Water Rocks! Brings Home a Blue Ribbon

Interactive Rock Your Watershed! game takes top honors in the Educational Aids Competition for novel approach to teaching players of all ages about watershed science and ecosystem impacts

Water Rocks! received a Blue Ribbon Award in Educational Aids from the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE) at the ASABE 2018 Annual International Meeting held in Detroit, Michigan July 29 through August 1, 2018.

“Rock Your Watershed!: A Game of Choice and Chance” is a browser-based game that engages players in applying various land uses, both agricultural and urban, conservation practices, and runoff mitigation techniques, then offers immediate feedback regarding the impacts of these choices. Players quickly see the environmental and cost impacts of conservation and learn about the natural ecosystem along the way. The game can be found and played online at http://www.waterrocks.org/ Players can see their scores immediately under multiple rainfall scenarios, play again as many times as they like, and the top twenty-five are included in the leaderboard.

“We are honored to be recognized by a prestigious global organization such as ASABE with a blue ribbon for Rock Your Watershed!, and are excited to share the game with colleagues from around the world,” said Matthew Helmers, professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering at Iowa State University and faculty advisor to Water Rocks!. “The Water Rocks! team has done extensive research into the appeal of previous versions of the game to different demographics. We’ve incorporated that research to make this latest edition rewarding to players of all ages and backgrounds. Animals play a much more prominent role with a new biodiversity scoring metric and the option to add grazing livestock on the land, plus there are also four new urban development choices. Playing this game can be a significant learning tool and we look forward to seeing many new names on our leaderboard.”

Teachers attending the Water Rocks! Summit compete in the Rock Your Watershed! game and discuss ways to utilize the interactive game in their classrooms.

Developed in partnership with Entrepreneurial Technologies, a web development firm in Urbandale, Iowa, Rock Your Watershed! moves the science and research spreadsheets to an accessible and engaging learning environment for all ages.

“The game is as simple or complex as the user wants to make it, and it’s really catching on,” concluded Helmers. “Since its launch in 2012, the game has been played more than 48,000 times, with some 20,000 of those plays taking place within the past year.”

The Future Looks Bright

Back in late February, I made a decision to join the Water Rocks! team for the summer. Little did I know that decision would take me to every corner of the state, meeting countless new faces. I knew this summer was going to be an adventure but I had never guessed that it would be on such a great magnitude.

My name’s Wyatt Kaldenberg, a pretty standard farm boy from Southern Iowa. I grew up being surrounded by agriculture, on the family farm and got very familiar with the ins and outs of farm life. I soon realized it was difficult to get people not involved in agriculture to become interested in it. I think that’s what has surprised me most about this internship, people’s willingness to explore agriculture.Last week I was at an event in Eastern Iowa, with the Conservation Station. The Conservation Station is a trailer that features a Rainfall Simulator out the back, as well as an Enviroscape watershed model. At this event I was stationed at the Rainfall Simulator and answering questions from the occasional passerby.  A family of five stopped by the simulator. The dad told me that he had grown up on a farm but he had chosen not to farm as a career. Being in the same boat myself, we soon struck up a great conversation.

We talked about the importance of soil conservation and improving water quality. His three kids soon became interested in the rainfall simulator and started asking some questions themselves. “Why does that look like chocolate milk?,” one kid asked while pointing to the runoff from the intense tillage tray. I explained that working the soil could make it loose and how it could easily get washed away from the field if there was a big rainstorm. The answer satisfied her question and I told her that her and her siblings could learn more if they went to the side of the trailer and checked out the Enviroscape, or as we call it, the Watershed Game. The dad then said to me, “I want my kids to know about this stuff; a lot of people don’t realize how important it is.” I agreed and we talked for another minute or so before he thanked me for my time talking and joined his kids and wife at the Enviroscape.

Wyatt had the opportunity to present the Rainfall Simulator to both Lieutenant Governor Adam Gregg (L) and Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig (R) at county fairs this summer!

Although I just described one conversation I’ve had while on this internship, this is not an unusual encounter. People from all over Iowa, agriculture background or not, want to learn more about how they can help maintain Iowa’s beauty. It’s nice to be able to tell them that no matter if they’ve lived on a farm their whole life or just seen cows from the interstate, they can help make a difference. I’m so ecstatic that I’m a part of a team that gets to spread that message. The future looks bright, Iowa.

Wyatt Kaldenberg

Wyatt Kaldenberg, originally from Indianola, is participating in the 2018 Water Resources Internship Program. Kaldenberg grew up on a family farm and has served as an Assistant Commissioner with the Warren Co. Soil and Water Conservation District. In the fall, he will be starting his junior year at Iowa State University, majoring in Finance and Management with a minor in Ag Business.

Hitting 100 County Fairs in Iowa – We Did It!

Schools out, the crops are growing, and it’s July. Fair season is here.

First, let’s dispense with the confusion. Iowa has ninety-nine counties, but one-hundred county fairs. It’s a story for another time, but Pottawattamie County holds two. Since 2007, Iowa Learning Farms has been providing conservation education at county fairs across Iowa. In 2010, together with Water Rocks!, we set the goal to attend the fairs in every Iowa county. It took multiple seasons, but we achieved that objective at the Jones County Fair on July 19, 2018. Along the way, we’ve entertained and provided conservation outreach and education to tens of thousands of Iowans through one hundred seventy-four fair visits.

With three Conservation Station trailers and dedicated Water Rocks! and Iowa Learning Farms teams, some creative scheduling, and tricky logistics, we were at twenty-eight fairs in 2017, and are on track for twenty-six this summer.

EnviroscapeAttending fairs in all ninety-nine counties doesn’t seem much of a feat until you consider that they all take place during the same few weeks each summer. Coordinating and scheduling the teams and equipment, working with tremendous local representatives at each stop, and responding to rain-outs, flat tires, and other hiccups, is a hectic but fulfilling job. At the end of the season, everyone involved gives a sigh of relief and accomplishment, and then looks forward to field days, workshops, and Water Rocks! school programs that fill up the rest of the year.

While we’re crisscrossing the state attending fairs, what should visitors expect from Water Rocks! and Iowa Learning Farms? A unique combination of information about conservation, farming techniques, and fun. Conservation is a choice that every Iowan must make for themselves, and we are dedicated to putting science-based information into the hands and heads of people of every age and background. Building a Culture of Conservation in Iowa is the core principle of the organizations.

Big CS RSWhere else, but at the Conservation Station, can kids win prizes by picking up dog poo (fake) and tossing it into targets? And along the way, learn about animal waste from domesticated pets and livestock, that can pollute the rivers and streams that are a great source of recreation and drinking water throughout the state. The lessons resonate with the parents and grandparents too. We see it in their faces as they lean in to encourage the kids.

The approach encompasses multiple media to capture a visitor’s interest, regardless of their age or background. We use music, art, games, and scientific displays to tune the Culture of Conservation message to everyone.

The Conservation Station trailers incorporate art and science to demonstrate how no-till and cover crop techniques benefit the broader ecosystem through controlling nutrient loss and erosion.

IMG_4781Our new Conservation Station On The Edge trailer also includes working bioreactor and saturated buffer demonstrations that help farmers visualize how these might work on their farms. These structures, which work below the surface and out of view, have proven to reduce nitrate levels by as much as seventy percent.

This year, the Big Conservation Station’s walk-through learning lab has been outfitted with all new artwork depicting the past, present, and potential future of Iowa’s farming practices and environment. Through this original artwork, we solicit visitors to contemplate the future they hope for Iowa, and share those dreams through their own artistic contributions.

Throughout Iowa we’ve been welcomed and welcomed back. And when we return to a fair to see the same smiling faces ready to hear more about conservation, we know that we’re making progress on our mission. We’re excited to get back to each county as soon and as often as possible.

Come out to see the Conservation Stations and Water Rocks! at the following fairs this summer:

  • July 20, Tama County
  • July 20, Decatur County
  • July 21, Poweshiek County
  • July 21, Henry County
  • July 23, Jasper County
  • July 24, Story County
  • July 25, Wayne County
  • July 26, Monroe County
  • July 26, Des Moines County
  • July 27, Fayette County
  • July 27, Crawford County
  • July 28, Hancock County
  • August 3, Clayton County
  • August 4, Mitchell County

We’ll see you at the Fair!

Liz Juchems

 

About Water Rocks! and Iowa Learning Farms:

Water Rocks! is a unique, award-winning statewide water education program that fosters the interplay of knowledge, caring and engagement among Iowa’s youth.

Established in 2004, Iowa Learning Farms (ILF) is building a Culture of Conservation by encouraging adoption of conservation practices. Farmers, researchers and ILF team members are working together to identify and implement the best management practices that improve water quality and soil health while remaining profitable.

Partners of Water Rocks! and Iowa Learning Farms include Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Iowa Department of Natural Resources (USEPA Section 319), Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.

We’re All In This Together

I grew up in Northeast Iowa on a family farm, where we grow corn, raise cattle and have horses. Growing up, I remember riding around in the tractor with my dad just for the fun of it. Today I still ride in the tractor with my dad, but now I do so having a greater depth of knowledge of farming and conservation as a whole.

As an Agricultural Studies student at Iowa State University, I run into so much diversity through my classes. I get to hear different perspectives on farming, land stewardship, natural resources, ranching, raising livestock, and so much more! I’ve learned a lot and gained new perspectives when it comes to using and managing the land.

I’ve also gained new perspectives through this summer internship with the Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks!, focused on water quality. This summer I have been able to interact with rural and urban community members and teach them about soil and water quality. I visit with active community members who are curious as to what they can do to care for the land we live on.

This summer has really opened my eyes. This internship has motivated me to want to see a change in land management before our water quality gets worse, and I have learned more about how we can all work together to do that.

Consider what you would have seen walking in Iowa two hundred years ago. A pioneer would have walked on Iowa’s land through vast tallgrass prairie, dotted with abundant wetlands and intersected by rivers.

Today, the landscape is vastly different –  I walk around today surrounded by crop fields and larger urban areas. I find it hard to want to go swimming in the rivers today because of the pollutants we have in our waters today. I respect farming and its purpose, but we need to find that balance with farming and land stewardship.

In the last 200 years we have lost 90+% of our wetlands and 99.9% of our prairie in Iowa. Those prairies and wetlands have very important jobs that act as a habitat and a filter for getting rid of possible pollutants. Now, as an agricultural student I understand how chemicals are being used and how much soil is getting exposed. These are two of many pollutants that we find in our water bodies today. We all need to work together and try to eliminate the amount of pollutants that are getting into our water bodies.

This summer I have been able to learn about the multiple conservation solutions we have available to us. In both rural and urban areas we are trying to reach out to landowners and introduce them to practices that can eliminate some of the pollutants in our water. During this internship, we discuss how buffer strips, wetlands, bioreactors, saturated buffers, cover crops and no till can lead to improvements in water quality. I have also learned that urban communities can help out by putting in permeable pavers and installing green roofs. These practices are great ways to start protecting our soil and water.However, one big challenge is that the improvements we want to see will not happen overnight because they take money and time. Not only that, but it takes everybody’s help to see a change. It is all of our responsibility to make sure we are doing what we can to prevent polluted water bodies and protect our great Iowa soil. We’re all in this together!

Taylor Kuehn

Taylor Kuehn, a New Hampton native, is participating in the 2018 Water Resources Internship Program. In the fall, she will be starting her senior year at Iowa State University, majoring in Agricultural Studies.

Art and Science create Vision for Future in Conservation Station

The Big Conservation Station trailer is trailblazing to county fairs across the state with a brand new, interactive display presenting a simple question: “What is your hope for Iowa?” Inside the Conservation Station’s learning lab are new mixed media murals showcasing the past, present and future of Iowa’s natural resources. Conservation Station visitors will have the opportunity to engage in discussion and artistic expression of their own – each fairgoer is invited to share their own #HopeForIowa.

“I am hoping to evoke an emotional response to the land, by depicting not a particular place, but ‘every place,’ so each person can relate to it,” explains artist Cecelia Comito of Artworks Studio in Carroll.

Comito collaborated with Ann Staudt, Water Rocks! science director, to create the original mixed media artwork for the Conservation Station trailer, representing an artistic vision that reflects the past, present and the future of our state. The artwork panels illustrate advances in conservation efforts over time, and the potential possibilities as farmers and other Iowans continue to implement effective land management practices to build soil health, improve water quality and increase wildlife habitat.

All the artwork was done on large canvasses at Artworks Studio. Each mixed media panel was built up with extensive layers of torn and cut paper, including such materials as stained and textured papers, pages from recipe books, story books, road maps, plat maps and even sewing patterns. Fine details were added through image transfer, paints, gelatos, watercolor pencils and pastels. Click through the slideshow below for a behind-the-scenes look at how the artwork came together. The finished pieces were imaged on a large scanner and then digitized in order to produce them large enough to place on the walls of the trailer.

“Farming practices have evolved over time, and not always in ways that have been positive for the ecosystem,” explained Staudt. “This new interactive art display will help people envision what’s possible for Iowa’s future and maybe inspire us to see what is possible.”

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In addition to the new artwork, Conservation Station team members employ perennial favorite interactive games and activities including The Watershed Game, The Poo Toss and the Rainfall Simulator to engage fairgoers of all ages.

Upcoming Big Conservation Station Trailer Appearances:
July 17                  Public Radio On Tap, Iowa City
July 18                  Polk Co. Fair
July 19                  Jones Co. Fair
July 20                  Tama Co. Fair
July 21                  Poweshiek Co. Fair
July 25                  Wayne Co. Fair
July 26                  Monroe Co. Fair
July 27                  Fayette Co. Fair
July 28                  Independence Farmers Market
Aug. 4                    Lakes Area Farmers Market, Spirit Lake
Sept. 2                  Glow Wild at Jester Park, Granger

Ann Staudt

Future Farming for the Greater Good

My name is Dawn Henderson, I am a senior in Agronomy here at ISU and this summer I am an intern with the Water Rocks! and Iowa Learning Farms programs. This opportunity has combined two of my passions: conservation agriculture and educating the public. Throughout the summer I have already had many opportunities to work with people of all ages and backgrounds in many different venues, but the message has remained the same: we must appreciate and protect what we have while we have it. In this blog post I wanted to highlight one of the more recent events I had the privilege of attending.

This past Friday, June 22nd, I and two other interns took the newest ILF Conservation Station trailer to Sioux Center, Iowa. This trailer, “On the Edge”, focuses on two of the newest edge-of-field practices farmers have the option of implementing in their fields. Saturated buffers and bioreactors are both relatively new ideas that work to reduce the levels of nitrate in our water by allowing the natural process of denitrification to take place, rather than routing all of the tile drainage water directly into ditches, streams, and waterways. The struggle is, these systems operate entirely underground, and once they are installed observation is not possible, making it difficult to understand how they operate. The On the Edge trailer is beneficial because it provides the opportunity to see what is happening below ground, from the main tile line to the stream.

At this event, hosted by Dordt College, a majority of the audience was comprised of farmers with an interest in conservation. Excellent questions were asked and encouraging conversations were had. Many questions were asked, such as, “How long do each of these practices last?” That answer is different for each structure. The saturated buffer is expected to last indefinitely, with minor upkeep on the flow control structure; the bioreactor is expected to need the woodchips refreshed every 10-15 years.

Due to the fact that both of these practices are still in their infant stages many farmers are curious, but cautious. One of the most common questions was, “How do these practices directly benefit the farmer?” This is a simple question with a difficult answer. Edge-of-field practices are meant to improve the health of our water, meaning the reductions that come from bioreactors and saturated buffers are for the greater good, not necessarily the individual. That does not mean there are no benefits to installing these practices. With the right design and vegetation, these areas could become habitat for wildlife and pollinators. In addition to benefitting wildlife, these practices are also typically installed on marginally producing lands. By taking these lands out of production and putting them into conservation, the landowner may end up saving money, in addition to bettering the environment.

These new practices show promise in the field of conservation to aid in reaching the goal of 45% nitrate reduction, put into place with Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy. Edge-of-field practices are intended to be used in concurrence with in-field practices, such as no-till and cover crops. By combining all of these practices, nutrient transport and soil erosion can be reduced by a significant amount, allowing Iowa to achieve the goal of reducing our nutrient contribution by 45%.

Based on the level of interest and support I have seen at multiple events with this new trailer, I am hopeful that these two new practices will find a firm place in our Iowan farming culture in the future.

Dawn Henderson

Dawn Henderson is a senior in Agronomy, participating in the 2018 Water Resources Internship Program at Iowa State University. She is a graduate of Marcus-Meriden-Cleghorn Senior High School in northwest Iowa. 

Meet Our 2018 Water Resources Interns!

We would like to warmly welcome our new crew of interns for the 2018 summer outreach season! These students come from farms across Iowa and Missouri and are ready to share their knowledge with you. Stop by our trailers this summer and say hi. Catch our interns at your local county fairs, farmers markets, field days and more.

For a full list of summer events, see our website. The interns will also be playing a role in field work and data collection for research projects with Iowa State University’s Ag Water Management research group.

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Pictured above from left to right: Wyatt Kaldenberg, Taylor Kuehn, Kaleb Baber, Donovan Wildman and Dawn Henderson

Wyatt Kaldenberg is from a family farm near Indianola in south central Iowa and is majoring in finance at Iowa State. He will be a junior this fall.

Taylor Kuehn is from a family farm near New Hampton in northeast Iowa and majoring in agricultural studies at Iowa State. She will be a senior this fall.

Kaleb Baber grew up on a family farm near Weston, Missouri, just north of Kansas City. He is pursuing a degree in agronomy and a minor in geology at Iowa State. Kaleb will be a senior this fall. We are thrilled to have Kaleb back with our program for a second summer!

Donovan Wildman is from a family farm near West Branch in east central Iowa and is majoring in agricultural and biosystems engineering (land and water resources engineering option) and minoring in agronomy at Iowa State. He will be a sophomore this fall.

Dawn Henderson is from a family farm near Marcus in northwest Iowa. She is majoring in agronomy and will be heading into her senior year at Iowa State this fall.

We are happy to have our interns on board! Watch for their social media posts on Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks! pages as well as their reflections on their internship experience on our blog.