First, let’s dispense with the confusion. Iowa has 99 counties, but 100 county fairs. It’s a story for another time, but Pottawattamie County holds two. Since 2007, Iowa Learning Farms has been providing conservation education at county fairs across Iowa. In 2010, together with Water Rocks!, we set the goal to attend the fairs in every Iowa county. It took multiple seasons, but we achieved that objective at the Jones County Fair on July 19.
Along the way, we’ve entertained and provided conservation outreach and education to tens of thousands of Iowans through 174 fair visits.
With three Conservation Station trailers and dedicated Water Rocks and Iowa Learning Farms teams, some creative scheduling, and tricky logistics, we were at 28 fairs in 2017, and are on track for 26 this summer.
CONSERVATION STATION: The trailer travels to all corners of Iowa. These young Lyon County fairgoers learn about connections between land management and water quality at the rainfall simulator.
What should visitors expect?
Attending fairs in all 99 counties doesn’t seem much of a feat until you consider that they all take place during the same few weeks each summer. Coordinating and scheduling the teams and equipment, working with tremendous local representatives at each stop, and responding to rain-outs, flat tires and other hiccups, is a hectic but fulfilling job. At the end of the season, everyone involved gives a sigh of relief and accomplishment, and then looks forward to field days, workshops, and Water Rocks school programs that fill up the rest of the year.
While we’re crisscrossing the state attending fairs, what should visitors expect from Water Rocks and Iowa Learning Farms?
A unique combination of information about conservation, farming techniques and fun. Conservation is a choice that every Iowan must make for themselves, and we are dedicated to putting science-based information into the hands and heads of people of every age and background.
Lessons appeal to parents as well as kids
Building a Culture of Conservation in Iowa is the core principle of the organizations.
Where else, but at the Conservation Station, can kids win prizes by picking up dog poo (fake) and tossing it into targets? And along the way, learn about animal waste from domesticated pets and livestock that can pollute the rivers and streams, which are a great source of recreation and drinking water throughout the state. The lessons resonate with the parents and grandparents, too. We see it in their faces as they lean in to encourage the kids.
The approach encompasses multiple media to capture visitors’ interest, regardless of their age or background. We use music, art, games and scientific displays to tune the Culture of Conservation message to everyone. The Conservation Station trailers incorporate art and science to demonstrate how no-till and cover crop techniques benefit the broader ecosystem through controlling nutrient loss and erosion.
Past, present and future
This year, the Big Conservation Station’s walk-through learning lab has been outfitted with all new artwork depicting the past, present and potential future of Iowa’s farming practices and environment. Through this original artwork, we solicit visitors to contemplate the future they hope for Iowa, and share those dreams through their own artistic contributions.
Our new Conservation Station “On the Edge” trailer also includes working bioreactor and saturated buffer demonstrations that help farmers visualize how these practices might work on their farms. These structures, which work below the surface and out of view, have proven to reduce nitrate levels by as much as 70%.
Throughout Iowa we’ve been welcomed and welcomed back. And when we return to a fair to see the same smiling faces ready to hear more about conservation, we know that we’re making progress on our mission. We’re excited to get back to each county as soon and as often as possible.
Come out to see the Conservation Stations and Water Rocks at the following fairs this summer:
• July 20, Tama County
• July 20, Decatur County
• July 21, Poweshiek County
• July 21, Henry County
• July 23, Jasper County
• July 24, Story County
• July 25, Wayne County
• July 26, Monroe County
• July 26, Des Moines County
• July 27, Fayette County
• July 27, Crawford County
• July 28, Hancock County
• Aug. 3, Clayton County
• Aug. 4, Mitchell County
Comito is program director for Water Rocks! And Iowa Learning Farms.