Evaluation key to effective field days

You planned your event – lined up the space, speakers, meal – and had a great turnout. Congratulations! You’re done now right?

Not quite…

How do you know if your event was effective in meeting your outreach goals? What could have been done differently to improve the effectiveness? Asking for attendee feedback is a useful evaluation tool that can be used to make decisions on what worked well and what doesn’t. In addition to self-reflection on the event, asking for attendee feedback is one of Iowa Learning Farms’ key tools for planning and holding well attended and effective events.

DSC_1312Through our two-week follow up evaluation we gather feedback on the effectiveness of the field day to help us improve future events. Using a five point scale, attendees are asked to rate the overall quality of the field day, effectiveness of expert presentations (ILF, ISU Extension and Outreach, NRCS, PFI, etc.), and effectiveness of farmer presentations.

All three categories saw improvement over 2016 numbers. The effectiveness of expert presentations saw a 10% increase over last year in the people who considered it excellent and the overall quality of the field day or workshop metric saw an 8% increase over last year in the people who considered it excellent.

Effectiveness

In addition to the information above in our Year End Evaluation Report, we also compiled our Individual Field Day Report. This report breaks out the evaluation responses by event, as well as how far attendees traveled to attend the event to help with field day promotion efforts – see map below.

Summary of 15 16 and 17 Distance Traveled by Crop Dist

An example two-week evaluation is available in our Field Day Marketing Toolkit and we encourage you to modify it and use it for your own event.  We are currently revising the evaluation to add more specific questions aimed at improving program content and format. This will be included in the Toolkit update later this spring.

Stayed tuned for more highlights from our 2017 Evaluation Report and be sure to click subscribe and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Liz Juchems

AmeriCorps Week: Doing My Part

Today’s guest blog post is provided by Jack Schilling, part of the Iowa AmeriCorps 4-H Outreach program, serving with Water Rocks! in 2017-2018.

This month, AmeriCorps Service Members participated in AmeriCorps Week, a week dedicated to raising awareness and promoting AmeriCorps. As a great opportunity to promote the program I have been a part of for six months, I immediately set my sights on my way of promotion: a radio interview in my hometown of Jefferson.

The local radio station, Raccoon Valley Radio, was kind enough to do an interview with me about AmeriCorps at my request. I spoke about AmeriCorps, Water Rocks!, and what I enjoyed about both. I even got the chance to talk about why I joined AmeriCorps: I needed more time to figure out what I wanted to do in life, and AmeriCorps seemed like a great use of time in my gap year.

As glad as I am to have done my part in promoting AmeriCorps, I wish I could have done more to promote the program for the week. I planned on giving a presentation to my county’s schools about AmeriCorps, but sadly their spring breaks were right over AmeriCorps Week! Nevertheless, I’m happy that I and the other AmeriCorps members were able to reach out and promote AmeriCorps to all who are looking for an opportunity just like this.

Jack Schilling

Building A Culture of Conservation Since 2004

Iowa Learning Farms continues to build a Culture of Conservation as we bring together farmers, landowners, agribusiness, researchers and state and federal agency partners.

2017 ILF Evaluation Report top banner

In 2017, Iowa Learning Farms delivered or participated in 92 outreach events that reached a total of 7,372 people. Our staff, trailer fleet and partners across the state helped us reach new communities and participants as we continue to build a Culture of Conservation.

One of Iowa Learning Farms many strengths is our approach to evaluation. The process is five-fold to help us plan and deliver effective conservation education and outreach.

Here is a glimpse behind the curtain at our evaluation process:

  • Event Evaluations – completed by our team immediately following every event. These forms help us to understand the audience’s level of engagement, document the questions that were asked by participants and help us to improve future outreach activities by noting what went well and what could be improved.

The remaining evaluation process is specific for farmer outreach activities that we host:

  • Comment Cards – filled out by all participants in order to gain a better understanding of who they are and why they are there.
  • Demographic Cards – filled out by all participants and provide a snapshot of attendees in terms of their age, gender, role in agriculture and information about their farming operation. The cards also capture preferences on timing and topics of interest for future outreach events.
  • Follow-up Evaluations – mailed within three weeks of the event to participants (for those that happened before November 7). The questions focused on the clarity and accessibility of the information received and inquired whether participants planned to make any changes in their land management as a result of the event. The individual field day report is now available online.
  • January Evaluations – mailed to only farmers/operators and landowners. These questionnaires were sent in January 2018 to see if the participants had made the changes they said they were going to make in earlier evaluations.

Over the course of the next few weeks we will be highlighting findings from our 2017 Evaluation Report, so be sure to subscribe and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Liz Juchems

2017 ILF Evaluation Report bottom banner

Request the Conservation Station for Your 2018 Summer Event Today!

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If you have a summer camp, county fair, farmers market or other community event in need of unique and educational entertainment, look no further than the Conservation Station. We are currently accepting requests for community events in June and July 2018. Get your requests in by Wednesday, March 21 for priority consideration!

IMG_2963The Conservation Station brings with it a multitude of activities that educate and inspire children, adults and families to think deeper about the world around them. Our rainfall simulator demonstrates the impacts of land management choices on water quality. Our hands-on, interactive activities and games emphasize that, if everyone does their part, we can all make a difference in water quality in Iowa and beyond.

Do you want to include the Conservation Station at your community event? Request the Conservation Station for your event this summer! Get your requests in by Wednesday, March 21 for priority consideration!

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Julie Winter

Cover Crop Acres Grow But Rate of Growth Declines in 2017

According to the Iowa Learning Farms 2017 Field Day Evaluation Report, Iowa cover crop acres grew last year by approximately 22% to 760,000 total acres. While the positive growth with shrinking profit margins is notable, the rate of growth is ten percent less than the growth measured in 2016, and still well below the goal of 12.5 million acres of cover crops called for in Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

Cover Crop Acres 2017 (2)

Many of the new acres were planted by experienced cover crop farmers. The majority (69%) of respondents to Iowa Learning Farms’ year-end evaluation questionnaire started seeding cover crops at least three years ago. Only eleven percent of respondents reported implementing cover crops for the first time on their land last year. Those respondents with cover crops reported an average of 46% of their total row crop acres in cover crops—6% more than in 2016.

Cost Share Cover Crops 2017. (2)The overall percentage of farmers who are using cost share to seed cover crop acres has increased by seven percent over four years of Iowa Learning Farms evaluation data. Of the respondents seeding cover crops in 2017, 65% of them did so with the assistance of cost share.

Iowa Learning Farms sponsored 29 conservation field days and workshops in 2017 on cover crops, strip-tillage, saturated buffers, prairie strips and more. These events drew an attendance of 1,280 people, primarily farmers and landowners (89%). Twenty-seven percent of Iowa Learning Farms field day attendees were female.Eval Cover (2)

In January 2018, 580 farmers and landowners who attended Iowa Learning Farms field days were mailed an evaluation questionnaire to investigate whether they made changes to their farming practices. In a one-month period, 251 evaluation questionnaires were returned for a 42% response rate.

The Iowa Learning Farms 2017 Field Day Evaluation Report can be found at www.iowalearningfarms.org.

Established in 2004, Iowa Learning Farms is building a Culture of Conservation by encouraging adoption of conservation practices. Farmers, researchers and 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 Iowa Learning Farms include the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Iowa Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Iowa Department of Natural Resources (USEPA section 319).

Liz Juchems

Apply today for Water Resources Summer Internship!

Do you know a college student with interests in the environment, conservation, and agriculture, particularly water and soil quality?  We are looking for awesome undergraduate students to join our team as part of our summer 2018 Water Resources Internship Program! Interns’ time will be split between research and outreach, all centered around agricultural + environmental issues and challenges in Iowa.

Visit the 2018 Water Resources Internship Program webpage for additional information and complete application instructions. Applications close this Wednesday, January 31 at 5:00pm.

Please share this with any college students you know that might be interested. We are looking forward to a great summer ahead!

Ann Staudt

Welcome back, Megan!

Hello! My name is Megan Koppenhafer. You may recognize me as the teacher from the Water Rocks! music video “Please the Bees,” and I am excited to officially rejoin the Water Rocks! team as an AmeriCorps service member!

I am a recent graduate of Iowa State University with degrees in Environmental Science and Community and Regional Planning. I grew up on a farm outside Williamsburg, IA.  I developed my passion for sustainable agriculture and living through my years as a camp counselor in Iowa City. At this camp, I learned how to teach kids about being in nature and truly valuing all that the earth has to offer us.

From these experiences, I knew that education was the way I wanted to make a difference in conservation. Amid this realization, I made a comment to my mom about wanting to be a ‘Bill Nye the Science Guy’ for environmental science. She encouraged me to keep that in the back of my head but focus on some more practical jobs first.

When I saw the Water Rocks! summer internship opportunity come to my inbox during my sophomore year of college, I quickly applied and watched as many of the Water Rocks! music videos as I could. I excitedly showed my mom and told her I had found my chance! After my first summer, I loved it so much I came back a second time ……and now for a third time as an AmeriCorps service member!

This time around you’ll see a lot more of me in assemblies and classroom visits. I will also be working on a project with some of our extension and county conservation partners to bring Water Rocks! day camps to different counties across the state.

I look forward to seeing some of you at assemblies or classroom visits or possibly camps and can’t wait to groove with everyone!

Megan Koppenhafer