Understanding the natural world and our place in it was on full display last week during the annual Iowa Envirothon, held this year at Jester Park Nature Center near Granger.

Teams from high schools across the state, many sporting their FFA polos and accompanied by their agriculture teacher, were challenged to sharpen critical thinking skills and work as a team to conduct hands-on investigations and answer written questions concerning environmental issues in five categories: aquatics, forestry, wildlife, soils and current environmental issues.

Each team gave a presentation to a panel of judges on an assigned topic related to one of the areas of focus for the program.

A team of students from Marcus-Meriden-Cleghorn-Remsen-Union (MMCRU) Community School District made the long trek from northwest Iowa to central Iowa for the competition.

“It was a lot of fun,” said senior Gunnar Grage after the team’s presentation was complete. “We were able to work together and have visual aids and demonstrations, and it was just fun working with them and getting to know everyone.”

The MMCRU team focused on a proposed food waste composting system at the high school which would not only eliminate waste from reaching the city landfill but also provide valuable soil for their greenhouse and garden beds.

“I think our presentation went really well,” Grage said. “We got all our points across. We were asked questions and had our answers ready. I think we gave the judges what they were looking for throughout the questions and presentations.”

Educating future farmers
Six years ago, before redistricting, Marcus-Meriden-Cleghorn (MMC) High School added its first ag teacher, Sam Schroeder.

Schroeder has built the program that now includes classes on horticulture, biotechnology, aquaponics and animal science.

“I’m pretty proud at seeing how much [the students] grow from being in the program,” Schroeder said.
The high school’s FFA program is also thriving, offering students hands-on experiences.

In recent years, MMCRU High School has added a greenhouse, garden beds to grow produce and an animal science center.

Right now, they have a flock of sheep making their home on school grounds.

“I’ve got a really great community that I work with and who’ve helped me in my six years,” Schroeder said. “We’re currently working on repairing an old John Deere tractor. There’s a lot going on, but the community support is there for us.”

She said one benefit of an event like the Envirothon is that it helps students remember their place in the whole ecosystem.

“I think the kids really take value and understanding through learning about wildlife, forestry, aquatics and soils,” Schroeder said. “We are practicing conservation when we grow our cropland and grow our livestock. They’re already interacting with all four of these areas.”