ILF Webinar Digs into Earthworms and Soil Health

The common nightcrawler, Lumbricus terrestris, is a deep-burrowing worm species that is found in many Iowa crop fields. The presence of nightcrawlers can serve as one indicator of the overall soil health in Iowa’s agricultural ecosystems. Ann Staudt, Assistant Manager of the Iowa Learning Farms, will discuss ILF’s recent research that analyzes the relationship between earthworm populations, cover crops and overall soil health.

midden1While soil health can be difficult to quantify, earthworms are a very tangible early indicator of soil health, long recognized by farmers and gardeners as being beneficial organisms in the soil ecosystem. Staudt hopes that this research will teach us more about the connections between earthworm populations and soil health in a cover crop versus no cover system, and that earthworms can be a simple, straightforward indicator of soil health.

Staudt is an environmental engineer who actively blends scientific knowledge and creative expression through her work and teaching. Staudt holds her MS degree in Environmental Engineering from the University of Notre Dame and BS degree in Chemical Engineering from Iowa State University.

Log on as a guest shortly before 1:00 p.m.:

If you can’t participate live, watch the archive of today’s webinar (along with all of ILF’s past webinars) on our website:

Julie Whitson

Cover Crop Webinar to Focus on Soil Health and Nitrate Retention

As fall cover crops go into the ground, many farmers have questions about how to best manage cover crops and achieve benefits such as soil health and nitrate retention. Dr. Mike Castellano will share his research on how cover crops can best be managed to maximize benefits during the Iowa Learning Farms’ monthly webinar on Wednesday, September 21 at 1 p.m.

corn_in_rye_small“Future gains in crop production and environmental quality will require a systems approach that integrates many disciplines,” Castellano said. To achieve this vision, Castellano uses expertise in soil science and ecosystem ecology to work with a broad range of scientists, managers and policy makers.

Castellano is the William T. Frankenberger Professor of Soil Science and Associate Professor in the Department of Agronomy at Iowa State University. He has a PhD in Soil Science from The Pennsylvania State University.


Log on as a guest shortly before 1:00 p.m.:

If you can’t participate live, watch the archive of today’s webinar (along with all of ILF’s past webinars) on our website:

Julie Whitson

This just in – Iowa Learning Farms launches a new website!

Accessing conservation information and upcoming field day details just became a lot easier with the launch of our new Iowa Learning Farms website –


The new site is mobile device friendly to access information on the go or in the field. Don’t worry if you have your favorite links saved, they will continue to work and redirect to the new site (if they don’t please let us know so we can get that fixed asap!).

There are great resources available on our website including how-to videos, a field day planning guide, and free publications on cover crops, no-till, strip-till, wetlands and many more! You can also find an Iowa Learning Farms farmer partner near you to ask questions or share ideas.

Stay up to date with upcoming events, webinars and recent news on our website and be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter!

Liz Juchems


PEWI: Sandbox for Creativity, Tool for Real Change

Have you ever wondered how changes in land use could affect nutrient reduction, habitat for pollinators or soil health? In this month’s webinar, Dr. Lisa Schulte Moore showed us how to use a new tool, People in Ecosystems Watershed Integration (PEWI).

Today, we face water quality issues related to soil erosion, nutrient loss, and water runoff in Iowa and beyond. Many of these problems stem from how our landscape has changed over the last two centuries. One way that we can begin to address these problems is to strategically target land use changes at the watershed scale.

runoff combined 2

Left: real-world challenges like erosion and water runoff; Right: PEWI shows how land use changes pay off

Schulte Moore and her team created PEWI because they wanted a tool that could show people how changes in land use could affect the surrounding area without having to make risky or costly decisions. PEWI gives users a chance to test-drive changes in land use in a 6,000 acre watershed. Each cell in the simulation represents ten acres. Users can choose from 15 different land uses and can simulate crop rotations over a three year period.

Topography, soil drainage, and flood frequency can all be altered to the user’s preference. The tool also considers the impacts of weather and provides a random distribution of weather patterns based on 30 year averages of precipitation in Iowa.

combined features

PEWI does not require any specific software licenses or computer skills. To use PEWI, all users need is the internet. Users can compare different landscape designs and learn about how different mixes of landscapes or even weather patterns might affect conditions in the real world. PEWI can provide estimates for nutrient runoff and erosion. The tool can also score landscapes and compare how different designs meet different goals.


You can view an archived version of the webinar here. Other archived webinars from Iowa Learning Farms are available on our website.

For more information about PEWI, visit the PEWI website.  You can try PEWI for yourself here. Lesson plan ideas, user guides, and tutorials are all available at the PEWI website.

Julie Whitson

ICYMI: June Webinar Features New Ideas for Community Engagement in Watersheds

In the Iowa Learning Farms June webinar, Dr. Angie Carter (Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Social Welfare at Augustana College) discussed several great approaches that she has used to increase community involvement at the watershed level.  Carter used participatory research methods to engage different groups of people in conversations about water quality, conservation, and their connection to the land in the watershed.

One project Carter described was the “River Stories: Views From an Iowa Watershed.”  The project asked landowners in the Raccoon River watershed to document their experience in the watershed through photos.   Then, they added short narratives, or “photostories,” to describe the pictures.  The results were quite unique.

One participant, Jan Kaiser, created a photostory in which she underwent a prairie burn for the first time as a way to manage her prairie land.

Burning the Prairie! by Jan Kaiser

CarterWebinar_crop“It took me a while to be convinced of burning the eighteen acres we planted to prairie six years ago.  Last year, the big blue stem was over seven feet tall and the pollinator habitat was buzzing with bees and butterflies!  Did I really want to jeopardize all that, plus the twenty acres of timber adjoining the prairie?  Since it was part of the Conservation Reserve Program, it required Mid-Contract Management, meaning I needed to either disc it under or burn it.  On a still and humid evening, the fire folks lit the blaze under a full moon.  A beautiful sight – and it all went off without a hitch!”

Watch the archived webinar to hear about how Angie Carter used this and other participatory methods to create community in watersheds.  Carter’s work can be used for any group in a watershed that has not previously been brought into the conversation about water quality and conservation.

Angie Carter was also featured on the Iowa Learning Farms podcast, Conservation Chat, in November of 2015.  The episode discusses women landowners and the role they play in conservation practice adoption here in Iowa.

Julie Whitson

Wetlands Outreach: Tools of the Trade

To wrap up American Wetlands Month, we’d like to showcase some of the outstanding educational tools that the Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks! teams have developed to help teach about wetlands and the importance of these amazing ecosystems on our landscape!

Classroom Outreach
Much of our wetlands outreach with youth is done in the classroom. During a 40-45 minute classroom period, students get to explore the fascinating world of wetlands and the importance of these vibrant ecosystems and the biodiversity they support.

welcome to wetlands


We start out by going on an (audio) field trip, exploring the sounds of wetlands. Students close their eyes and are serenaded by leopard frogs, ducks, geese, and other bird sounds.  NO, it’s not the jungle or Amazon rainforest … we’ve traveled to the Wonderful World of Wetlands!

wetlands wordcloudNext students learn several of the different names by which wetlands are called. Some names are more familiar than others – swamp and marsh are very well known, while prairie pothole and fen are new to many students!  Slough (slew) is another fun one – weird spelling, but fun to say. We can’t forget mire and quagmire, as well.

wetlands are uniqueStudents then learn the three characteristics that make wetlands unique, as shown above. This is followed by exploring three very important jobs that wetlands do:

  1. Wetlands act like a Filter
  2. Wetlands act like a Sponge
  3. Wetlands act like a Home (Habitat)

After brainstorming many of the different creatures that would call wetlands their home, our focus narrows, zooming in on the birds and waterfowl. The following is an excerpt from a fall classroom experience with 5th graders:

WR! Staff: “It’s fall, and if we look up in the sky, what are the birds doing this time of year?”

Student:  “Oh!  They’re flying south!”

WR! Staff: “That’s right.  Can anyone tell us what that long journey is called?”

Student: “Migration!”

WR! Staff: “Excellent.  Now the birds’ migration is kind of like us going on a road trip or a vacation with our families.  So let’s imagine we’re going on a road trip…  the car is all packed… and we hit the road.   But eventually we’re going to need to stop.  What are some of the reasons we might need to stop on our journey?”

Students: “To get food.” “You’re thirsty – get something to drink.” “Go to the bathroom.”  (giggling) “Maybe stop and look at the scenery?”  “Get out and stretch.”

WR! Staff: “What if it’s a very long journey that might take several days?”

Students: “We’d need a hotel to rest!”

WR! Staff: “Well, there are a lot of similarities between our road trip and birds migrating twice a year. Birds need to stop for many of the same reasons we would. Thinking about what we’ve learned so far, where might birds stop on their journey?”

Students: “Maybe wetlands?

WR! Staff:  “Exactly!  Wetlands can provide all of those things we just talked about—food, water, shelter, a place to rest and recharge, a place to nest—wetlands are like a restaurant, gas station and hotel all in one!”

WR! Staff: “And when we go on a road trip, what is the name of the major road we travel on?”

Students: “Interstate or highway.”

WR! Staff: “That’s right, the highway.  And when birds migrate, they take the same path year after year, and they travel on the FLYWAY!”

Migration patterns

After engaging in an exchange like this, the students get to play Habitat Hopscotch. Students are invited to “summon their inner birds” and migrate from Canada to Mexico, with each hopscotch square representing wetlands in different states along the Mississippi River Flyway.

Each round of Habitat Hopscotch gets more challenging as wetlands (hopscotch squares) are removed due to different environmental scenarios such as draining for agricultural use, building a new shopping mall, climate change, etc. After the game’s completion, we lead a follow-up discussion with students to talk about what the loss of wetlands means to migrating birds based on their experience.

IMG_3491IMG_2520Students then get introduced to many of the other creatures that call wetlands home in a competitive game of Wetlands BINGO.  The hands-on approach and game show theme fosters a high level of engagement and curiosity throughout!


Videos, Webinars, and Print Resources
Beyond classroom programs, our team offers an abundance of additional resources – videos, webinars, and print materials — to help people of all ages learn more about wetland ecosystems…

For elementary and middle school students, check out our super silly, super fun music video Wetlands Have Real Important Jobs to Do!

WetlandsHaveRealImportantJobsThe Conservation Dogs are all about wetlands, too! Check out Episode 4 and Episode 10 in the Adventures of the Conservation Pack series, where wetlands take center stage.

C-Pack-Charlie-WetlandsFor middle school and high school students, our new music video All About That Bog is a big hit!


Our award-winning film Incredible Wetlands helps students and adults explore the biologically productive, and diverse, nature of wetlands and the vital role they play to life on Earth.

IncredibleWetlandsWetlands have also been featured several times in the Iowa Learning Farms webinar series. Check out these archived webinars to learn more:

Wetlands as Nutrient Sinks in Agricultural Landscapes, presented by Bill Crumpton
Iowa DNR’s Wetland Monitoring Program, presented by Jacklyn Gautsch

WetlandsImplementationAlso check out the Wetlands Implementation 4-page fact sheet in our “It Begins With You” series.

Thanks for joining us on this journey through American Wetlands Month!

Ann Staudt

ILF Webinar Recap: Women, Land, & Legacy


April’s Iowa Learning Farms webinar featured guests Tanya Meyer-Dideriksen and Wren Almitra discussing the Women, Land, and Legacy (WLL) program. Women, Land, and Legacy is a statewide outreach program focused on empowering Iowa’s farm women.

Spurred by the increase in the numbers of women finding themselves in decision-making positions on farmland, the USDA Outreach Council in 2003 determined there was a need for an outreach program aimed at reaching these women. A committee was formed and in 2004 Women, Land, and Legacy officially kicked off. For 10 years a state team guided efforts across Iowa, after which it has since been led by a state coordinator.

Women, Land, and Legacy’s outreach is locally led at the county level by teams of women from USDA agencies, conservation districts, Iowa State Extension, as well as farmers, and other community leaders. The local teams host listening sessions which are meant to provide women with a networking opportunity, a place to voice their concerns, and an opportunity to discuss issues most important to them in regards to farming and land management.

The listening sessions then guide the efforts of the local team and shape topics for learning sessions. Learning sessions are informative and educational events that build on those topics. They often include local presenters and site visits, but more than anything the learning sessions provide a time for additional dialogue and opportunities to connect to local resources.

WLL is currently active in 24 counties , with 18 local teams working hard to reach women farmers and landowners. Since 2004, over 45 counties have participated, and local teams have reached 3,000 participants.

If you’d like to learn more, watch the archived version of the webinar on the ILF website here. If you’d like to watch any of our past webinars, the full archive can be found here.