Skip Navigation
Iowa State University Extension

June 2008 -- From Jack Payne

cartoon from

Home, home on the range
Where the deer and the antelope play
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word
and the skies are not cloudy all day. - Dr. Brewster M. Higley

The latest in the fashion line-up of newly-invented, trendy words brings us the Homecation. For the record, I usually gnash my teeth at these word-grafts, but this one resonates with me. And with the price of gas, I venture to say that it’s resonating with many other folks as well. 

In truth, a Homecation, or staying home, has never been so stylish. All over America folks are planning their Homecations, even as I write. So for those of you who haven’t considered a Homecation, here are a few ideas. Plan a Homecation in place of those two weeks that you were going to spend cycling in Italy before the Euro divorced the Dollar and got the house and the hybrid SUV. Or, have a productive Homecation by sticking around town and finally dealing with that patch of creeping Charlie that’s overtaking your lawn. Then there’s the Low Carbon Footprint Homecation where you spend seven days sleeping in a tent in a backyard without using any utilities and foraging for your food by foot or bicycle. Or is that just riding RAGBRAI?


After the tornado, Iowans pull together to pick up the pieces

tornado damage in Parkersburg

A tornado and severe storms devastated parts of northeast Iowa over the Memorial Day weekend. As Iowans pick up the pieces and strive to rebuild, ISU Extension is providing a range of information from keeping food safe to dealing with tree damage and handling stress. In addition, ISU Extension county and field staff are checking on crop and livestock damage and working with local agencies to assess damage to farms and facilities.

Extension’s Iowa Concern Hotline is taking calls from people who want to donate goods and services as well as from others who want to help with cleanup. In one 24-hour period, Iowa Concern received more than 350 calls from people who had services, time, money or items to donate to tornado victims.

Extension’s Answer Line also is available to answer Iowans’ calls about food safety, household cleanup and other home and family topics.

Biotechnology education connects science to ordinary things

educators learn about biotechnology

Four dogs and one chewed shoe: Which dog did it? To find out, try a little CSI-style DNA fingerprinting. It’s quick, simple and all in a day’s work for ISU Extension and ISU’s Biotechnology Outreach Education Center. It’s one way the ISU partners connect science to ordinary things and reach 18,000 school-age children and more than 100 teachers each year with biotechnology education.

From DNA profiling in crime scene investigation to modified agricultural crops to even a dog-chewed shoe — biotechnology is everywhere. So ISU Extension and the Biotechnology Outreach Education Center are partnering to help Iowans understand the science that underlies 21st century biotechnology developments and the related economic, ethical and social issues.

“Just watch the news, read the paper,” said Mike Zeller, the center’s outreach education coordinator. “We don’t think about the technology. It’s become part of everyday life.”

Funding from ISU Extension along with a workforce of ISU Extension staff scattered throughout the state help Zeller expand the center’s reach. Biotechnology education fits particularly well with ISU Extension 4-H Youth Development programs in science, engineering and technology that offer practical, hands-on experiences for Iowa youth.

“My job is outreach in biotechnology. Extension staff are very valuable at spreading the word in this arena,” Zeller said. “We use the ISU Extension system to get the curriculum out.”

The Biotechnology Outreach Education Center educates teachers and students from school age to adult in a state-of-the-art lab on the ISU campus. Zeller and ISU Extension specialists also conduct workshops for teachers throughout the state. In addition, ISU Extension specialists and trained Iowa teachers educate kids using free kits from the center that include everything an educator would need to teach about biotechnology topics ranging from DNA extraction to bioethics.

Zeller wants to provide materials to ISU Extension specialists and teachers that are easy to use. He said, “We don’t want them to come back to us and say it’s too hard.”

That the kits are easy to use is proven by the results. During the 2007-2008 school year the center has filled more than 200 requests for the kits and supplies.

For more information, contact Zeller at

New state biobased law started with a simple Extension lunch

biobased product

Sandwiches weren’t the only items on the lunch menu at a recent Extension conference. An unexpected entrée was a state biobased purchasing law resulting from a state legislator’s attendance there.

Over lunch and work sessions at the 2007 Extension Biobased Industry Outlook Conference, State Sen. Herman Quirmbach learned about a federal biobased purchasing law, the BioPreferred program and the efforts of Extension’s Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS) to categorize biobased products. Subsequently, Quirmbach arranged to draft a bill requiring state government to buy products made from renewable agricultural resources -- such as corn and soybeans -- if the cost is no more than 5 percent higher and they perform as well as conventional products.

Senate File 2361 received unanimous votes from the Iowa Senate and House this legislative session. The bill, signed by Gov. Chet Culver in April, goes into effect July 1. “It was an idea that everybody just liked,” Quirmbach said.

The Story County senator, who also is an ISU associate professor of economics, said he decided to sponsor the bill because it promotes environmentally friendly products and has economic development potential for Iowa’s farmers. Quirmbach believes the state will have no problems implementing it because state agencies already purchase recycled and soybean-based products.

Although Iowa joins only a handful of states with laws requiring government agencies to give purchasing preference to biobased products, Quirmbach said he wanted Iowa to be in a leadership role. The laws vary from state to state. “The 5 percent allows a little bit of preference,” Quirmbach said, “but we didn’t want (agencies) to spend two or three times the regular amount. We have a responsibility to taxpayers.”

In recent years, the number of biobased manufacturers has risen as government agencies and the public demand alternatives to goods produced from petroleum and opt for sustainable products derived from farm crops. The BioPreferred program’s database, which CIRAS manages, is growing rapidly, and now contains nearly 2,000 manufacturers of more than 12,000 biobased products.

Geiken goes green to boost 4-H enrollment

4-H'ers spray Stan Geiken's hair green

When Stan Geiken says he’ll go green to increase 4-H club enrollment, he keeps his word. So on March 30, in a high school gym packed with 150 cheering 4-H witnesses, he went under the aerosol can as Benton County 4-H council members sprayed his hair green — bright green. It was his light-hearted gift to Benton County’s 4-H members, leaders and volunteers for doing their part to increase 4-H enrollment in the county by 5 percent.

Geiken, ISU Extension education director for Benton County, issued the challenge last fall. “I had challenged our leaders and members to a 5 percent growth goal if they wanted me green.”

Statewide 4-H has set a goal of increasing club membership of fourth through 12th graders by 3 percent, said Chuck Morris, director of ISU Extension 4-H Youth Development. 4-H currently reaches one in four Iowa youth.

Benton County was one member short of a full 5 percent as of the 4-H volleyball tournament where the greening occurred, but Geiken figured that was close enough. Since then the goal has been reached and surpassed.

“We didn’t do anything special,” Geiken said, “but the kids were ready to turn me green all year long. I do know that the challenge kept the community interested.”

Geiken sported his new hair color for two and a half days, including a conference in Ames with his Iowa State colleagues. “You should have seen people look at me,” he said.

Geiken retired from ISU Extension at the end of May, but that won’t spell the end of the 4-H enrollment challenge. Michelle Thomsen, the Benton County 4-H youth coordinator, has issued her own challenge. If the county 4-H club program meets its enrollment goals next year, they can spray her hair any color they want. And Geiken plans to help.

Iowa Master Farmers have Extension connections

Mike Hunter

All of this year’s Iowa Master Farmers have strong connections to Iowa State University Extension, from 4-H participation and volunteering to assistance with conservation efforts and beef marketing. In late March, Wallaces Farmer presented the awards to Mike, Nick and Alyse Hunter, Chariton; and also to Leland and Kris Boyd, Charles City; Don and Linda Friederichsen, Holstein; and Glenn and Bev Rowe, Lorimor. But Mike Hunter, in particular, emphasized his ISU Extension connections when he received the award.

“Extension was key in getting me involved in rotational grazing,” the Chariton farmer said. He uses this forage management method in about a dozen different pastures.

He learned about grid marketing from ISU Extension, Hunter continued. “Extension gave me enough confidence to try marketing cattle that way.”

Research from ISU Extension convinced him to put up a hoop building, he added.

“Mike was very gracious to ISU Extension in the acceptance speech,” according to ISU Extension livestock field specialist Joe Sellers. “We have helped with the Hunters’ feedlot operation, grid marketing and the start-up of Chariton Valley Beef LLC, a group that is direct marketing locally produced beef. We helped them with starting rotational grazing in their cow-calf operation, developing rations for the cow herd, etc. Extension has been a sounding board for many questions over the years.”

According to Wallaces Farmer, as a high school senior Leland Boyd used money earned from showing 4-H calves to buy his own feeder calf herd. The Friederichsens, Hunters and Rowes are long-time 4-H volunteers.

Wallaces Farmer has given the Iowa Master Farmer awards since 1926, recognizing a few Iowa farmers each year for giving their time and energy to building stronger communities and a better agriculture.

Iowa State is ‘destination for designers’ and more

Student works on ISU design project

Iowa State University is a destination for all designers — as well as those interested in veterinary medicine, animal science and a lot more. Extension is helping Iowa’s young people find their way to ISU with county-based student recruitment projects. Middle school and high school students by the busloads visited the ISU campus and research sites during the 2007-2008 academic year. They went back home excited about potential future areas of study and opportunities they never before had considered.

For example, ISU … A Destination for All Designers brought 30 4-H’ers from 11 counties and one youth from out of state to campus to explore design opportunities in the colleges of Design and Human Sciences. The students toured the Universal Design lab, visited design studios, created designer shirts, talked with ISU students and attended the annual ISU textile show.

“Our team wanted participants to have hands on experiences in small group settings so strong ISU student and participant connections could happen,” said Ann Torbert, ISU Extension 4-H youth development specialist.
 “ISU students shared what their world is like as college students and taught the workshops. The ISU students sold ISU very well.”

High school students participating in the 2008 Swine-Equine Showdown this spring agreed. As one participant said, “I know more what to expect when I go to college. It was a great experience to learn about the project and about college life.”

This effort brought 76 4-H’ers from 12 counties to ISU’s College of Veterinary Medicine, Meat Lab and animal science facilities, said Denise Schwab, ISU Extension livestock field specialist. The 4-H’ers learned about ISU research in swine and horse production as well as current issues facing producers.

In April about 100 youth toured Iowa State’s Southeast Research and Demonstration Farm near Crawfordsville. According to ISU Extension farm management field specialist Jim Jensen, in 75 percent of the evaluations students indicated that the event helped them consider Iowa State for their future education.

For more information, contact Torbert (, Schwab ( or Jensen (

Positive youth development and 4-H get results

4-H'ers do community service projects

You may assume that adolescents are inherently “at risk” and try to “fix” their problems. Or you may take another perspective –- positive youth development – believing that youth have assets and can become constructive contributors to society. That’s the perspective of ISU Extension 4-H Youth Development. A new national study confirms that positive youth development and 4-H get better results.

The Tufts’ 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development has found that youth involved in high-quality, structured programs during out-of-school-time, such as those offered by ISU Extension 4-H Youth Development in every county in Iowa, are more likely to experience positive youth development.

“This study confirms that youth involved in 4-H are leaders, contribute to their communities and are civically engaged, which strengthens communities,” said Keli Tallman, an ISU Extension 4-H youth development state specialist.

The Tufts’ study is a first-of-its-kind, longitudinal study measuring the impact personal and social factors have on youth as they develop. Findings reveal that all youth have the capacity to thrive, regardless of where they live, their family situations, their socioeconomic status, races and genders.

Study findings also show that quality and quantity matter when it comes to youth involvement in structured, out-of-school-time programs, Tallman said. The more often youth are involved in high-quality youth development programs, the more they and their communities benefit.

“We’re excited about this research and will be applying what we learn to Iowa 4-H,” said Chuck Morris, director of ISU Extension 4-H Youth Development. “We want to ensure that our 4-H program continues to provide opportunities that will help our youth become successful, contributing members of their communities.”

The Tufts’ study further shows that, in order for youth to experience success, communities, families and schools need to provide access to programs such as 4-H as well as provide sustained adult interaction and mentoring.

The 4-H study, conducted by Tufts University and sponsored by the National 4-H Council, involved more than 4,000 youth and 2,000 parents from 25 states to measure the impact personal and social factors have on a young person’s development.

Extension’s energy tip: Don’t let high fuel costs drive you nuts

gasoline pump

Whether you drive an economy car or an SUV, there are plenty of ways to improve your gas mileage. Avoid aggressive driving and observe the speed limit. Speeding, fast acceleration and hard braking wastes gas. Lighten your load by clearing your car of extra weight, and remove roof racks or carriers if not used frequently. Keep current with car maintenance -- clean air filters can improve gas mileage by as much as 10 percent. Properly inflated and aligned tires will improve gas mileage by 3 percent. Using the wrong grade of oil can reduce mileage by 1 to 2 percent. For longer-term savings, consider a high-mileage vehicle for your next purchase. Learn more on buying a fuel-efficient car or truck. Check out Driving and Car Maintenance for more tips.

This tip is brought to you by the U.S. Department of Energy and ISU Extension.