Discovering My Passion

ILFHeader(15-year)IMG_4905This is my second summer working with Water Rocks! and Iowa Learning Farms, my first being the summer of 2017. There have been a few moments throughout this summer that made me realize how much I have changed since I first began my internship here two years ago.

Back when I started, I had just changed majors to become a biosystems engineering major, and I was set that I was going to do the bioprocessing/biofuels track. Through my experience with the water resources internship, I found what I really wanted to do, which was working with water quality and other environmental issues.

When I first began the internship, I knew nothing about agriculture, water quality issues, or anything about what I wanted to do in the future. Now, besides the knowledge and experience I have gained through my education and my internships, I also have some solid ideas about what I want to do.

I realized this very recently through two very different workdays.

The first was field work we did for the monarch butterfly survey. We had to trudge through thick, soggy grass taller than me and fight off mosquitos and ticks while looking for milkweed plants in CRP fields. It was miserable, annoying, and painful, but also somehow fun! It was cool to learn how to identify the different species of milkweed, and it was a great feeling when you finally found a plant while walking in circles in chest tall grass for what seemed like hours (even though it was probably 5 minutes).

Monarch MonitoringIt was simultaneously one of the most fun and most miserable days of the summer. And with the help of an entire can of bugs pray, I’m still here! If you had asked me at the beginning of the summer 2 years ago to do that, I’m not sure what I would have done. I do know that I would have had a much worse attitude about it, and that I would not have had any fun whatsoever. I think that represents one way that I have grown, which is to be better at taking things as they come and dealing with it. I think is a very valuable attitude to have in the environmental field, because nothing ever goes as planned when it comes to nature.

The other day was one where I had to present the Conservation Station On the Edge trailer at a field day in NW Iowa. I had been on field days like this before, but with a staff member, and so I had heard this being presented but had never done it myself. I was nervous about doing this myself, because I was worried that I would get questions I couldn’t handle or forget to mention something important. I knew that I had learned a lot of this stuff through coursework and the internship, but I somehow felt that I still wasn’t prepared. But everything went well. I presented the models and information for both the saturated buffer and woodchip bioreactor, and it seemed like I was keeping the audience’s attention.

When it got to time to ask questions, I was nervous, but as they came, I found myself naturally answering them. It turns out, shockingly, that I learned something in college. I think that a major reason that I was nervous for grad school was that somehow, I felt that I wasn’t ready, and that I had managed to fake my way through college. That presentation was one of the first times that I felt confident in what I had learned and my ability to explain it to someone effectively. This has given me a lot of confidence for the future. Going from not knowing a thing about this field two years ago all the way to explaining edge of field practices to landowners is quite a jump, and something that I’m proud of.

Water Rocks! and ILF have really shaped my educational career, and it is an experience that I will take with me and remember for a long time.

Andrew Hillman is participating in the 2019 Water Resources Internship Program at Iowa State University.  Hillman grew up in Bettendorf and graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Biosystems Engineering. He is off to North Carolina State University to pursue a graduate degree in the fall.

A Year of Thanks!

On behalf of the Iowa Learning Farms team, I would like to thank all of our hosts, speakers and partners for an amazing 2017 Field Day season. The year our 28 field days were attended by 1,280 farmers, landowners, government employees, media and agribusiness staff. The topics included: cover crops, grazing cover crops, soil health, strip-till/no-till, bioreactors, rotational grazing, water quality, and monarch butterflies.  The combinations of these practices implemented on our landscape are key to helping reach our Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy goals.

Keep an eye out this January! We will be mailing a brief survey to all farmers/operators and landowners who attended an ILF-sponsored field day or workshop.

 

Be sure to check out our events page on our website to attend a 2018 event near you.

Liz Juchems

ButterBike Project Brings Monarch Education & Real Time Adventure to U.S. Classrooms

Monarch butterflies have received a lot of attention in the past several years. Their incredible multigenerational, transcontinental migration route has been a source of awe and wonder for ages. In recent years, scientists have revealed a nearly 80% decline in monarch populations due to burgeoning environmental threats facing the species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will decide by 2019 whether or not to place the monarch under the Protection of the Endangered Species Act.

This heightened awareness of the general citizenry to the plight of monarchs’ continued survival has led to increased public action on behalf of helping create beneficial habitat for monarchs, including municipal milkweed restoration projects, school and community butterfly gardens, monarch tagging events, and more.

ButterBike Logo

ButterBike is the newest project of Beyond A Book, an organization seeking to inspire U.S. students to get excited in science by connecting them in real time to scientific, environmental adventures. ButterBike seeks to raise awareness of the journey and plight of monarchs, as well as help educate youth about monarch migration through this “adventure-linked” educational programming. ButterBike follows Beyond a Book founder, Sara Dykman, as she bicycles the same 10,000 mile, round-trip route monarchs do during migration. Sara’s journey began in Central Mexico in March 2017, and continues all the way up to Canada, and back to Mexico, with an estimated finish in December 2017.

ButterBike Route

Along the way, Sara and her team make stops in schools and local communities, offering education about the project and about monarchs. Their current geographic location along the route can be tracked by students on the ButterBike website.

To support those schools for whom a live ButterBike team visit is not possible, the project offers multiple resources for teachers on their website including ideas for field trips, class projects and presentations, and even invitations for classrooms not along the route to participate in Skype video calls with ButterBike team members.

Filled with education about monarchs and how to support them, as well as blog entries from Sara, the ButterBike website is worth a visit for those interested in learning about monarchs, and tracking the fascinating story of both butterflies and humans as they complete this 10,000 migration journey in 2017!

ButterBike route2

Brandy Case Haub

A Big Boost for Pollinators

Over the past few weeks, the City of Cedar Rapids has received a great deal of positive press for their plans to convert 1,000 acres into prairie/pollinator habitat! Their new 1,000 Acre Pollinator Initiative will begin taking root this spring as acres and acres of diverse prairie are seeded throughout the city, in large part to restore habitat for native pollinators – birds, bees, and the iconic monarch butterfly.

Where exactly do you fit 1,000 acres of perennial vegetation inside the City of Cedar Rapids?  Anywhere and everywhere!  They are starting this spring by seeding 188 acres of diverse prairie throughout the city. Numerous unused public land areas have been identified, including within community parks, select areas of golf courses, roadway medians, along trails, as well as in some less glamorous areas such as sewage ditches and water retention basins.

Future plans in the five year project also include working with homeowners to voluntarily convert 10% of traditional mowed lawn areas to perennial vegetation for pollinator habitat. They are also partnerships happening beyond the city limits to include Linn Co. Conservation and the Eastern Iowa Airport (who is already on the forefront of numerous conservation practices – read more about the field day ILF held there last fall).

It’s a truly fascinating project, and an excellent example of unique collaborations coming together to “make things happen” in the conservation world. Funding to date has come from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources-REAP Grant and the nonprofit Monarch Research Project. While the City is certainly a key partner in this work, the 1,000 Acres initiative has been fully funded outside of city and county budgets.

Learn more about the 1,000 Acre Pollinator Initiative on the Cedar Rapids Pollinator and Natural Resources Initiatives page, as well as an article in Popular Science: A small city in Iowa is devoting 1,000 acres of land to America’s vanishing bees.

Ann Staudt

 

 

Talking About Monarch Butterflies with Steven Bradbury

Did you miss the Iowa Learning Farms webinar this week? Steven Bradbury spoke about monarch migration, monarch status in Iowa and the nation, and the work that is being done in Iowa and beyond to maintain monarch habitat and to help monarch numbers climb.

You may have heard about monarch decline. Bradbury emphasized that monarch decline is real. His graph shows a shocking decline of monarch butterflies in the last few years that is unprecedented.

Monarch graph

Monarch numbers can vary from year to year, and a big reason for that is because of monarch migration and the cyclical nature of that migration. It takes four to five generations of monarchs to make the journey north in the spring: one generation in Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas; two or three generations in the summer in the upper Midwest; and then a final generation that migrates south to overwinter in Mexico. Each of those generations of monarchs can be affected by general stressors, weather events, and lack of habitat along their migration journey.

monarch migration

Iowa fits into the conversation in a big way, as 50% of the migrating monarch generations breed in the Corn Belt. And, of all of the environmental stressors for monarchs, Bradbury ranks habitat loss as the largest reason for monarch population decline. In Iowa, much of our habitat loss is directly connected to our agricultural economy.

Bradbury’s main question for us is
“How do we figure out how to grow crops and monarchs
in the state at the same time?”

Watch the archived webinar to see Steven Bradbury’s energized talk on monarch conservation in Iowa and beyond. There is much work already being done on this issue, but there is still more to do. If you are a farmer, landowner, or even a private citizen with a small amount of yard space, there are ways that you can get involved. There are ongoing projects that are studying monarch habitat as a compliment to other land uses, including within saturated buffers, over bioreactors, in underutilized grass areas, and near swine production sites.

If you want to get involved or have questions on how to help, you can go to the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium or give them a call at 515-294-9980.

To watch the webinar, check out our archived version here.

Julie Whitson

Buzzin’ About Pollinators

While many pollinators across the country and across the globe face great uncertainty, the Water Rocks! team recently released a new music video celebrating pollinators and the amazing work they do! Inspired by the one and only T.Swift and her infectiously catchy pop tune “Shake It Off,” Please The Bees takes us back to the days of summer school and a colony of students that are unBEE-lievably bored out of their minds. The minutes pass like hours until a few special guests show up and turn the hive upside down…   Watch Please the Bees now!

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Check out Please the Bees on the Water Rocks! website, YouTube, and TeacherTube.

We are also pleased to announce that Please the Bees will be receiving recognition at the 2016 Iowa Motion Picture Association Awards Gala on April 16. Stay tuned for further details!

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Bees-05(monarch)Beyond the bees, another pollinator that has been the subject of much media attention is the iconic monarch butterfly. Since 1996, eastern migratory monarch populations have declined 84 percent, largely due to the loss of native milkweed plants. A recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, on which Iowa State University scientists collaborated, investigated the very real possibility that monarchs could face “quasi-extinction” in the next 20 years. Read the full news release for more information: Iowa State University researcher helps to forecast the chances of monarch butterfly survival.

Our treasure lies in the beehive of our knowledge.
     We are perpetually on the way thither,
        being by nature winged insects and honey gatherers of the mind. 
-Nietzsche, 19th-century philosopher and poet

Ann Staudt