How I Lead: Landra Reece Explores Conservation, Policy as High School Student

by Ash Bruxvoort

Landra Reece is a go-getter in every sense of the word. As a 17-year-old woman living in Boone, Iowa, she is intensely involved in activities like soccer, rugby, 4-H, and FFA. Her passions are conservation and agriculture, with a focus on wetland restoration and protection, and she’s not waiting for college to dive deep into the field. We were privileged to meet Landra at a Women Caring for the Land meeting co-hosted by Prairie Rivers of Iowa in Stanhope, Iowa. In this interview she shares her tips for learning and inspires us with her passion.

You didn’t grow up on a farm, so how did you come to be so passionate about conservation and agriculture?

Landra Reece in Wetland

Landra Reece in Wetland

Growing up in Iowa, it's difficult to not be related to agriculture. I grew up in town but my brother works in production agriculture. I’ve been in 4-H for most of my life, so I was exposed to agriculture through that. I’ve always loved the outdoors and grew up hunting, fishing, kayaking, birding, and so on.

How have you pursued your interests in agriculture and conservation? Are there opportunities for you in school?

When I was a freshman in high school I joined FFA because I wanted to learn more about agronomy and soil. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been as rewarding as I hoped it would be. I’ve developed a passion for sustainable agriculture because of my love for the environment. Conservation practices, such as buffer strips or cover crops, haven’t been promoted in FFA. It’s disheartening because a lot of the farmers we work with don’t want to change the practices from how their family has done it. For future farmers we really should be talking about how conservation is good for long term yields, wildlife, and soil health. The next generation of farmers needs to be exposed to these practices now.

Landra Reece removing Garlic Mustard

Landra Reece removing Garlic Mustard

A lot of people look at 4-H and think it’s just for farm kids and it’s about animal production. In reality, I work on projects that focus on environmental sustainability and leadership. I actually think that Iowa State University Extension and Outreach does a pretty good job of promoting sustainable agriculture.

I do a lot of volunteer work with great organizations such as Ducks Unlimited and Story County Conservation. The things that I do and the people that I work with have really helped me find what I am passionate about and have helped me open doors for how to carry out my passion in positive ways.

You attended a Women Caring for the Land meeting in Stanhope, Iowa, which was co-hosted by Prairie Rivers of Iowa. What was that experience like for you?

I went to the meeting because I wanted to learn more about how to implement conservation practices. I was familiar with a lot of the practices and concepts discussed in the meeting, but the instructors and speakers helped me put everything together. Talking to women who were passionate about this work was really helpful. It’s so important to meet people like me and people doing this work, especially because most attitudes I see can be so disheartening.

I loved going on the tour and hearing firsthand from agriculturalists who used government programs to implement conservation practices. It was great to hear the benefits of these practices, like improved yields, clean water, and the opportunity to see youth harvest waterfowl on restored wetlands.

In addition to attending field days and workshops, you’ve also spoken about water quality, agriculture, and conservation policy. How have you gotten involved with advocacy on these issues?

Landra at Capitol talking about Iowa water

Landra at Capitol talking about Iowa water

My interest in public policy has increased by working on the Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy campaign through my work with Ducks Unlimited. I’ve gone to the Iowa capitol for lobby days, local legislative forums, and have gone to DC and met with both Iowa senators and three representatives. Through 4-H, I was also able to work with a team of high schoolers from around the US and Canada to learn more about what actions can be taken to improve water quality and wasteful water consumption. Then, presented what we learned to head engineers of NRCS in DC. I may begin looking into working in policy and am feeling that out right now. I am interested in being a page at the capitol, It’s really exciting to be there when everything is happening. When I’m not there for lobby days, I do my best to keep up during the session.

You are so knowledgeable at a young age. How do you learn and what are some resources you would like to share with other women who want to learn about agriculture and conservation?

I utilize social media a lot. A lot of people say youth spend so much time on social media but we really have the world at our fingertips. I follow a lot of pages on Facebook, including the NRCS offices in my area, the Women, Food and Agriculture Network, Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy, and others. These pages give you the information you need about available programs, highlights of bills, new research, and so on.

I’m lucky to have a family that’s introduced me to really awesome role models in conservation. By going to programs I’ve met a lot of wonderful people. I choose to surround myself with knowledgeable people and I ask them questions to learn from their wealth of knowledge.

Lastly, I gain knowledge from spending time in nature and observing. How did John Muir and Aldo Leopold learn about conservation? It wasn’t from going to lectures. It’s going out and observing, noticing, finding patterns, and journaling. Experiencing it is important too and it's a friendly reminder of why we do what we do.