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.

img_4772.jpg

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.

 

Deepening the Conversation around Conservation

Here at Water Rocks! we are always looking for new ways to reach the youth in Iowa, striving to deepen the conversation around conservation in new and exciting ways. Summer camp is an experience that provides youth a chance to connect to nature in a new way. When I was a camper and later a camp counselor, I saw first hand how camp changes interactions and respect for nature in a positive way. Water Rocks! day camps provide our team an opportunity to partner with extension youth coordinators, naturalists, and other environmental educators to offer the camp experience with a Water Rocks! twist!

We kicked things off with our first Water Rocks! day camp in March at the beautiful McFarland Park Nature Center. Students from Ames and the surrounding area arrived bright and early on March 8th and kicked off the day getting to know each other and getting acquainted with the concept of a watershed. We had students as young as 8 and as old as 12 join us. From the classroom we moved into nature to experience a watershed in real life. This is just one advantage to a full day camp: a way to turn the 2D into 3D.

Students designing their watershed!

Students did a great job transferring what they had learned to the landscape. They were able to determine where the water would flow at different points on the landscape. We were lucky to be surrounded by a small stream and a pond which gave them a visual of the bodies of water that the runoff could drain or shed to.

Jack and students walking the ridgeline between two small watersheds.

The highlight of the day was seeing the students work together on their service project. The Ames Smart Watersheds program donated a rain barrel for us to paint. It was on display at the Ames Eco-Fair on April 21st. Being able to participate in a real life solution to some of our watershed management concerns, such as flooding, helped to make our conversation about conservation relevant to their impact on the land.

At the end of the day the students had the opportunity to see if they could clean the water after it had been polluted. They got to choose what they polluted the water with and then were challenged with how to clean it up. Students noted how difficult it was to clean the water totally. Many filtered the water through several types of filters. We even set up a sand filter to mimic how nature filters our water as it moves through the soil profiles. The students recognized the importance of keeping our water clean to begin with, given how difficult the cleanup job was after the water had gotten dirty.

Students attempt to filter out the pollutants using coffee filters, panty hose, sand and other tools.

In all, students had a blast getting dirty and learning, too! Here at Water Rocks! we are looking forward to our next day camps coming up this summer, where we will get to partner with awesome county naturalists and educators with local Soil and Water Conservation Districts and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach!

Megan Koppenhafer

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!

CS

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!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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