Physical distancing activities continue in Iowa with special UMRI site visits during July— UMRI team members met and engaged with farmers and partners in the Raccoon River Watershed. They also met up with Kate Pankey, Girl Scouts Experience Manager—STEM partnerships for a tour of Cherry Glen Farm’s water mitigation system in Polk City and Greene County’s Tipton Prairie.
Building partnerships and connections along the watershed are critical to the success of improving soil health and water quality. This year has been extremely challenging for many people, especially our farmers; between the Covid 19 crisis and climate shifts there has been little relief for both small and large farms. Last summer Iowa was hit with severe floods resulting in several thousand acres of unrecovered farmland. This summer there is not enough rain. The extreme drought conditions are directly affecting their bottom line. Our outreach includes meeting farmers, learning from them and sharing their stories; the good, the bad and the sad.
We had the opportunity to visit Craig Fleishman’s farm, safely social distancing outside with warm sunshine summer air. Craig is a 5th generation family farmer in Minburn, Iowa and a member of the Raccoon River Watershed Association who farms 150 acres of alternating non GMO soybeans and corn. He has two prairie buffers and has integrated oats as well. Both the lack of rainwater and Japanese beetles have caused additional stresses on Craig’s farm. Mike Delaney listened to Craig’s concerns and also identified some of the prairie plants during the farm tour. Christine Curry captured some beautiful snaps.
Marvin Shirley and his son-in-law, Chris Nelson from Minburn, Iowa farm around 1,200 acres of rotational grazing with cattle. They have worked hard to establish over 75 solar fenced pasture sections since the mid-90’s where they rotate their angus cattle. This has led to healthier land and animals, while capturing carbon in the soil. They use horses in the traditional way to round up and move their cattle, which is rare these days. They are often featured as excellent examples of sustainable agriculture and are also active members of the Iowa Farmers Union.
Partners and Youth Connections with the Girl Scouts
Kate Pankey, Girls Scouts Experience Manager has been working with us to develop virtual online programs in order to accommodate flexible scheduling during this time of social distancing since many of the “group” outreach activities are no longer taking place. Over the past several months, we have been working with partners to develop conservation opportunities with the youth and their families.
We arranged to meet up with Kate and her daughter, Blake at Cherry Glen Learning Farm to learn more about the farm and their water mitigation system. At the learning farm, Director and owner Ray Meylor demonstrated the basic concepts of the water mitigation system which was designed as part of the Rebuild Iowa Project after the 2008 floods. Iowa’s first designed Watershed Mitigation Farm, capturing surface water and high nitrate farm tile water, provides free water for 10 acres worth of drip irrigation. Clean water is returned to the aquifer or released as clean discharge. It’s the only working model of its kind in this region. We also learned about all the other activities on the farm, including honey bees and apple trees. The farm shares a border with a traditional corn field and we saw first hand the depleted dry soil on the corn field next to the rich dark moist soil under the blackberry bushes located on the grounds of Cherry Glen Learning Farm.
Greene County’s Tipton Prairie— Tour with Girl Scouts
We are super fortunate to have team members and partners who bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to share with others in the watershed. Iowa’s original prairies are responsible for its black rich soil and are natural filters enhancing water quality. Less than two hundred years ago, Iowa’s tall grass prairie covered 85% of of the state and today less than 1% remains. Greene County’s Tipton Prairie is a living example that occupies about 4 acres of authentic prairie with over 100 native species of plants identified. Kate Pankey recorded Mike Delaney for the Girl Scouts’ virtual programs, as he shared some of the basic foundations about Iowa’s original prairie habitat and why it’s so special.
Delaney’s Raccoon River Prairie
UMRI’s Iowa Coordinator, Mike Delaney is also known as an environmental sociologist, prairie specialist and educator. We recently visited his beautiful representation of Iowa’s tall grass prairie in full bloom. When Mike and his wife Dell purchased their farm located in Minburn on the Raccoon River a corn field had been planted right up to the river’s bank. Six-foot trenches ran directly into the river. Later a buffer strip was added to catch run off. They planted prairie on nearly 20 acres of the former corn and bean field using locally collected seed from Dallas and Greene Counties, and purchased seed from Allendan. The purchased seed came from native prairie sources in and around Madison County. Currently the prairie is well established after fifteen years of work with about 70 species of plants that are creating an integrated community with a little help from Mike. The insects, birds and other wildlife are making it their home. “Build it and they will come”! Mike has been giving away small amounts of seed to those who wish to start their own prairies along the Raccoon River. Migrating birds and butterflies need a corridor of life to use as they move down the Raccoon River, so let’s help them out!