116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Tired of what they call “cropaganda,” three University of Iowa scientists created a podcast that provides an alternative voice on issues including water quality, agriculture and climate change.
“All the advocacy organizations have communications shops that are putting out information that the larger outlets gobble up and use,” said Chris Jones, a UI research engineer who writes a popular water quality blog and co-hosts the podcast, We All Want Clean Water. “There’s a thirst, I would say, for information on environment, food systems, agriculture that is not generated by the industry.”
In 14 episodes released since October, the podcast is growing a following, said Silvia Secchi, a UI professor of geographical and sustainability studies and co-host. The third team member is David Cwiertny, a UI engineering professor and director of the UI’s Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination.
“The first episode now has been downloaded over 500 times,” Secchi said. “We have people from the Netherlands and Italy and Mexico downloading the podcast. In the U.S., we have the most listeners in Iowa City, followed by Des Moines. The third place is always Minneapolis, then Omaha, then Chicago. There is an interest in understanding Midwestern agriculture.”
Some of the topics the podcast has covered include agricultural drainage tile, carbon offsets, soil health and biodigesters.
They’ve interviewed guests including Dave Swenson, a recently-retired Iowa State University economist, and Matt Liebman, an emeritus ISU agronomy professor. One of the most recent episodes of We All Want Clean Water, released April 18, featured carbon dioxide pipeline opponents Emma Schmit, of Food & Water Watch, and Jess Mazour, of the Sierra Club’s Iowa chapter.
Some listeners may tune in to hear three smart, funny, sometimes cranky academics break down complex environmental issues while pulling no punches.
Consider the podcast’s title, a tongue-in-cheek reference to what hosts see as platitudes offered by large agricultural groups that oppose requirements intended to reduce the flow of nitrate and phosphorus from farm fields into streams and lakes.
“It’s this mantra that is mindlessly puked out by politicians and industry leaders and farmers,” Jones said. “If that desire is so widespread among so many important people, why don’t we have clean water?”
Iowa has a strategy to reduce excess nutrient pollution, but, so far, the agricultural practices needed to reduce runoff are just voluntary.
Secchi, Jones and Cwiertny publish their work in academic journals, teach and speak at conferences and other public events. But recording a podcast is different and not without a few hiccups.
“You breathe too loudly,” Jones said Secchi told him after one of the first pods.
Jones often plays the straight man to Secchi, who’s quick to get in a good-natured dig at his expense. But the reason it works is because they all genuinely like each other and aren’t competing to see who’s the smartest in the room.
“There’s a lot of rivalries in academia,” Jones said. “That’s one thing we don’t have. We are not a threat to each other.”
Comments: (319) 339-3157; firstname.lastname@example.org