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Building Community Through Conservation

Building Community Through Conservation

Research, action, and community. 

These are the building blocks of Water Scholar, Dr. Linda Shenk’s ongoing research project that brings together a diverse community-university team—researchers and students from Iowa State, the City of Ames, and community residents at the Crawford Condominiums in Campustown. What they are building together is a way of fostering community through conservation—a combination that, research studies suggest, is a key for creating resilient communities.

For the past two years, Dr. Shenk has been collaborating with Water Scholar hydrologist Dr. Kristie Franz to create a storytelling-based computer simulation model called “Watershed Community.” Shenk describes that the model “encourages individuals and community groups to join their personal stories of land, weather, water, and community with the stories of science. Often, scientists and communities are encouraged to tell stories to each other to build connections and understanding. The “Watershed Community” model is designed to allows researchers and community members to tell stories with other each and then put those stories into action.” 

 Dr. Shenk finds working with the Crawford group inspiring and loved working with them in part because “you can hear the diversity of people and ideas among us, and that has been one of the most exciting aspects of our collaboration.” Since Fall of 2019, the following group has been working together:

Team Members 

● Dr. Linda Shenk and Dr. Kristie Franz (professors at Iowa State University) 

● Janeen Christy & Bob Anders (Crawford Condominium residents) 

● Dhruv Raturi & Michael Moreno (Students at Iowa State University) 

● Liz Calhoun (Stormwater Resource Analyst) 

This collaboration started as a conversation between Liz Calhoun with City of Ames and Crawford residents, Janeen Christy & Bob Anders. Calhoun then suggested including Dr. Shenk in these conversations because of her focused research on community building and sustainability. That led to adding the help of Dhruv Raturi and Michael Moreno, who are current Iowa State students. The whole group came together at Dr. Shenk’s “Watershed Community” model event back in November of 2019. At that event, the group had dinner together, told their stories with the model, explored possibilities, and devised some thoughts for projects that are coming to fruition. Dedicated to working together even as the COVID-19 pandemic changed their plans, they have met virtually and done socially distanced action projects—from tree plantings to composting. Planting native prairie plants is a future goal.

The Crawford Condominiums in Campustown consist of residents who are 55 years and older. This fairly new community is an adaptive reuse condo with a large shared, natural space. “This is the first time for many of us where we don’t have our own little corner of the world to garden, so I think many of us were hungry for that,” says Janeen Christy, Crawford Condominium Resident. “Everyone has a different lifestyle, even when it comes to composting. It was more than just creating a great compost bucket for everyone. The main goal was to build a resilient community between the current residents by bringing together conservation practices.” As a result of this collaboration, she adds “We are this really unlikely, motley crew—Boomers, Gen X, Y, Z;  different genders, different ethnicities, different ages.” And it all works!

Although the initial plan was to have that native planting project, they have found tree planting and composting better first projects to tackle during the pandemic. Dhruv Raturi speaks about dealing with food waste and states that “Cooking is good, but food waste is bad. I found that I was slowly manipulating people into worrying about climate change.” Practices such as maintaining soil health and preventing climate change are important to maintain a sustainable future. This group also believes that focusing on small bits of work is a part of the larger process. Projects like these are more likely to be achieved with the help of people in the local community because they get that sense of fulfillment when helping each other. 

This diverse community-university team is always open to working with new people and learning from one another. They have plans underway for more projects and collaborations—a balance of greening the community and supporting each other that they express has been so important to their resilience during the pandemic. As Bob Anders put it, “For me I had no idea that this would spread beyond my living community, and it has. It has brought in a whole new group of friends: people who have interests in common, people that I would have never had an opportunity to meet and be a part of their lives.  I believe in the legacy idea—look that is tree I planted, but what has given me is pleasure in the present, and that is important to me, especially in the present time [COVID]. It’s been a part of my resilience.”

By: Kelyin Chng, Outreach and Engagement Assistant

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