JOURNALIST: Reporter, Producer, Photographer

From a school lunchroom to the cab of a combine and the deck of a ship, my career has introduced me to people with amazing stories to tell. I've lived and worked in Iowa, Massachusetts, Alaska and California and have reported from places as disparate as Argentina, Australia and Panama on everything from a pig coronavirus to tiny penguins to climate change. 

Filters & Sorting

Iowa Farmer Invents 'Cluster Cluck 5000' To Bring Livestock Back To Crop Fields

Zack Smith pats the snout of a pig that stretches up to greet him from inside the back pen of a mobile barn. On this field, Smith planted alternating sections of corn and pasture, to test an experiment he calls “stock cropping.” “This is our answer for putting diversification and multiple species back on the land,” he says. “And we’re going to have a four-ring circus, was my idea, of animals parading through, grazing and laying their manure down.”

State Climatologist Says Farmers Need More Tools In Their Tool Box To Combat Climate Change

Some of Iowa’s climate records stretch back to the mid-1800s, which is why Iowa’s state climatologist, Justin Glisan, can say August 2020 was the driest in Iowa in 148 years. Glisan told a virtual gathering of the Iowa Farmers Union Thursday that 30 years of weather history create climate information, and that can be used to identify trends. Now, climate models for Iowa indicate extremes such as heavy spring rains and summer droughts are likely to continue. "Our warms are becoming warmer, col
Michael Leland/IPR

Farmers See Wildly Different Yields In Derecho-Damaged Corn Fields

Farmers are wrapping up the harvest in much of the Corn Belt and finally seeing how much they can get out of derecho-damaged fields. The August windstorm slammed 3.6 million acres of corn in Iowa alone, leaving some stalks almost flat on the ground and many others standing with a pronounced tilt. At the time, agronomists said the angle of damage would influence whether the grain could be harvested and they couldn’t predict how much the injured plants would yield. Now many of those farmers have answers, but they vary so much that Ben Hollingshead, an agronomist with Key Cooperative in Kelly, Iowa, says there’s no general takeaway.

Why Are There So Few Black Farmers In The Midwest?

A propane tank painted to look like a watermelon sits in front of a produce stand on Highway 150 in Fayette County, Iowa. Its long-time owner, Atrus (Attie) Stepp, who was Black, launched Fayette’s annual Watermelon Days festival in 1976. “Everybody’s got good things to say about Attie,” said Charles Downs, who runs the stand now. Downs, who is white, bought the stand from Stepp’s daughter, ending the family’s long legacy. “Conservatively, I’d say it’s been here 80 years, at least, and it’s probably ... maybe a hundred,” Downs said.

Republicans Celebrate USDA Investment In E15 As Democrats Cry Too Little, Too Late

Iowans and drivers across the region will have more ready access to gasoline with a 15 percent ethanol blend as federal dollars flow to ethanol producers and retail gas stations. The United States Department of Agriculture has announced grants totaling $22 million for retail pumps and storage for E15 ethanol. The Trump administration approved year-round sales of E15 last year, but it has not been readily available for most drivers.

In an Autumn Of Uncertainties, More Kids Can Rely On Free School Lunches

As the new school year gets underway, some students are in classrooms and others are at home but one thing is now clear: all kids can get free school meals. That’s because the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program and the Summer Food Service Program, has extended the pandemic provisions it introduced last spring, which include eliminating the requirement that families apply for reduced-fees or free meals.
William D. Bowman

Long Term Ecological Research Network Celebrates 40 Years of Discovery: The network has inspired international and agricultural endeavors.

Acid rain can fall far from the site of the human activity that caused it. The diversity of functions performed by plants can be more important to an ecosystem's processes than the number of different species present. The roots of tundra plants take up organic nitrogen, providing some of their necessary nutrition. These concepts that might be taught in undergraduate classes today have something in common: They can be linked directly to the Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) network, which is celebrating its fortieth anniversary this year.
K.A.Zenz

Iowa State University President Reverses Decision On Football Fans

Iowa State University’s Jack Trice Stadium will have no fans for the Cyclones’ home opener on Sept. 12. The Wednesday announcement comes after the school was widely criticized for its plan to allow 25,000 season-ticket holders to attend the game, with masks and social-distancing requirements. In a statement, Iowa State Athletics Director Jamie Pollard said university president Wendy Wintersteen informed him Tuesday that she had reversed her earlier decision to allow fans.

Whether In School Or Online, USDA Says All Students Can Still Get Free Meals

Schools are resuming instruction but with the COVID-19 pandemic continuing, they are facing an ever-changing metric for whether students are physically in school buildings. Being able to provide meals to them no matter how they’re learning remains a challenging priority. This week the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it’s extending provisions that allow schools to provide free meals to all children, which can be packaged for pick-up, delivered to classrooms or served in a traditional lunch line.

Sierra Club Report Calls For Climate Adaptation Plan, More Investment In New Ag Markets

Iowa’s Sierra Club Chapter has released a new report calling for changes to agriculture that will make it more sustainable environmentally and economically as the climate changes. “Soil: Grounding Us in Transformative Systemic Change” recommends more conservation practices on farmland to reduce nutrient runoff and erosion, a moratorium on confined animal feeding operations and more opportunity for small, diversified farms. But it also outlines several policy goals including the need for a climate adaptation plan for the state.

From Milling Grain To Feeding And Entertaining Communities: How Elevators Gain New Lives

Reliable Street, on the northwest edge of Ames, runs parallel to the train tracks for two blocks. From the late 1800s to the mid-20th century, it was the main drag for the township of Ontario and in 1898, the Lockwood Grain and Coal Company began operating a flour mill and grain elevator on the north side of the street. The city of Ames annexed Ontario in 1962, and today two residential streets end at Reliable Street.

Cyclist Comes Through Midwest On Cross-Country Ride To Raise Awareness About BLM, Minorities In STEM

Sitting on a deck at the home of a colleague in Ames, Harvard University biology professor Scott Edwards identifies robins by their call and says the particular tone suggests something is amiss—perhaps a mother bird protecting her little ones. Edwards, who studies birds and evolution, is bicycling across the country from east to west and marking his passage between regions by the birds he encounters. “I remember when I finally figured out that I was hearing this bird called a dickcissel. It’s It’s very common in the prairie states,” he said. “And it’s great because we don’t get them in Massachusetts. And it was fun to say, hey, I’ve actually moved—I’ve gone to a new place, because this is a species that I wouldn’t normally encounter.”

'We have one Earth': Researchers Work To Boost Farm Production Without Causing More Harm

At the edge of a corn field on a clear but windy June day, microbiologist Tom Moorman lifts a metal lid and reveals a collection of bottles, tubes, meters and cables in a shallow pit. The system is designed to capture runoff from 24 plots. Moorman and his research group then analyze the nutrients in the water from each container to measure runoff levels. They’re comparing different cover crops.

COVID-19 Put Beef Prices On A Roller Coaster, And The Ride Isn't Over Yet

The global pandemic has impacted the food supply in numerous ways and that has led to fluctuations in the prices of some common items. Consider humble ground beef, the stuff of hamburgers, meatballs, chili and pasta sauce. The fattier it is, the lower the price. Usually. “Normally it would be the case that leaner beef would be priced higher than less lean beef,” says Jayson Lusk, an agriculture economist at Purdue University. With a chuckle, he adds: “But of course different market factors and forces can sometimes alter those two relationships.”
courtesy Hy-Vee

How The Pandemic Inspired New Ways To Get Food To Those In Need

This pandemic spring has changed some pathways of getting food to hungry people, but there’s still plenty being donated and distributed to meet the increased need. West Des Moines, Iowa-based Hy-Vee, with stores in eight states, often makes donations to food banks, says Christina Gayman, director of public relations. But right now, many of its suppliers have approached the chain for help distributing their surplus.

Pork Processing Slowed, But For Now Farmers Largely Spared From Euthanizing Their Pigs

Pork processing fell nearly 40 percent following temporary closures at meatpacking plants across the Midwest last month. That’s created a backlog of market-ready hogs, though the scope of the problem isn’t as dramatic as some had feared. Many observers, making back-of-the-envelope style calculations, have tried to estimate how many pigs might be euthanized during processing slowdowns. The numbers can seem staggering.

Animal Disease Labs Step In To Help Meet Need for COVID-19 Testing

Many of the public health labs determining whether people have COVID-19 have become at least overworked or, at worst, overwhelmed. Some of the country’s animal disease labs have stepped in to help. Rodger Main, director of the Veterinary Diagnostic Lab at Iowa State University, says early in the COVID-19 outbreak, he and leaders from the University of Iowa’s State Hygienic Lab got on the phone to discuss how they could collaborate.
courtesy ISU

ISU Architecture Students Make Face Shields To Help Healthcare Workers During Pandemic

Architecture students at Iowa State University are using design and fabrication skills honed in the Computation and Construction Lab to support healthcare workers in Iowa during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of the campus is quiet as classes are on-line and faculty and staff are expected to work from home. But a handful of undergraduates has permission to work in staggered shifts to create face shields. They responded to an invitation from assistant professor of architecture Shelby Doyle.
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