Water Rocks! Amps Up Online Environmental Learning Fun

Water Rocks! is expanding its online portfolio of environmental and water quality education programming with the addition of two streaming video programs. Water Rocks! Unplugged is a weekly studio session featuring Water Rocks! music and associated lessons. Water Rocks! Out of the Box is a series of short natural resources lessons with at-home activities. Both programs leverage the strong science education content typically delivered through the Water Rocks! classroom visits and assemblies which have been put on hold this year by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The unprecedented closure of schools across Iowa led us to brainstorm some new ways to use technology and remote learning to continue delivering our natural resources and water quality content and lessons to youth around Iowa,” said Ann Staudt, Water Rocks! director. “Our enewsletter, The Monday Mix, has been well received, and these new streaming options will give teachers, parents, and kids some new options to have fun while learning—all while keeping natural resources, water quality, and the environment around us at the forefront. We are eager to provide resources and support teachers and parents who are facing incredible challenges.”

Water Rocks! Unplugged features Water Rocks! music frontman Todd Stevens, performing acoustic versions of hit songs from the Water Rocks! catalog. Each performance is accompanied by a quick lesson highlighting the key science elements related to the song. New videos will drop on Facebook and YouTube every Tuesday and Thursday at 1 p.m. CDT – beginning TODAY, April 14!

Water Rocks! Out of the Box is a series of virtual video lessons featuring student intern Emma Flemming, sharing fun, hands-on, at-home adaptations of classroom lessons and interactive activities from the Water Rocks! classroom visit program. Each lesson runs 5-10 minutes, and a new video will drop on Facebook and YouTube every Wednesday and Friday at 1 p.m. CDT – beginning TOMORROW, April 15!

Aligned with the new normal of working from home and learning from home, these video projects are being recorded and produced in the performer’s homes.

“Flexibility and innovation are watchwords right now, and Emma and Todd have both come through with creative ideas, effort and content for today’s youth,” continued Staudt. “Emma has shown great ingenuity in adapting the Water Rocks! activities for at-home use. Building on her experience visiting classrooms in our Water Resources Internship Program last summer—she’s truly driving the Out of the Box project. We are excited to launch both of these new video series.”

As Iowa schools implement online programs at all grade levels, the Water Rocks! online resources and online learning modules provide science-based content that is easy to use. All Water Rocks! programming is correlated to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) adopted by most Iowa school districts. Teacher, parent and student links to music, videos, games and educational resources are available free of charge at www.waterrocks.org

Be the first on your block to catch the new videos Tuesday through Friday each week at 1 p.m.! Just follow these links to Water Rocks!’ social media pages:
https://www.facebook.com/WaterRocksISU
https://www.youtube.com/user/WaterRocksISU

Farmland wildlife making a comeback

How do we maintain productive, profitable farms in Iowa that protect soil resources, support biodiversity, and send cleaner water downstream?  Tune in to the December Iowa Learning Farms webinar to learn more about these challenges and opportunities from Dr. Adam Janke. Janke serves as Assistant Professor in Natural Resources Ecology and Management and Extension Wildlife Specialist at Iowa State University.

Many wildlife species in Iowa have exhibited consistent population declines over recent decades. However, contrary to popular belief, these population declines are not due to the expansion of agricultural land. Farmed acres in Iowa have actually declined when compared to the 1930s.

However, what has changed dramatically is the intensification and homogenization of agricultural production. Comparing the 1930s to now, the diversity of cropping systems has dramatically decreased, hedgerows and weedy areas have all but disappeared, and there has been a clear trend towards uniformity on the landscape. Put simply, all of this points to fewer places for wildlife to live.
While much recent attention has been focused on water quality-related conservation practices that align with the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, Janke emphasizes that many of these conservation practices also offer great benefits to farmland wildlife.

Janke points out, “Changes in land use intended to address water quality can also address wildlife concerns in Iowa’s Wildlife Action Plan.” (Did you know that Iowa has over 400 species identified as Species of Greatest Conservation Need?!)
In order for farmland wildlife to thrive, Janke emphasizes three big needs:

  • Native diversity: Wildlife favor native plants over non-natives, and there is a particular benefit to having diverse vegetation providing food resources over the course of the season.
  • Natural features: Natural features like herbaceous vegetation and shallow, pooled water provide important food resources and habitat for wildlife.
  • Size/connectivity: In order to make meaningful gains, wildlife need adjacent or near-adjacent, connected parcels of land that provide quality habitat.

Riparian buffers, wetlands, and strategic integration of prairie into row crop productions can make a huge difference for wildlife!  Watch the full webinar here to learn more about studies that Janke and colleagues have conducted tracking farmland wildlife here in Iowa, along with additional insight into the relationships and synergies between water, soil, and wildlife stewardship.

Ann Staudt

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P.S. Stay tuned for further information about next month’s Iowa Learning Farms webinar (date TBA).  We look forward to kicking things off with a joint webinar-podcast featuring a conversation with Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig.

 

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.


ROB STOUT
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.


JERRY DeWITT
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:

Faces of Conservation: Ann Staudt

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.

Ann Staudt – Assistant Manager, Iowa Learning Farms and Director, Water Rocks!


What has been your role with Iowa Learning Farms?
My involvement with Iowa Learning Farms has evolved and grown since I started with the program in 2009. Immediately after joining the team, I was tasked with “doing something exciting with this new trailer”. It was truly a blank slate! From this broad plan, I applied my background in science, engineering, art, and education to help create the Conservation Stations. As the team brainstormed new ideas and suggested different elements, I coordinated the many moving parts, helping to shape things from proverbial lumps of clay into what I think is a pretty effective, unique and visually engaging learning and teaching tool for natural resources and water quality education.

As a part of the ILF management team, I’ve worn a lot of hats, from coordinating our internship and AmeriCorps programs and field data collection, to producing visually engaging infographic-style publications and serving as fiscal officer for our outreach programs. You’ll also find me out and about speaking at conservation field days across the state, covering topics ranging from bioreactors to cover crops and earthworms (I’ve been dubbed “The Worm Whisperer” on more than one occasion).

What is the mission of ILF?
ILF provides a structure and mechanism to create and curate conversations on-the-ground with and between farmers and landowners, bringing key parties together to build bridges between technical approaches, scientific research and farmers operating their businesses. Our field days and workshops provide an excellent opportunity for farmers and landowners to learn from one another about the best ways to integrate soil health and water quality practices into their day-to-day farming operations.


How did you change the program, and how did it change you?
I like to bring creative out-of-the-box approaches to how we communicate issues, practices and solutions. The Conservation Stations are a key example of developing a comprehensive approach to communicating conservation topics and issues. Integrating visual arts and music into projects has afforded me the opportunity to bring my love of these media into our work as well.

One of my favorite contributions to ILF was the idea for The Conservation Pack – using dogs to tell conservation stories. Through The Conservation Pack, we deliver messages about conservation and water quality in a way that’s fun and accessible for kids, to get the next generation excited about the amazing natural resources around us!

I like to think my enthusiasm for teaching and learning comes through in all our efforts, whether that be with farmers at a field day, or with fifth-graders in the classroom. Between 2009 and 2012, ILF received a growing number of requests for youth programming—school presentations and outdoor classrooms—while at the same time, Iowa’s soil and water conservation district commissioners were asking, “Who is educating the next generation on these issues?” The plan for Water Rocks! was hatched, funded and executed at this time, and is now Iowa’s premier youth water education program, in great demand across the state!

Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of working with an amazing group of farmers, partners and experts, learning about what they are doing and why. Learning and seeing others learn has been a great inspiration that I attribute to being a part of ILF – this work has definitely had an impact on my life and career, and helped me reconnect with my family farm roots.


What are your fondest memories of working with ILF?
Every day could bring a new favorite, but there are several exciting milestones that stand out.

Launching each of the three Conservation Stations have been significant points of pride for me and the program. With the launch of the Conservation Station On the Edge in 2018, I felt we took a huge step forward in diversifying our educational reach in direct response to Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy and the push for specific practices to address nitrate loads and water quality.

I also learned so much and loved working with Cecilia Comito on the Hope for Iowa mixed media murals and messaging in the relaunch of the Big Conservation Station in 2018.

Something that refuels my energy each year is seeing the growth and transformation of our summer interns. Watching these college students learn –witnessing the lightbulb come on in their eyes – and seeing their ability to communicate their knowledge grow with each encounter fills me with hope for the future.

Why are water quality and conservation outreach important to you and to Iowa?
Outreach is critical because we can’t change hearts and minds with science alone. Outreach puts a human face on the science and helps people absorb the message and understand their role in promoting and driving change.

Iowa has amazing natural resources and it’s important to help every person –rural or urban– understand they can have a positive impact on the environment. The state must also continue to nurture and maintain its natural resources to attract and retain Iowa’s human capital. Parks, rivers and streams, and clean water are key contributors to quality of life in both urban and rural communities.


Previous Posts in our Faces of Conservation series:

The Epic Outdoor Classroom Adventure


Today’s guest blog post is provided by Joshua Harms, part of the
Iowa AmeriCorps 4-H Outreach program, serving with Water Rocks! in 2018-19.

On May 7th Ann and I were tasked with an adventure to go teach 8 We All Live in a Watershed presentations at the Carroll County 5th Grade Outdoor Classroom. This adventure started at 7:15 when Ann and I left the parking lot. Our drive was about an hour and a half which isn’t much compared to some of the other epic journeys across Iowa that we have taken. After we arrived at Swan Lake State Park Nature Center in Carroll, we were met at the door by our contact Anjanette Treadway. She then showed us to the room in which our presentations would take place so that Ann and I could set up.

When Ann and I had finished setting up we made our way to the commons area where orientation was taking place with 170+ 5th graders and their teachers. During orientation Anjanette explained that one of the speakers did not show up. This speaker happened to be someone that was going to talk about bees/pollinators. As Ann and I heard this we started thinking if there would be any way that we could help Anjanette out. Now it just so happened that we had brought one of our pollinator games along with us because Anjanette had requested to borrow it for another event that she was hosting a few days later. So we came to an agreement that we would split up and I would teach a modified pollinator presentation while Ann would teach the watershed presentation. 

Now to be honest I was a little nervous because I had never taught an entire presentation by myself let alone 8. I had around 5 minutes to quickly come up with talking points to accompany the game. After I quickly came up with some talking points, I made my way to the place in which I would be teaching to start the epic adventure of doing 8 presentations all by myself. As the day of presentations went on I started to feel really comfortable with what I was doing plus I was also remembering more things that I could talk about.

I taught the students that pollinators actually complete the process of pollination on accident as they fly to different flowers looking for nectar. I also explained that these creatures are responsible for a lot of the different foods that we as people enjoy. After explaining the process of pollination and how important it is, I focused in on monarch butterflies in particular. I explained the super long journey that they take, known as migration. I emphasized that this journey comes with lots of different challenges and that led right into a game called Monarch Migration Madness.

The Monarch Migration Madness game is all chance-based. There are 10 circles in both the summer habitat (with each circle depicting a milkweed plant) and winter habitat (with each circle depicting an oyamel fir tree). I started off by giving each student a number, which represented which number circle they started on in the summer habitat. After they got to their starting positions, I counted down from 3 and then the students migrated to the opposite side of the room, where the winter habitat was, and at that point they could pick any number circle. The only thing is that there cannot be any more than 3 monarchs per circle. After they made their migration, I read a situation that would affect some of their habitat, removing the designated oyamel fir trees as called for in the situation. This game goes on for several rounds until there are only a few remaining monarchs. When the game was complete I then finished off with some different things that we as people can do to help our pollinator friends continue to thrive.

I was definitely a little worn out after the completion of all the presentations, but all that was left was to pack up and drive back to Ames so I wasn’t complaining. During the drive back Ann and I talked about how we felt our adaptation to the situation went. We came to the conclusion that it went quite well. As we eventually arrived in Ames we knew that the epic adventure had come to an end. It was an exhilarating and successful adventure—the students had FUN, they learned a ton about the environment around them, and I felt a lot more confident after giving 8 presentations on my own!

Joshua Harms

Faces of Conservation: Liz Juchems

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.


Liz Juchems – Conservation Outreach Specialist
Liz Juchems has been part of the Iowa Learning Farms staff since 2013, but her original involvement dates back to 2008 when she first worked as an intern. With multiple ILF internships under her belt, Liz left ISU to pursue her master’s degree at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln before returning to Ames and ILF.

What is your role with the organization?
ILF has grown over 15 years and my roles and responsibilities have likewise grown and evolved through my years here. As the team’s conservation outreach specialist, my days are filled with planning and delivering field days and workshops for farmers and landowners, coordinating school visits and Conservation Station events, and lots of scheduling and logistics planning!

I’m also deeply involved in ILF’s long-term cover crop research, data collection, and working with farmers and ISU farm managers to establish research plots. Other research related activities include performing economic analysis of cover crops and assessing soil erosion reduction benefits of using cover crops across Iowa. I recently helped author materials for the Emerging Farmers program which includes business planning tools as well as the Talking with Your Landlord publication series.

What was the purpose of ILF during your involvement?
My father, Rick Juchems, was one of the early farmer partners with ILF, so I saw the program in its infancy and from the farmer’s perspective. I’ve seen the programming evolve to what it is today and note that ILF has stayed true to its original mission to engage farmers and communities in creating a culture of conservation throughout the state of Iowa. An important part of the program has been face-to-face involvement with farmers through field days and workshops. Not only has this helped build the impact and reputation of ILF, but has also affected how farmers speak with and influence other farmers.

ILF is successful because we engage with multiple communities and constituencies with facts, science, and solutions. Partnering with farmers, service agencies, non-profits, schools, and others helps ILF continuously promote practices and actions that can deliver positive outcomes for all.


How did you change the program, and how did it change you?
I’ve got a “get it done” personality, whether it be planning the fine details for each of the 180 school visits per year that we do with Water Rocks!, hand seeding cover crop research plots, or bringing fresh ideas to how we approach field days and outreach events that have improved quality and impact.

Involvement with ILF definitely helped me choose my education and career paths. I have also learned a lot about problem solving, gained confidence in speaking one-on-one and in front of groups, and deepened my understanding of soil and water conservation practices to help better inform Iowans – farmers, landowners, students, and urban citizens alike.

Why are water quality and conservation outreach important to you and to Iowa?
I grew up on a farm and my parents continue to farm and employ conservation practices in Butler County. My brother and I are future landowners and have a personal stake in preserving the land that our family has worked to care for and create a legacy. I also enjoy outdoor recreation, be it floating down a river or walking through state and city parks, so having clean and healthy public places to enjoy is very important to me.

Iowa’s economy relies heavily on agricultural production. But there are also robust water and wildlife recreation opportunities that contribute to making Iowa a great place to live. Conservation plays a huge role for every Iowan whether they are landowners and ag producers or not.

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 quarter of Iowa’s crop acres seeded with cover crops. That would mean 6 million acres of cover crops, compared to today’s 880,000 acres of cover crops. While this is still well below the goals proposed in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, it would make a real impact on water quality in Iowa.

I’d also hope that we will have made a mental shift in thinking about conservation, making it a normal way of doing business. And that crop diversity and conservation will have become norms, not afterthoughts that are only considered when time and money are ample.

In closing…
ILF is a trusted resource that’s been around for 15 years. We have tons of expertise in water quality, conservation and agricultural practices. We’re also connected to partners with even more experience and expertise. So, if someone has a question, we can explore and reach out to our network of experts to find an answer.


Previous Posts in our Faces of Conservation series: