuals/organizations; apply by October 12, 2016 to be considered for scholarship assistance.

Ann Staudt

This cooperative project has been funded by the North Central Region Water Network. Partners of Water Rocks! include Iowa Department of Natural Resources (United States Environmental Protection Agency/Section 319 of Clean Water Act), Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Iowa Water Center, Iowa Learning Farms, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, and personal gifts of support.

Water Rocks! Team honored by Governor!

The Water Rocks! team traveled to the State Capitol in Des Moines earlier this week for a special recognition ceremony with Governor Terry Branstad. We were honored to receive Special Recognition Award in the Environmental Education category as part of the 2016 Governor’s Iowa Environmental Excellence Awards!

eealogoThis year, 22 total awards were given out to organizations, businesses and communities across the state working to protect and enhance our natural resources. It was interesting and inspiring to hear about the many great projects that are happening statewide – from the Fighting Burrito’s use of electric cars and bicycles for food delivery, to Spirit Lake’s Pure Fishing establishing acres of pollinator habitat, to high school students in Central Community Schools’ Global Science class establishing a school/community food compost program!

At the awards ceremony, we were recognized for our outstanding efforts to educate youth and adults across the state of Iowa on water quality and environmental issues, whether that be through school visits, county fairs and community outreach events, Water Rocks! Summit teacher training workshops, and our collection of outstanding (and sometimes outrageous) music videos. While handing out the awards, the DNR’s Deputy Director Bruce Trautman even asked when he could sing in a music video!160803-WR!WebsiteGovernorAward

IMG_4490Joining us at the awards ceremony were several of our partners that believed in Water Rocks! early on and have been really instrumental in making this program a reality – Allen Bonini, Steve Hopkins, and Jeff Berckes from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Mark Rasmussen from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, and Melissa Miller representing the Iowa Water Center.  Thanks to these folks and all of you out there who have helped to support Water Rocks! in one way or another over the years.

As 2016 continues, we are on track to have another record-breaking year in terms of outreach!  There is a huge need for water quality education in our state, and the Water Rocks! team will continue to do our part to help meet that need as best we can.

Ann Staudt

2016 Crop Advantage Series kicks off today


Today marks the start of the 2016 Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Crop Advantage Series — these workshops are offered across the state, delivering the latest research, knowledge, and expertise related to crop production.  Topics range from crop weather outlooks for 2016, to soil fertility management, to weed and pest management, conservation practices, and much more!

Several Iowa Learning Farms team members and collaborators will be presenting at select upcoming Crop Advantage Series meetings:

  • Economic benefits of cover crops – Jamie Benning and Liz Juchems
  • Reducing nitrate loss: Scale of practice implementation needed – Matt Helmers and Ann Staudt
  • Genetic selection and seeding rate considerations for tight margins – Mark Licht
  • Spray application strategies beyond glyphosate – Mark Hanna

This year, the Crop Advantage Series meetings are being offered at 14 different locations – 13 across the state of Iowa, plus one in Moline, IL. Check out the map to see which location(s) and date(s) work best for you!

CropAdvantageMapEach Crop Advantage workshop is approved for recertification for Iowa private pesticide applicators, as well as continuing education credits for Certified Crop Advisers (CCAs).

Full registration for each workshop is $60 at the door, with lunch and refreshments included. Many sites still have early registration available online, through the Ag & Natural Resources Extension online portal, for the discounted rate of $50. On the webpage, select the specific meeting location you’re interesting in for additional details and online registration.

Hope to see you there!

Ann Staudt

Snapshots from State Fair

Water quality takes center stage at the Iowa State Fair when you visit the Conservation Station. Dogs, ducks, a rain machine, watershed game, poo, shuffleboard, prizes… what’s not to love?!   It’s all free. And fun. And educational!

While the Poo Shuffle has big curb appeal, visitors to the Conservation Station must “earn the poo” by first completing one of our educational lessons.  There are multiple options to choose from:


THE WATERSHED GAME – hands-on fun to learn all about watersheds and how pollution works


THE RAIN MACHINE – yes, we make it rain!

… or visitors can 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. We’re all in this together, and everyone has a role to play!

Then visitors are invited to get in line and compete in the POO SHUFFLE…   It’s a head-to-head competition where visitors learn about the connections between pet waste and water quality, while trying out their shuffleboard skills and competing for some fabulous prizes!


Dog poo meets shuffleboard in the POO SHUFFLE!

Did you know? 40% of Americans do not pick up their dogs' feces.

Did you know? 40% of Americans do not pick up their dogs’ feces.


Did you know? 1 gram of dog waste (mass of a paper clip) contains 23 million fecal coliform bacteria. If not picked up and disposed of, that poses some serious challenges to water quality!

The Conservation Station offers fun for all: urban and rural, young and old alike…


Love this little guy on his tiptoes to catch all of the action in the watershed game!


… and some of them aren’t even walking yet! You’re never too young to start learning about conservation!

Day 1 of the 2015 Iowa State Fair was a huge success!  While we always talk to large numbers of visitors at the Fair, yesterday was exceptional – our numbers at the Conservation Station were up 60%+ from opening day in 2014.

As Carol mentioned in her State Fair Time blog post yesterday, the Conservation Station is located in Farm Bureau Park, directly east of the Varied Industries Building and south of the Grand Concourse.  Look for the big blue Conservation Station trailer, Conservation Pack dog cutouts, and Iowa Learning Farms/Water Rocks!/Iowa State University Extension and Outreach flags.  You can’t miss it!

Make conservation a part of your visit to the State Fair – we have fun games and activities for all. A big shout-out to Jim and Jody Kerns and their whole crew for being the first Iowa Learning Farms farmer-partners to stop by the Conservation Station at this year’s fair!

Ann Staudt

Field Days around the Corner

When it comes to implementing new conservation practices on the ground, field days matter!

Attending field days provides an outstanding opportunity to learn from neighbors and experts about conservation practices, soil health, and water quality; ask questions of fellow farmers as to how they are making cover crops and other conservation practices work in their operations; and enjoy a bit of fellowship while you’re at it.  It’s a chance for farmer-to-farmer dialogue, learning directly from one another about the integration of a variety of conservation practices.


Over the next week and a half, the Iowa Learning Farms team will be participating in three field days/workshops across the state. Please consider joining us at one of these upcoming events!  Click on the links below for further details about each specific event.

Wednesday, July 29
1:30 – 4:00pm
CCWorkshop-Rotate Cover Crops Workshop
Butler County Extension Office, Allison

Tuesday, August 4
10:00am – 1:00pm
Soil Health & Cover Crops Field Day
Don Elsbernd Farm, Postville

Wednesday, August 5
5:30 – 7:30pm
Whole Farm Conservation Field Day
Craig Fleishman Farm, Minburn

Hope to see you there!

Ann Staudt

Coming soon to a fair near you…

July is always a super fun (and chaotic!) time of year as our Iowa Learning Farms/Water Rocks! team crisscrosses the state, traveling to as many county fairs as we can.

While we’d love to visit every county fair in Iowa, that’s a bit of a challenge with the vast majority of the fairs falling within the same three week window of time!  However, between our staff and students, we do our best to hit as many counties as we can, often sending out two separate groups to visit two separate fairs in the same day.  Our grand total this year is 28 individual fairs, an all-time record for our team!

What do we have to offer when we visit a county fair?  We may bring any combination of the activities shown below:






The list of 28 county fairs we’re visiting this summer is included below.  To find out what time of day we’ll be there, check your local fair book OR contact us and we can help you out with the specifics.

June 25       Linn Co. Fair
June 27       Howard Co. Fair
July 8       North Iowa Fair
July 9       Dallas Co. Fair
July 9       Central Iowa Fair
July 10       Cedar Co. Fair
July 12       Mills Co. Fair
July 12       Chickasaw Co. Fair
July 13       Adams Co. Fair
July 14       Sioux Co. Fair
July 15       Wapello Co. 4-H Expo
July 15       Adair Co. Fair
July 16       Monona Co. Fair
July 16       Muscatine Co. Fair
July 17       Osceola Co. Fair
July 18       Audubon Co. Fair
July 18       Clarke Co. Fair
July 21       O’Brien Co. Fair
July 22       Grundy Co. Fair
July 22       Washington Co. Fair
July 24       Boone Co. Fair
July 25       Buena Vista Co. Fair
July 28       Story Co. Fair
July 28       Lucas Co. Fair
July 31       Des Moines Co. Fair
 August 1       Plymouth Co. Fair
August 7       Fayette Co. Fair
August 7       Kossuth Co. Fair

Our full 2015 schedule of events can be found online, and additional summer events (community festivals, library visits, and more) are included there, as well.

Ann Staudt