Virtual Eco Family Conference Connects Families to the Environment

AMES, Iowa – Iowa families throughout the state will be getting together — virtually — once a month from January through June for an Eco Family Conference from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. It’s an opportunity for families to improve the environment, reduce their carbon footprint and create community close to home.

Eco FamilyThe online conference is part of a new initiative from ISU Extension and Outreach to help Iowans make conscious decisions about the environment. On the first Thursday of each month, January through June, a 90-minute webinar will feature a different speaker addressing a different environmental topic. All sessions begin at 7 p.m.

“I know it seems ironic that we are choosing a virtual approach to connecting with the natural world, but connecting to people where they are is one of the things ISU Extension and Outreach does best. We wanted to make this available to people in multiple places, rather than limit the learning experiences to a geographic location,” said Kristi Cooper, an ISU Extension family life specialist and one of the conference organizers.

“With a virtual conference, people can get connected to others with similar interests without adding to their carbon footprint by driving to an event. Also, this is a way for people to create community close to where they live if they choose. They can invite their family, neighbors and friends to view the webinar together in their home,” Cooper said.

Join the Electronic Meeting Room

To participate in the conference, families need a computer with high-speed Internet access, speakers or headphones and a microphone, if they wish to speak to the instructor. They also can communicate with the instructor by typing their questions or comments in the online chat box. The registration fee is $15 per person. Once registered, participants will receive log-in directions for accessing the virtual classroom for all conference sessions.

The conference begins with a keynote address on Jan. 5 featuring Brenda Ranum, a regional director for ISU Extension and Outreach in northeast Iowa who works with the Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative. She will share successes and possibilities that can occur when a family, community, county or region work together to improve lives.

“If you miss the January session, you still can register and participate in the rest of the conference,” Cooper said. For registration information contact Cooper at 319-377-9839 ( or Brenda Schmitt, ISU Extension family finance specialist and conference organizer, at 641-512-0650 ( The registration form is online; print it, complete it and mail with a check for $15 to ISU Extension and Outreach, P.O. Box 368, Allison, IA 50602.

In other sessions

  • Kristi Cooper will address connecting to nature on Feb. 2.
  • Pat Higby, energy educator from the University of Northern Iowa, will talk about energy on March 1.
  • Pat Sauer, with the Iowa Storm Water Education Program and Rainscaping Iowa, and urban conservationist Amy Bouska, of Johnson County Soil and Water Conservation District, will discuss water as a precious resource on April 5.
  • Fred Meyer, an ecological designer as well as founder and executive director of Backyard Abundance, will address edible landscape design on May 3.
  • The June 7 session will cover basic information on composting.

“As Iowans gather ‘round their computers to join our ‘electronic meeting room,’ we want to help them think about these environmental issues and practical action steps they can take in their own home and neighborhood,” Cooper said.

“If participants are interested in duplicating what they see and hear during the conference sessions, we encourage them to start a local steering committee. We would be glad to help them build a vision and map out action steps to make their dream a reality,” Schmitt added.

Connecting Families to the Environment

“The Eco Family Conference is an experiment and it may or may not work, but let’s give it a try,” said Nancy Franz, associate dean for ISU Extension and Outreach for Families and 4-H Youth.

“It’s worth trying because children and adults who have a connection with the natural environment are more able to adjust to stress and are more likely to take care of the environment as a result,” Franz said. “In addition, many families have fewer financial resources these days and are seeking ways to live more simply.”

Through the virtual conference and the Connecting Families to the Environment initiative, ISU Extension and Outreach is providing research-based education to increase Iowans’ knowledge and skills and help them make informed decisions to improve their environment and their health.


[PHOTO] High resolution version of Eco Family image