The virtual coffee shop is always open.

This past year has challenged the way we normally connect to neighbors and colleagues in the ag stewardship space. Fortunately, farmers and their outreach partners are used to adapting to whatever is thrown at them. Although there is no substitute for face to face conversation over a hot mug, this winter we used the situation to our advantage and held a series of virtual “Coffee Shop Chats”, open to past Cover Crop Champions as well as anyone with an interest in farmer outreach topics. The virtual format made it easy to join, with over 150 farmers, outreach staff, researchers and others calling in from twelve states.

Each week we invited an expert guest speaker to introduce a specific topic and help guide the discussion:

  • Dr. J. Arbuckle from Iowa State University kicked the series off, giving an overview of what the latest social science research says about motivations for farm stewardship decisions. Spoiler: it’s not always about economics.
  • Sean McMahon updated us on the Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance’s efforts to elevate the role of private sector agronomists in promoting conservation practices.
  • Luke Petersen from the NWF team relayed his experience telling conservation stories through video, and answered questions from outreach staff and farmers planning to use this valuable tool in their own outreach.
  • Elizabeth Reaves from the Sustainable Food Lab offered valuable advice for farmers and local partners and sparked a timely conversation about navigating emerging ecosystem service markets.
  • Dr. Pranay Ranjan from Purdue University helped close out the winter series with a discussion of the perceptions, challenges and opportunities of working with non-operating landowners (NOLs) to achieve conservation goals.

Thanks to every speaker and participant who have contributed to our coffee chat series.  Apart from the expertise imparted by each of the speakers, these regular get-togethers reinforced the importance of peer learning and community building to share trials and successes, establish trust, and forge connections across sectors and regions. Whether you’re a corn and bean farmer in Iowa, a researcher on the east coast, or a conservationist in a field office, we all have a voice to contribute to the complex, always evolving landscape of sustainable agriculture.

Don’t worry if you missed out this time around. Building on the success of this initial series, we plan to pick up where we left off this summer, with a new set of topics, speakers and discussions. If you want to contribute related topics, potential guest speakers, or have ideas for improving the venue and format of these moving forward, don’t hesitate to contact us.

Hope to see you soon!