Healthier Soil, Healthier Produce

It may still surprise some folks that the nutritional value of our fruits and vegetables is dependent upon the nutrients in our soil. Donald Davis, a biochemist at the University of Texas discovered "that six out of 13 nutrients showed apparently reliable declines between 1950 and 1999.”  Those nutrients included protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin and ascorbic acid. These declines were believed to be partially related to certain conventional farming techniques.  There has been a rebirth of natural weed and pesticide techniques as well as a push for farmers of all types to use cover crops to improve the nutrient levels in their soil. Reminder to folks that a healthy, sustainable food system is only as strong as the elements (soil, water, seeds, etc.) necessary to produce the food. ...
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Learning through Healthy Soil and Water

This year, Prairie Rivers of Iowa is working on a project to assist Iowa’s outdoor classrooms in becoming more effective by researching existing outdoor classrooms in the state, seeking best practices from around the country, and putting together resources and materials for educators who want to create an outdoor classroom in their area.1  You probably also know about our work with area schools through our Kids on the Byway and School and Community Gardens programs. In honor of National Soil and Water Conservation Week, it’s worth taking a look at the important role that healthy soil and water can play in educating the next generation of Iowa leaders.  Research has shown many benefits result when students are able to experience the natural environment in person as part of their education.  These experiences can help contribute to child development and skill-building, increase fitness and motor skills, and even build creativity and reduce stress.  Outdoor experiences also help increase student success in a...
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DIG DEEPER: Mysteries in the Soil

As you go about your busy day, did you ever stop and ponder about how you are treating the soil and water that you come into contact with? In celebration of National Soil and Water Conservation Week, I challenge you to take a moment to do so. One way that a producer could conserve the soil and water quality and quantity is by enrolling the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). " In exchange for removing environmentally sensitive land from production and introducing conservation practices, farmers, ranchers, and agricultural land owners are paid an annual rental rate. Participation is voluntary, and the contract period is typically 10–15 years, along with other federal and state incentives as applicable per each CREP agreement." This program is just one example of how you can get involved in making a difference to the world that we so often take for granted. To learn more about the CREP Program, visit https://www.fsa.usda.gov/FSA/webapp?area=home&subject=copr&topic=cep    Photo Credit: http://www.iowaagriculture.gov/waterresources/CREP.asp...
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WINTER BURN SHOWING UP ON CONIFERS IN IOWA

Conifer trees across Iowa are showing signs of stress from last winter, including browning or bleaching needles, needle loss and some tree death.  This condition is known as winter desiccation, or winter burn. “This past winter may have been one of the colder winters on record, but we still had several days where the air temperature was above freezing and the soil remained frozen.  When this happens, trees use the water reserves in their needles but are unable to absorb new water from the frozen soil,” said Tivon Feeley, forest health program leader with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “The tree literally runs out of water.” The symptoms become more apparent as the days warm and tend to be worse on the windward side of the tree.  Reports indicate arborvitae, white pine and white fir have moderate to severe damage from winter burn. Feeley said if the needles on the tree are dead but buds are alive, new plant foliage will replace...
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Fire, Soil & Byways

In Celebration of Iowa's celebration of Soil and Water Conservation Week, I decided to discuss the prairie burns Penny, John and I saw while in Kansas. The three of us traveled to Kansas to attend the Heartland Byways Conference in Manhattan, and while at the conference had the chance to take a tour of the Flint Hills National Scenic Byway.   I was surprised to see the fire so close to the road when we were traveling on the byway. The above image shows one instance where we saw the fire approaching. Our bus and other drivers had to pull over at one point to let the fire move through. The monitoring and safety measures that were put into place were great, and it was amazing to see the fire so close.   So what does fire have to do with Soil and Water Conservation Week? Prairies have a long-standing history of healthy soil and a need for burning and grazing to keep soil full...
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Preserving and Protecting Our Water Resources

In honor of National Water and Soil Conservation Week, Kids on the Byway is dedicating this blog post to one of their partner programs, Upper Iowa University's Environmental Issues Instruction course.  EII is a graduate level course dedicated to teachers and other personnel that addresses how to teach environmental issues for grades K-12.  They do this with the following teaching model:  With this teaching model, the class is able to address multiple environmental issues every year and connect with Next Generation Science Standards as well as the Iowa Core.  This year's issue was focused on preserving and protecting our water resources. According to the Center for Energy and Climate Solutions, "Although much of the discussion about climate change impacts has focused on increases in temperatures and the rise in sea level, changes that impact our nation's water resources could have the greatest impact on society" (2011).   According to the Department of Natural Resources, the major water quality problem in Iowa in nonpoint source pollution,...
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Squaw Creek Watershed listening sessions – April 28th from 4:30-6:00pm at the Ames City Hall, Council Chambers and April 29th from 4:30-6:00pm at Iowa State University, Oak Room in the Memorial Union

First of Two Listening Sessions to be Held to Discuss the Squaw Creek Watershed start today at Ames City Hall (515 Clark Ave).   Two listening sessions will be held to discuss the Squaw Creek Watershed on April 28th from 4:30-6:00pm at the Ames City Hall, Council Chambers and then again on April 29th from 4:30-6:00pm at Iowa State University, Oak Room in the Memorial Union. We are asking people to come and talk about the watershed and to ask questions to our board. There will also be informational material to read on the watershed.   Penny Brown Huber, Executive Director of Prairie Rivers of Iowa and a sub consultant on the project says, “Our focus in the planning project will be to engage and educate the public about the watershed.  We want to hear from all the residents in our watershed in order to create a plan that will lead us over time to make improvements in water quality while we address flooding...
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School gardens compost project at Kate Mitchell

Below is a press release from Ames Community School District regarding the school gardens compost project. Mitchell Elementary School Earth Week waste sort/compost project AMES–In celebration of Earth Day, Mitchell Elementary School’s Student Council members are working through much of the month of April to coordinate a school-wide compost project with the help of AmeriCorps VISTAs through the Volunteer Center of Story County. A project of the Kate Mitchell Elementary School Garden, this Earth Week waste sort/compost celebration provides students with hands-on learning experiences that bring to life their core learning in school. After lunch each day, Mitchell fourth and fifth grade classes weigh all the discarded food and chart the categories of waste. The students use their math skills to convert pounds of waste to kilograms. They discuss waste reduction methods such as recycling, reusing, vermicomposting, and others. Mitchell 5th grade teacher Allison Martens-Noll said, “I’m excited to see how we can relate our results in the lunchroom to the classroom with graphing and...
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Celebrating National Public Health Week

This week is National Public Health Week.  Last week I attended the Iowa Governor's Conference on Public Health.  Many elements of the conference continue to plague my thoughts. The Top 3 The current direction of healthcare costs are not sustainable.  -Diane Rydrych, Director, Division of Health Policy, Minnesota Department of Health 70% of factors affecting an individuals health are within their control.  -Governor Branstand, Iowa Governor  "Today, seven in 10 deaths in the U.S. are related to preventable diseases such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer. Another striking fact is that 75 percent of our health care dollars are spent treating such diseases. However, only 3 percent of our health care dollars go toward prevention."  -Iowa Public Health Association After connecting with several entities in the Public and Environmental Health arena.  I discovered a consistent trend.  Unhealthy lifestyle choices are so well ingrained into our culture that even public health agencies struggle to make the change. The average American consumes 14% more...
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