Chatting with Secretary Mike Naig

If you missed our February webinar with Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig, you are in luck! You can listen to the conservation with Dr. Jacqueline Comito on Episode 52 of the Conservation Chat.

The newest episode offers a shorter version that highlights discussion topics like the challenge of scaling up to meet the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy Goals and the need for federal, state and private partnerships to reach the goals.

Be sure to subscribe today and catch up on all the great episodes on your favorite device. You can also stream the podcast and webinar from our website.

Liz (Juchems) Ripley

A Conservation Chat with Wade Dooley & Nathan Anderson

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The Conservation Chat podcast has a brand new episode out this week! Host Jacqueline Comito had a conversation with farmers Wade Dooley and Nathan Anderson, who are both working hard to increase the resiliency of their farms.

cover crops

The passion that these two young farmers feel about their land and their farming practices shines through in the conversation; with Anderson discussing the mission and vision statements that he and his wife have been working on for their farm, and Dooley talking about making big changes: moving away from row crops to CRP acres and a grass-fed cow-calf operation. Both men stressed the importance of finding a system that allows you to do what you enjoy, but that will also be a successful and profitable business.

cover crop cowsComito mentioned the upcoming Conservation Chat with Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, Mike Naig, and asked Dooley and Anderson if they had any questions for the Secretary. They discussed both the importance of policy making it attractive for there to be more people farming in rural Iowa – stressing a need for more neighbors, rather than more acres to farm – and the importance of growing more than just corn and soybeans, but also growing vegetables, fruit and meat in order to feed our neighbors here in Iowa.

Dooley and Anderson are truly “farming for the future”, with an emphasis on making their farms resilient in the changing climate and finding systems that allow them to learn, adapt and get excited to try again next year. To learn more about the challenges and opportunities that they see on their farms and for rural Iowa, listen to the podcast here or on iTunes!

Be sure to join us at noon on February 5th when the Conservation Chat with Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig will air as a live webinar!

Hilary Pierce

Conservation Chat Marks 50th Episode – And it’s Full Steam Ahead

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Jacqueline Comito | Iowa Learning Farms Director and Conservation Chat Host

The 50th Conservation Chat podcast from Iowa Learning Farms (ILF) went live last month. If you haven’t had a chance to check them out, the podcast series covers topics relating to Iowa’s environment, water quality, as well as its biggest industry – Agriculture. I’ve been hosting the series from the beginning, and it’s given me some wonderful opportunities to learn and explore Iowa-centric topics from many angles. With 50 episodes to choose from, I’m pretty sure there’s something of interest for anyone who wants to learn about Iowa.


Clare Lindahl was the guest on CC35: “Preaching” Conservation

Since my inaugural episode in February 2015 with then Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, I’ve chatted with a huge variety of people who have passions for Iowa, conservation and the environment. Guests have included distinguished experts, on-the-ground researchers, farmers, professionals from farming and conservation groups, and government officials.

I’ve tried to maintain a conversational unscripted format from the beginning of the program. These truly are chats that kick off with me asking interview questions, but the resulting back and forth typically takes on a life of its own. Frequently we’ve riffed on ideas that just came up in the conversation, not talking points either of us had considered when the mics were turned on. It’s fun and I hope the listeners hear that our intent is to inform in a relaxed and entertaining manner. And the casual atmosphere of the program allows us to explore the personality of the guest and bring out what they are passionate about and why.

Another unique part of the program is the inclusion of original music from ILF team members and professional musicians Ann Staudt and Todd Stevens.

Conservation Chats have been downloaded over 11,400 times. This level of interest buoys the spirits of the team to continue to create relevant and interesting content.

Interestingly, the first Conservation Chat continues to garner new downloads. It leads the total download list, and just in the fourth quarter of 2019, 14 new downloads were recorded. Other highflyers still logging new downloads have been CC35: Clare Lindahl: “Preaching” Conservation in September 2017 and CC 38: Earthworms and Cover Crops with Ann Staudt and Dr. Tom Kaspar in January 2018.



Dr. Janke in action at a field day

The milestone 50th Conservation Chat features my chat with Dr. Adam Janke and his list of 20 Things To Do in the 2020s To Increase Wildlife Habitat in Iowa. Some are simple and others more difficult, but the podcast covers a lot of ground about conservation, habitat and the importance of diversity on many levels.

In 2019 I wanted to change things up a little bit to improve engagement with guests and listeners and add some new dimensions to the podcast format. Adding co-hosts was the biggest change, and the changes have brought positive listener feedback. Ingrid Gronstal Anderson, from the Iowa Environmental Council, joined me to as co-host for some episodes. And I teamed up with ISU assistant professor and Extension wildlife specialist Adam Janke for an episode. Adding co-hosts helped change the dynamics of the podcast, moving from a one-on-one Q and A format to more of a group discussion.


Secretary Naig & Dr. Comito

Looking ahead, in February 2020 I welcome the return of Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship Secretary Mike Naig. His 2019 podcast was fast-paced and informative. I’m are looking forward to another great update on progress and goals from the perspective of the State of Iowa.

The podcasts are available with a quick search for Conservation Chats on Apple Podcasts or Spotify as well as on the ILF website.

20 Tips for Increasing Wildlife Habitat in Iowa Over the Next Decade

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We’re kicking off 2020 with the 50th episode of the Conservation Chat podcast! On this episode, host Jacqueline Comito challenged wildlife expert Dr. Adam Janke to come up with 20 things to do in the 2020s to increase wildlife habitat in Iowa. Janke is an assistant professor at Iowa State University and the Iowa State University Extension Wildlife Specialist. He is passionate about increasing wildlife populations in agricultural landscapes.

Janke’s Top 20 Tips:

20. Download iNaturalist or a similar app

19. Look for tracks in the snow

18. Learn to recognize 3 bird calls: the Dickcissel, Upland Sandpiper and Eastern Wood-Pewee

17. Learn to recognize rare wildlife

16. Learn your watershed address

15. Buy a duck stamp

14. Keep cats inside

13. Plant native plants

12. Be able to make a bouquet of flowers from your land from May 15 – Oct 1

11. Take the Master Conservationist Program

10. Volunteer and get involved

9. Sell the mower (or at least downsize)

8. Take kids to your favorite natural area often and talk to them about why its so important

7. Read Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

6. Find opportunity areas of wildlife on your farm or land (check on Janke’s Iowa Learning Farms webinar to learn more!)

5.  Redefine your relationship to “weeds”

4. Read (or reread) A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold

3. Run a “clean farm”, but broaden the definition of that to include protecting soil, making sure clean water is leaving your property, and supporting biodiversity and wildlife on the margins of productive land

2. Tell your story about why land stewardship matters to you


Janke’s #1 tip is to embrace diversity in all of its forms: economically, biologically and socially. Doing so will allow for increased resiliency and will have wildlife benefits, as well as other benefits to soil health and water quality across our agricultural landscape. “We need diversity of thought and we need diversity of ideas to solve some of these really big challenges that we have, in terms of sustaining our land base, sustaining our rural communities and sustaining this enterprise that we all really value.” – Janke

To learn more about Janke’s tips for increasing wildlife habitat in Iowa over the next decade, listen to the full episode here or on iTunes!

Hilary Pierce

Getting Conservation in the Hands of Local Citizens

Our newest episode of the Conservation Chat podcast, A Passion for Prairies, features Prairie Rivers of Iowa’s David Stein. He is truly passionate about helping people learn more about their local ecology through on-the-ground outreach across central Iowa. Enthusiastic may be an understatement when it comes to Stein’s zeal and motivation to provide a personal, education-minded, place-based approach to conservation on working lands!

As a Watershed Program Coordinator with the non-profit (former RC&D) Prairie Rivers of Iowa, Stein holds a unique position in that the area he serves here in the heart of Iowa is at the direct interface of urban areas and prime agricultural land. That presents both unique opportunities and challenges when it comes to water quality, soil health, and facilitating corridors of habitat for wildlife.

Stein is particularly passionate about native prairie establishment, and its benefits to reduce runoff, improve water quality, build soil health, and provide habitat/food resources to many species of wildlife. Tune in to the Conservation Chat to hear about Prairie Rivers of Iowa’s targeted efforts to establish corridors of habitat, creating uninterrupted flyways between publicly-owned and privately-owned lands.

Photographs by Prairie Rivers of Iowa

Interested in doing some native landscaping, establishing a pollinator garden, or other native plantings on your land?  Look no farther that Prairie Rivers of Iowa’s Native Plant Seed Bank! Tune in to the podcast to learn more about this awesome new initiative, the brainchild of Stein (and his proudest accomplishment on the job thus far). The seed bank is currently offering 10 different species of native plants (flowers and grasses), and they are accepting deposits of native seed, as well—an incredible conservation resource for central Iowa.

Catch this episode and all previous podcast episodes on the Conservation Chat website and through iTunes.

Ann Staudt


A Conservation Chat with Daniel Robison

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Daniel Robison, photo credit: Iowa State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

On this new episode of the Conservation Chat, host Jacqueline Comito sat down the Daniel Robison, the new dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State University. Robison joined ISU from West Virginia University and has degrees in forestry, silviculture and forest influences and forest entomology.

“Iowa has an extraordinary landscape.” – Robison

Dean Robison shared that he enjoys riding bikes with his wife and that they have been enjoying getting to know Iowa by bike (and are appreciating that there are fewer hills here than in West Virginia!). He went on to explain his background and his ongoing interest in forestry, due to enjoying spending time outside as a child with his family and with programs such as Boy Scouts. After growing up in New Jersey, Robison earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in New York and then went on to earn his doctorate in Wisconsin. His career has also taken him to the Ivory Coast in West Africa and to North Carolina.

Robison stressed the importance of travel and study abroad for not just learning about new cultures, but also learning about yourself through the new experiences. The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has many study abroad opportunities and Robison also discussed a new idea for “study across America”, which would allow students to learn about different cultures, food production systems and natural resources around the United States. This program would provide interesting opportunities for students to visit places where there have been more immediate impacts from loss of natural resources, such as areas where topsoil has eroded from areas where there was not much topsoil to begin with. Students will be able to see how other people have impacted their landscape and how they cope with these changes. They will be able to see the vulnerability and challenges of these issues bring about and learn how to manage landscapes here in Iowa better.

To learn more about Dean Robison and the role he believes CALS can play in addressing local and global challenges, listen to the full podcast here!

Hilary Pierce

A Conservation Chat with Matt Russell

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The Conservation Chat podcast was back this week with a brand new episode! On this week’s Chat, host Jacqueline Comito sat down to discuss climate change and faith with Matt Russell, the Executive Director of Iowa Interfaith Power & Light and a fifth generation Iowa farmer. Russell travels the state of Iowa to have faith-based conversations with fellow farmers about the the role agriculture can play in developing strategies to combat climate change.

Iowa Interfaith Power & Light is a faith-based organization that works statewide with people of all religious faiths, and people who don’t particularly have a religious faith, to develop values-based solutions to the climate crisis. Russell’s appointment as Executive Director has shifted the organization’s focus from being primarily on energy to also include agriculture. He stated that there is a huge opportunity for Iowa farmers and rural communities to be a part of the solution to the climate crisis.


Matt Russell, photo credit: Iowa Interfaith Power & Light

During his chat with Comito, Russell discussed  how the engagement of farmers and rural community members as innovators and problem solvers would be key in developing solutions to climate change that would have global impacts. Russell pointed out that farmers love stewarding their land and they are constantly solving problems that arise on their farms. By embracing that “problem solver” identity, which is important to many farmers, they can help develop innovative solutions.

Russell also discussed the importance of farmers and rural communities being able to retain the benefits of these innovative solutions. He described moving from an era of scarcity, which he said defines the fossil fuel era, to an era of abundance, where everyone has access to wind and solar energy sources. According to Russell, what we will need to do to solve the climate change crisis will be disruptive, but that disruption will be positive for both farmers and rural communities and will in turn positively impact the entire world.

To hear more about Russell’s faith-based work connecting agriculture to the solution of the climate crisis, listen to the podcast here!

Hilary Pierce


A Conservation Chat with Ingrid Gronstal Anderson and Jennifer Terry

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On the latest episode of the Conservation Chat, host Jacqueline Comito discussed the Iowa Environmental Council with Ingrid Gronstal Anderson and Jennifer Terry. Gronstal Anderson is the new Water Program Director for the Iowa Environmental Council and Terry is the Executive Director and they chatted about how the Iowa Environmental Council is striving toward cleaner water for all Iowans to enjoy.

Ingrid Gronstal Anderson

Ingrid Gronstal Anderson, photo credit: Iowa Environmental Council

Gronstal Anderson and Terry talked about how the Iowa Environmental Council is a watchdog that holds government agencies accountable on behalf of Iowans. That accountability is important when it comes to natural resources because of the relationship between natural resources and public health, such as in the case of regulations for drinking water quality. They stated the importance of working with partners from diverse sectors at the Council.

The talk then turned to the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy and the Clean Water Act.

“We also would like to see the Clean Water Act adhered to more stringently here in Iowa. In terms of using our beaches and protecting drinking water sources and our lakes, its imperative that we have better enforcement in Iowa of the Clean Water Act.” – Terry 

Jennifer Terry

Jennifer Terry, photo credit: Iowa Environmental Council

They discussed the importance of showing progress toward our water quality goals and the struggle against the lack of urgency that many feel regarding adoption of conservation practices. Although anti-regulation sentiment is common, Gronstal Anderson and Terry talked about how not only would jobs and industries follow regulation, but that it would help to provide a level playing field for farmers across the state.

To hear the rest of the chat and learn more about the work the Iowa Environmental Council does, listen to the podcast here!

Hilary Pierce

A Conservation Chat with Pat Boddy

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Pat Boddy

In this brand new episode of the Conservation Chat, host Jacqueline Comito sat down with Pat Boddy, who is an environmental engineer, water resources expert, accomplished harpist and respected community leader. Boddy recently received the 2019 Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute’s A. Arthur Davis Community Leadership Award for the impact that her work in the fields of journalism, the environment, engineering and advocacy have had across the state of Iowa. She also finds the time to host her own podcast, 900Views – check it out here!

During her conversation with Comito, Boddy explained what led her to pursue a career in engineering and water resources, and her particular passion for water quality. Boddy described joyful memories of times spent in or around water and the importance of water for sustaining life.

“Water is soothing, it’s poetic, it’s musical.” – Pat Boddy

They went on to talk about how dirty water has become normalized for many Iowans, who have not seen anything better in their lifetimes, and the contributions of agriculture and urban areas to water quality issues. The conversation then turned what role cities can play in Iowa’s water quality, with Boddy suggesting that communities need to be more proactive as the cities grow by establishing guidelines to protect the environment before development.

Throughout the conversation, Boddy emphasized the importance of people working together. When asked what she has learned through her work in watersheds, Boddy said that to achieve water quality goals it is important to bring together urban and rural residents, in order to foster understanding and allow the residents to learn from one another. The conversation also included a discussion of the challenges that Iowan agricultural producers face when when they are asked to learn how to do things differently and the importance of understanding climate.

Listen to the podcast!

Hilary Pierce


A Conservation Chat with Ingrid Gronstal Anderson

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In the latest episode of the Conservation Chat, Ingrid Gronstal Anderson, an environmental attorney, sat down with Jackie Comito to discuss identity issues and conservation. Comito, an anthropologist and director of Iowa Learning Farms, was in the hot seat for this episode, with Gronstal Anderson guiding the conversation as they covered Comito’s research as an anthropologist, farmer identity and culture, and conservation.

“I think we need to work really hard to come up with ways that we can make conservation part of the stories that people tell about themselves on the farm that mean that they’re a good farmer.” – Jackie Comito

Comito and Gronstal Anderson’s conversation about identity and culture examined the mythology that exists around farm family identity—who they are and what they do on the farm. Comito said that these stories, which any given family could resemble or could be very different from, can get in the way of actually making things happen, especially when we’re talking about stewardship. Complicating the issue further, farmers can have different ideas about what stewardship means and what actions a “good steward” would take.


Comito connecting with students at a Water Rocks! assembly

Shifts in farmer identity and culture to include conservation practices, such as cover crops and extended rotations, as well as having more women farmers, more young farmers and more farms are things that Comito believes will make a difference. Ultimately, Comito identified a lack of a sense of urgency as the biggest challenge she sees through her work with Iowa Learning Farms. Despite this, she is still hopeful, especially after spending time working with and talking to young people. After all, she says, “nature hasn’t given up”, and neither can we.

Listen to the podcast!

Hilary Pierce