Iowa Learning Farms launches podcast series

February 10, 2015

A new podcast series launched this month, titled “Conservation Chat,” does just what the title says. Anthropologist Jacqueline Comito, director of the Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks! programs, holds casual conversations with Iowans about various aspects of conservation. Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey is the inaugural podcast guest followed by Mills County farmer Steve McGrew.
“Audio storytelling via podcasts is an excellent way of getting at unique perspectives on those people driving conservation and water quality initiatives in Iowa,” says Comito. “We think the material will be engaging to farmers and all Iowans.”
Podcasts—downloadable digital audio shows—began in 2005 to a small audience of iPod owners. When podcasts began, iTunes users had to download the audio files onto their computers and then sync them to their iPods.  Since the debut of the smartphone, podcast technology has advanced to eliminate the cumbersome transfers of files. Today, podcasts can be downloaded quickly and directly onto any computer, smartphone or mobile device. 
In today’s era of on-demand entertainment, people download not just podcasts, but TV shows, movies, and music through subscription services like Netflix and apps such as iHeartRadio and iTunes, to watch and listen on their own time. Apple announced last July that it serves over one billion podcast subscriptions.
According to a recent article in the Washington Post, “Americans spend more than three hours a day commuting, working out, and doing household chores that can be accompanied by audio entertainment… smartphones and Bluetooth-enabled cars have made it easier than ever for listeners, who are still mostly men, to load up their favorite programs.”
Although there probably aren’t too many places in Iowa that sustain commutes as long as three hours, there is major tractor time and other moments when listening is more convenient than reading or watching.
“We want to introduce listeners to the diversity and depth of the folks who are doing their part to improve the land,” says Comito. “A conversation is the best format to do more than skim the surface of a person’s motivations and attitudes.”
The “Conservation Chat” interviews are casual, engaging and at times humorous. As an anthropologist Comito comes to this format naturally. “Hanging out and talking with people is at the heart of the anthropological approach. I love to discover what makes individuals unique and to hear their stories. I also love to laugh with others.”
In the chat with Secretary Northey, listeners are reminded that he comes to his political position with experience of managing his own farm and as a former Soil and Water Conservation District Commissioner. We also learn that although his farm in Dickinson County is near the Iowa Great Lakes, he is not a water person.
“There is always something to do on the farm,” says Northey.  “It [Spirit Lake] is a wonderful lake. We love getting out on our friends’ boats… But there was always hay to make, livestock to care for; it was hard to get away. ”
In the interview with McGrew, listeners learn about his 20 years of experimenting with cover crops, that he is considering fish farming, and that he plays a unique musical instrument.
For this podcast series, Comito plans to talk to a broad pool of people who are concerned about water quality and soil health.  “We are open to suggestions of who to interview in upcoming shows,” says Comito. “We don’t want to be limited by who we know. We will be starting with ILF partners and branching out from there. I look forward to meeting new people, hearing their stories and sharing those stories with a larger audience.”
The “Conservation Chat” podcasts are available through iTunes, the ILF webpage, and at You can subscribe to “Conservation Chat” through iTunes and get new episodes automatically downloaded to your computer or devices.
For more information about Iowa Learning Farms, visit the website:
Established in 2004, Iowa Learning Farms is building a Culture of Conservation, encouraging adoption of conservation practices. Farmers, researchers and ILF team members are working together to identify and implement the best management practices that improve water quality and soil health while remaining profitable. Partners of Iowa Learning Farms are the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Iowa Natural Resources Conservation Service and Iowa Department of Natural Resources (USEPA section 319), Conserva­tion Districts of Iowa, Iowa Farm Bureau, Iowa Water Center and Practical Farmers of Iowa.