Jean Eells with soil as Landra Reece looks on
HANDS-ON LEARNING: Instructor Jean Eells (left) prepares a soil health demonstration, as participant Landra Reece looks on, during the recent workshop, Women Caring for the Land, at Stanhope in central Iowa.

Women caring for the land

Workshops teach participants about soil health and water quality practices.

By Aimee Burch

A group of women from in and around the Squaw Creek Watershed came together to participate in the Women Caring for the Land workshop held in mid-April near Stanhope in central Iowa. The workshop, co-sponsored by Prairie Rivers of Iowa and the Women, Food and Agriculture Network, offered participants the chance to discuss individual farm management practices with local conservationists in a relaxed, peer-to-peer format, which fosters learning through hands-on demonstrations.

“In order to spread awareness and increase the use of conservation practices in the watershed, we have utilized tools like the Women Caring for the Land model to target specific groups of landowners in the watershed,” said Kayla Hasper, watershed coordinator at Prairie Rivers of Iowa.

The morning was spent at the Stanhope Community Center learning about assessing and improving soil health. Jean Eells, owner of E Resources Group, provided a demonstration of a slake test, which measures the stability of soil when it is exposed to a sudden onslaught of water. Another demonstration showed participants how they can test their soil’s ability to soak up water and cycle it through, known as an infiltration test.

Learning better ways to manage land
“The demonstrations are very easy to duplicate at home if someone wants to check their own soil,” said Eells. “I hope everyone who sees the demonstrations learns that they need to check their soil; it may be worse than they think, or not too bad. The demonstrations show soil conditions that you can’t see from the road or from a commercial soil test.”

In the afternoon, participants boarded a bus to visit a local farmer who has implemented some of these conservation practices into his farming operation. At one of farmer Jim McHugh’s wetlands, ISU Extension water-quality program manager Jamie Benning showed the group how to use the RetaiN Iowa water-quality test kit. This easy-to-use kit aims to make nitrate testing more accessible to farmers and landowners.

Venturing to another area of McHugh’s farm gave participants the opportunity to see where he had planted a series of cover crops. The women asked McHugh questions about how he implemented these practices, costs associated with them, and what he learned through the process.

Continuing to reach new landowners
Eells later performed a field demonstration testing the effects of rainfall on compacted soils versus soils with living roots and microorganisms that come together to create strong bonds of soil particles called aggregates. This taught the importance of keeping soils healthy and protected year-round because compacted soil dissolves quickly when exposed to water and thus can erode waterways.

The day ended back at the Stanhope Community Center with closing remarks and resource availability reminders.

Hasper felt the day was a success with good engagement and conversations that will lead to increased awareness of watersheds and soil health. “Overall, participation of women landowners in this workshop was outstanding, and I’m excited to have this group of women to continue reaching new landowners for implementation of conservation practices to protect our soil and water resources,” she said.

Burch writes for Prairie Rivers of Iowa, based in Ames.



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