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Read more about the work of the Kerns family, and other water quality successes, in Working For Clean Water, the DNR's annual watershed success story publication.
Jim and Jody Kerns’ belief in conservation and education is as deeply rooted as the trees that protect the banks along their Volga River property.
The couple has farmed their cropland, pasture and timber near Edgewood since 1986, growing their family and serving their community along the way. For almost 20 years, their land has served as a living classroom for Edgewood-Colesburg students and their own six children.
In second grade, each Kerns child named their own grove and had their entire class help them plant all the trees. Even when there’s not a grove to plant, it’s the field trip most second graders (and their parents) look forward to for years. Each year, fifth graders learn how to identify, plant and care for trees. High schoolers taking a quarter-long environmental science course attend class every day on the land. In those two decades, students have recorded improvements in water quality on the property and watched aquatic life and wildlife thrive. Some students have gone into environmental science careers following their experience.
Conservation is at the heart of the family and farm, with land in the Conservation Reserve Program and the Conservation Security Program. The river property is in CRP, prairie, pasture and managed timber. “Ultimately, we’ve kept conservation a priority because we’ve always been mindful of the fact that conservation’s important – period – when you have six kids that are the future,” says Jody. Tree plantings are added often, there are habitat projects, and three acres they’re restoring to savanna.
“We’ve enjoyed doing a little more experimenting with the type of tree plantings were doing in terms of species and like to challenge ourselves,” Jim says. “We’ve also done some pollinator plantings and enjoyed the new learning opportunities that came with that in terms of having the opportunity to teach our kids and the students the importance of the pollinators.”
However, the Kerns’ impact expands far past their land. “Their conservation ethic goes beyond their property boundaries through their service on local, regional and statewide boards and committees,” says Iowa state forester Paul Tauke. “Land stewardship and service is not just something that they do – it is something they purposefully weave into the very fabric of their family and their lives.” Other conservation professionals agree.
“Over the years, the Kernses have adopted many diversified soil and water conservation practices,” says Jeff Tisl, a regional basin coordinator for IDALS. “Many were innovative, even to the agency staff assisting them. Undaunted, they took the time to investigate and applied what they learned.”
Maintenance of the tree plantings and other conservation projects has been less of a chore and more of a bonding opportunity, even an investment. “We never lost sight that when we’re out there working, we need to have fun,” Jody says. Jim adds, “we learned to invest in what we like to call our ‘working retirement account.’ We were able to invest in the land, improve and manage the woodlands and land as a long-term investment that can provide us profits through sustainable harvest. Yet this entire time we’ve been able to share this experience with our children, teach them, and always have fun on the land together.”