The Start of a New Adventure!


img_1969Hello everyone! My name is Megan and I am so excited to be the new Assistant Music and Outreach Specialist at Iowa State University. I will mainly be working with the Water Rocks! program as well as, on occasion, Iowa Learning Farms.

I recently graduated from the University of Missouri-Kansas City with a BA in Theatre-Cum Laude, with a performance focus. I also attended Des Moines Area Community College for two years to take several of my general education classes. While studying at DMACC, I was lucky enough to take a semester abroad and live in London, England and take classes at the University of London. Although I have been blessed to travel all over, I grew up in Ames, Iowa and it will always be my home.

Over the years, with my background being in liberal arts, I have many eclectic passions and one of them is educating people about one of my favorite eras in history. For the past 6 years, I have been part of a Renaissance Royal Court troupe that travels around the Midwest to give educational programs on the Renaissance time period. The programs range from court life, to weaponry, and basic history of that time period. Most of our shows audience ranges from children to adults.

img_8812When I am not rocking it out with Water Rocks!, I pursue several of my other passions. One of them is performing on stage with ACTORS Inc., the Ames Community Theatre, reading one of the several novels that I own, singing around my apartment, playing piano, watching movies, or hanging out with family and friends.

Megan Kroeger

15 Years of Iowa Learning Farms


On Wednesday, Jacqueline Comito discussed the evolution of Iowa Learning Farms (ILF) over the past 15 years in an Iowa Learning Farms webinar. She talked about how ILF is doing in achieving its mission of creating a “Culture of Conservation”, shared some results on conservation practice adoption and described some of the new goals and challenges that the future holds. Has ILF been successful in building a Culture of Conservation? Yes, in short, but there is still a lot of work to do!

“To build a Culture of Conservation means that conservation will be at the heart of everything we do,” said Comito. Over the years ILF has used field days to help develop this culture and has figured out what methods work to make field days successful. Through evaluation and observation, ILF wrote the book on how to host a successful field day and hopes that this method will be widely adopted by those who host their own field days.

ILF Field Days Slide

ILF has reached many people through its field days over the years, as can be seen in the above graphic, which doesn’t include 2019 field days/workshops. One key component of ILF field days is the evaluation done, which has allowed ILF to compile years of useful data, including tracking practice adoption. The graphic below shows where the adoption of some conservation practices fall in the “Diffusion of Innovation” model developed by E.M. Rogers. According to ILF estimates, cover crop usage is in the “early adopters” category, with no-till/strip till already reaching in to the “early majority”. Newer edge-of-field practices like bioreactors and saturated buffers haven’t yet made it off the starting line.

ILF practice adoption slide

In order to help work to meet the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy goals and continue to be successful over the next 5-10 years, ILF is striving to

  • Increase the number of ILF field days and workshops in order to:
    • Expand the number of early adopters for cover crops
    • Increase the number of middle adopters for no-tillage and strip tillage
    • Increase the number of innovators for edge-of-field practices
  • Nurture relationships with conservation-focused farmers across the state who are willing to host field days
  • Rejuvenate the farmer-partner program with new voices
  • Focus on the “why” of conservation practice implementation to create a greater sense of urgency behind building soil health and improving water quality
  • Advance robust community outreach statewide with the Conservation Station trailers

To learn more about ILF’s successes, growth, impacts and challenges, watch the recorded webinar and check out the “Building a Culture of Conservation – 2004-2019” 15-Year report.

Join us next month, on Wednesday, September 18 at noon, when Emily Heaton, Associate Professor at Iowa State University, will present an Iowa Learning Farms webinar titled “Integrating Perennials into Underperforming Parts of Fields Could Improve the Farm Economy, Water Quality, and Bioenergy Feedstock Production”.

Hilary Pierce

August 21 Webinar: 15 Years of Iowa Learning Farms


Tune in on Wednesday, August 21 at 12:00 p.m. when Iowa Learning Farms will host a webinar about the evolution of Iowa Learning Farms (ILF) over the past 15 years and what new goals and challenges the future holds.

“ILF started with a simple idea: Building a Culture of Conservation in Iowa through helping farmers talk to other farmers about protecting Iowa’s soil and water,” said Dr. Jacqueline Comito, Iowa Learning Farms Program Director. “Through the years our tactics and tools have evolved, but the fundamental strategy of applying a multidisciplinary approach to increase adoption of conservation practices has led to increased practices and greater natural resource protection.” Comito will discuss ILF’s approach to outreach and education, and will also reference the “Building a Culture of Conservation – 2004-2019” 15-Year report, which was published in March 2019.

The 15-Year report highlights the program’s successes, growth and impacts, as well as some of the challenges faced and goals for the future. Some key findings from the report include that ILF farmer partners have expanded to included 88 farmers located in 51 Iowa counties, field days have grown from 5 to 32 annually and have engaged over 32,500 attendees, and cover crops were planted on more than 880,000 acres in 2018. These findings and more will be discussed during the webinar.

Don’t miss this webinar!
DATE: Wednesday, August 21, 2019
TIME: 12:00 p.m.
HOW TO PARTICIPATE: visit and click the link to join the webinar

More information about this webinar is available at our website. If you can’t watch the webinar live, an archived version will be available on our website:

Hilary Pierce

Faces of Conservation: Jim Gillespie

This blog post is part of the Faces of Conservation series, highlighting key contributors to ILF, offering their perspectives on the history and successes of this innovative conservation outreach program.

Director of the Division of Soil Conservation and Water Quality for Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) – retired

What was your involvement and role with ILF?
I was very lucky to be able to contribute and participate from the beginning, back in 2004, when serving as Field Services Bureau Chief for IDALS. I regularly participated with the ILF leadership team in discussions and activities and helped forge strong ties with the IDALS management team. I learned quickly that ILF was a valuable resource for the State of Iowa that provided excellent information garnered from their close work with ag producers. The ILF approach and success melded well with the state’s goals and objectives.

What was the purpose of ILF during your involvement?
Since its inception, ILF has placed great emphasis on establishing and promoting the concept of farmers helping farmers and peers helping peers. The purpose was – and is – to get information into the hands and minds of producers. Farmers like to share information and experiences with each other and often give more credence and respect to what is learned from a peer than when the same information is presented as a research report. ILF has continued to innovate while maintaining its core approach to delivering information and services and promoting efforts to build a Culture of Conservation in and beyond Iowa.

How did you change the program, and how did it change you?
Working with ILF gave me an opportunity to get out of the office and work with farmers across the state. Connecting directly with farmers helped me to learn and better understand where they were coming from, what was important to them on business and personal levels and how programs might best serve their needs. I think this experience helped lead to better models and ways to promote successes while addressing concerns from the producer community. I’m not sure that I had as much of an impact on ILF as it had on me, but I would not trade the experiences for anything.

What are your fondest memories of working with ILF?
Having the opportunity to watch and work with the ILF staff was always impressive and fun. Watching the precision of the team setting up and conducting field days never ceased to amaze. The dedication and commitment from every member of the ILF team shows through in the quality of the programming. They all saw the potential and wholeheartedly supported each other’s ideas to build and grow the program.

And, I loved working with the farmer partners. There was so much to learn from their passion for conservation and real world experiences – with successes and failures in real time.

Why are water quality and conservation outreach important to you and to Iowa?
Growing up on a farm, I’ve always maintained a connection to farming and the land, including a 40-plus-year career in agriculture. I began my career as a Vocational Agriculture teacher and became engaged in conservation as a field representative for soil conservation and water quality. My experiences have helped me to see and understand the issues from the perspectives of landowners, farmers and conservationists.

We are blessed with some of the best land in the world. We currently have sufficient water and great soil to support agriculture and community needs. However, moving forward, if we can’t or don’t protect these resources, the future could be bleak.

If you could look 15 years into the future, what one thing would you like to see as a result of ILF activities?
I’d like to see much more diversification in agriculture. ILF could be of great service in moving toward this goal. Wouldn’t it be nice if farmers had the ability to diversify into other commodities [beyond corn and beans] that could fit into a rotation that would improve soil health and promote better water quality, but still make a viable business?

In closing…
ILF has given a breath of freshness to extension services. Their approach to engagement and education through partnering with farmers has helped strengthen the connection between research and practical application. ILF has also helped to reinforce the role of extension as a noncommercially-biased resource and revitalize the reputation of extension as a trusted partner and resource.

Previous Posts in our Faces of Conservation series:

A Time to Celebrate; A Time to Look Ahead


Matt Helmers | Iowa Nutrient Center Director and Professor of Agriculture and Biosystems Engineering

Learning Farms 15 year celebration (8)This year the Iowa Learning Farms turned 15 and one of the highlights was a get together with farmer partners, current and former steering committee members, and others that have contributed greatly to the Iowa Learning Farms. It was a wonderful evening of reminiscing of things that have been done over the last 15 years. In addition, we had a video on loop at the event that show photographs from each of the years.

A couple things stuck with me after the evening—other than I seemed to have aged more than most. First of all, the Iowa Learning Farms is all about people and connection. As I was watching pictures of the various activities and events, it reminded me of many great moments and conversations whether at an event or in travel to and from the event. These helped shape what has been done over the past 15 years and help the team get better at inspiring a Culture of Conservation. We still have much work to do but the ability to work together, listen to others and constantly look for ways to do it better are essential.

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One of my fondest memories related to this is the development of the Conservation Station fleet. Mark Licht suggested we get a rainfall simulator trailer after seeing one in Illinois. There was hesitation by many on whether we wanted a trailer that we would have to haul around to country fairs and other events. Our Steering Committee was worried about who would staff it. Well, that didn’t stop us and the Conservation System Rainfall Simulator was born. When we realized by listening to attendees at events that maybe there were some things about the original trailer (other than its name) that we could improve, we built a better rainfall simulator and expanded trailer, i.e., the Conservation Station.

Today, we have three trailers in the fleet with perhaps a fourth someday dedicated to soil. Along the way, each one has been unique in its own way and the team has continued to listen to our audiences and to work together to improve them. These trailers have now been to all counties in the state, every county fair (some multiple times), and hundreds of community events spreading the Culture of Conservation.

As much as reflecting on the past is important, I couldn’t help but think to the future of Iowa Learning Farms and what it might bring. The strength of ILF has been in its ability to respond to change and grow. When we first started, the program was focused on residue management, which is still important today. A few years later, we added a focus on water quality and cover crops.  As a result, we have seen a dramatic growth in interest around cover crops and the development of new technologies like bioreactors and saturated buffers.

I think these practices and topics will continue to be important as part of the educational program but what new ways will be utilized or what new research information becomes available to help with increasing interest and adoption of these practices and other practices? Are there new practices or concepts that are just seeds or interest right now but will become key to building the Culture of Conservation tomorrow? I am excited to see what those might be and then seeing how the Iowa Learning Farms team takes this information and develops educational material and programming to highlight these new concepts.

The Iowa Learning Farms has been a great learning experience. We have all changed over the last 15 years but a constant with ILF is that the program has continued to engaged partners throughout the state, has continued to listen to Iowans both rural and urban, has continued to look for better ways to spread the message, and has and will continue to educate on new conservation practices.

Here is to the next 15 years!

Matt Helmers


Faces of Conservation: Rob Stout

This blog post is part of the Faces of Conservation series, highlighting key contributors to ILF, offering their perspectives on the history and successes of this innovative conservation outreach program.

Farmer-Partner with Iowa Learning Farms

Rob Stout has been farming near West Chester, Iowa, since graduating from Iowa State University (ISU) in 1978. Rob has demonstrated high levels of interest in conservation and water quality and has gotten involved in a variety of efforts to advocate for improvements. This has extended to his own farming choices which have included no-till for many years as well as participation in multiple research studies with ISU.

What has been your involvement and role with ILF?
I started working with the Iowa Learning Farms team in 2006. The ILF commitment to creating a Culture of Conservation resonated with my own interest in achieving water quality improvement through agricultural practices.

We got in on the first year of the long-term cover crop study and I’m proud to say we recently reported our tenth year of data. But it didn’t take me 10 years to see the benefits. The only parts of my farm fields not in cover crops now are the four test strips I keep for comparison in the ILF study.

The farmer-to-farmer communications element of the ILF outreach is very effective, and I’ve hosted field days, invited friends and neighbors to learn about conservation techniques, and volunteered to speak at ILF-sponsored events and meetings.

Why did you get involved with ILF?
Previously, I had been involved in several ISU research projects to help learn and improve farming techniques. I was also already involved in water quality initiatives. I saw working with ILF as an opportunity to learn more and work with others interested in water quality improvement.

The Culture of Conservation concept captured my interest. The ILF approach to research and outreach fit well with my own passion for learning and doing more to protect and promote the natural ecosystem through better agricultural practices.

How did you change the program, and how did it change you?
I don’t think I individually changed the ILF program, but I’ve always been pleased with the genuine interest they’ve shown in learning from farmers through listening to – and acting upon – feedback and ideas from the farmers. Through hosting and participating in field days, showing others the application of conservation practices, and joining in farmer-to-farmer interactions, I think I’ve provided valuable feedback and helped open new ears to the messages of ILF.

I’ve learned a lot from my involvement with ILF. I loved doing research when I was at ISU, and participating with ILF gives me a chance to continue learning while staying involved in research efforts.

I’ve also grown in my understanding of conservation and water quality issues. In 1983 I was doing no-till and thought I was doing everything I could. I initially thought of conservation simply as erosion control. The ILF cover crop study helped broaden my perspective and knowledge about practices that have changed the way I approach farming and conservation. ILF helped me to become an advocate and a voice of experience for farmers who may be interested in learning about the research from someone who has done it.

What are your fondest memories of working with ILF?
A favorite memory is of a field day we were hosting for ILF. As often happens in Iowa, Mother Nature didn’t cooperate, and we had torrential rains dropping some 3.5 inches on the morning of the event. We quickly cleared the shop to make room for the participants and were able to have a great experience. However, I think the rainfall simulator in the Conservation Station trailer didn’t need to use its own water supply that day!

Why are water quality and conservation outreach important to you and to Iowa?
I care about the environment and the future of our agricultural-based economy. Everyone, including farmers, must take responsibility and do their part to help reduce nitrates in our water. I think the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy‘s goals are critical for the future of the state.

I’ve been learning about watersheds and water quality since the early 2000s when I joined a farmer-led watershed group working to restore a local impaired creek. We secured grants to install bioreactors and a saturated buffer, implemented buffer strips along creeks, and took other positive steps to improve the watershed. To me, this kind of on-the-ground action is a core element to creating the Culture of Conservation which will benefit all Iowans.

Previous Posts in our Faces of Conservation series:

Faces of Conservation: Jerry DeWitt

This blog post is part of the Faces of Conservation series, highlighting key contributors to ILF, offering their perspectives on the history and successes of this innovative conservation outreach program.

Former Director, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at ISU

What was your involvement and role with ILF?
When Iowa Learning Farms first started, I was officed next door to Mahdi Al-Kaisi and thought the ILF approach was quite creative and a great idea for improving conservation outreach and education. In 2006 I became directly involved as director of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture (continuing in that role until 2010). Although I wasn’t part of the initial formation of ILF, I was there during the time when things really took off and the team developed a range of programs and components that took things well beyond the traditional extension-type methodology.

What things did you find to be unique about ILF?
As a seasoned administrator, I’ve always liked to take the approach of providing an organization with structure and foundation, but letting the experts drive the outcomes. With ILF this worked out really well. The team included faculty and staff from different departments, yet when we all gathered to talk about program ideas and goals, the typical hierarchy was left at the door and everyone was encouraged to contribute as a peer. This collegial working environment was not just effective and productive, it was a lot of fun.

What was the purpose of ILF during your involvement?
ILF was, and continues to be, an innovative and effective conservation outreach program. Promoting farmer-to-farmer educational opportunities and putting actionable information and practices into the hands of those that will use them, have proven to be very effective in working toward the ILF goal of Building a Culture of Conservation.

After a decade of extension budget-tightening, which brought about changes in the ability to deliver services, and damaged our relationship with farmers, ILF helped reaffirm my belief in the important role extension plays in Iowa. ILF is a great example of how interdisciplinary organizations can function and succeed.

How did you change the program, and how did it change you?
Certainly, ILF’s association with the Leopold Center contributed early credibility to the program within the university as well as with partners in Des Moines and around the state. But in very short order, ILF built its own reputation as a strong partner that consistently progressed toward and beyond its goals.

Working with ILF helped to re-establish my belief in the value of farmer-led one-on-one education in the field. Building these interactive conversations with all stakeholders through direct ‘hands in the soil’ efforts is what extension should be all about.

What are your fondest memories of working with ILF?
There are many, but two favorites come to mind. The first was watching a farmer lead a discussion about soil with a group of farmers using nothing more than two buckets of soil and a spade. He awed the audience with his knowledge and his presentation on soil quality in the words of a working farmer.

The second was the weekly ILF meetings. The meetings were efficient, but more importantly they were fun. The sense of energy and passion was palpable and infectious. They were always eager to make a difference. It’s hard not to enjoy oneself when working with such a group.

Why are water quality and conservation outreach important to you and to Iowa?
I co-own a farm that’s been in production for over 100 years. It’s imperative to protect the soil and environment so that my children and grandchildren will be able to enjoy and benefit from a productive farm as well.

Iowa has some of the best and most fertile soil in the world. If we lose the advantage of this incredible resource, we’ve effectively lost Iowa. It’s crucial to protect and maintain our collective resources or we will find we’re no longer in the Iowa we love.

If you could look 15 years into the future, what one thing would you like to see as a result of ILF activities?
I would like to see a totally different landscape in Iowa. USDA-NRCS published a booklet titled “Lines on the Land” which provides a great description of what a diverse and healthy farming landscape can look like: a landscape developed for soil protection, biodiversity, structure, enhanced productivity and cleaner water. If we can make progress toward that ideal, I will be delighted.

In closing…
ILF is showing the people of Iowa and an extension program that’s over 100 years old, how outreach and extension has worked in the distant past and how it should work today—hands-on and farmer-to-farmer.

Previous Posts in our Faces of Conservation series: