Talk of Iowa

Weekdays at 10 a.m. on IPR News and News/Studio One and 9 p.m. on IPR News

Talk of Iowa brings a mix of regular guests and a range of experts to the microphone to discuss what’s happening in Iowa and what makes this a special place to live. Guests include wildlife expert Jim Pease and the Hort Gang on Fridays.

Talk of Iowa is hosted by Charity Nebbe @CharityNebbe.  It’s produced by Dennis Reese, Emily Woodbury @EmilyWoodbury, Lindsey Moon @lindseysmoon and Clare Roth @ClareAliceRoth.  Our Executive Producer is Katherine Perkins.  Our theme music is by The River Monks.

Terry Gilliam spent the first 12 years of his life in Minnesota, but he would go on to become the one of the most beloved entertainers in British history.

He is one of the founding members of Monty Python and the man responsible for the art and animation that defined the look of the group.  He has a new memoir out, called Gilliamesque: A Pre-posthumous Memoir.

When asked how he feels about imitators, or people who have been inspired by his work, Gilliam says he feels proud.

Gregory Chittim / Flickr

Not long ago air conditioners were running full blast, but alas, winter is coming. On this edition of Talk of Iowa, home improvement expert Bill McAnally joins host Charity Nebbe to talk heating and cooling alternatives such as the mini split heat pump, and he gives some advice about putting on storm windows to keep the cold outside. 

Wikimedia Commons

Some of Iowa's farmers are crediting optimal growing weather into harvest season for a plentiful bounty this fall. Wayne Johnson, who farms near Forest City, says his yield this year could be a once in a lifetime event. 

"We had five farms go over 70 [bushels per acre]. Our typical is in the 50 to 55 bushel range, so it's a lifetime soybean harvest for us," he says. 

According to Iowa State University Extension Agronomist Mark Licht, Johnson is not alone. 

Pumpkin Season Has Returned

Oct 16, 2015
Wikimedia Commons

Regardless of your personal feelings about pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin season is here. 

During this hour of Talk of Iowa, Linda Naeve of the Value Added Agriculture Program at Iowa State University Extension speaks with Charity Nebbe about the squash family, where to find pumpkin patches, and the many dishes pumpkins can create.

"I'm a pumpkin fan myself," Naeve says. "There's pumpkin muffins, pumpkin squash soup, there's pumpkin scones. You can put pumpkin in just about anything and, I think, make it taste good with those spices."

Penguin Random House

Banker, lecturer and co-author of the new book "A Path Appears; Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity," Sheryl WuDunn, was invited to Des Moines to share her ideas from the front lines of social progress with participants in the "Borlaug Dialogue" of the World Food Prize.

Courtesy of Live Like Line's Facebook page /

In August of 2011, 17-year-old Caroline Found of Iowa City died in a moped accident. Two weeks later her mother, Ellyn, succumbed to pancreatic cancer. In the weeks and months that followed, the community came together, grieved, and became stronger.

"You can't get around your grief, you can't get over it, you can't get under it," says Bill Hoeft, author of Live Like Line, Love Like Ellyn; One Community’s Journey from Tragedy to Triumph. "But you can move forward and honor the people that you've lost."

Iowa State University College of Design

The act of making art can be powerful on a personal level, but it can also be a powerful force in a community. 

"Public art is like locally grown food," says Tom Stancliffe, art professor and sculptor at the University of Northern Iowa. "There's value in having the people around you shape the space."

Gretchen Dehner

Walter and Wagner Caldas grew up in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. Their parents introduced them to classical music, urging them to stay away from drugs and violence. That push was the start of a remarkable journey.

"We started by ourselves," says Walter Caldas. "People would make fun of us. But then, this guy in Brazil started teaching music for the kids in the community, so they don't go through the same pattern of drug dealing and stuff. So that made it a little easier for us; we are not alone."

Phil Myers, Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan

Whether a person loves squirrels for their acrobatics or wishes they would leave the bird feeders alone, squirrels are here to stay.  Over the years, wildlife biologist Jim Pease has collected more than twenty names Iowans have given ground squirrels, ranging from "squinneys" to "liners." 

During this Talk of Iowa program, he talks with host Charity Nebbe about diets,  habitats, ground squirrels and tree squirrels.

Fall Colored Perennials

Oct 9, 2015
Swallowtail Garden Seeds / Flickr

Watching the trees change color is one of the chief pleasures of fall, but few people consider what hardy perennials can add to scenery. An added benefit is that they are pretty easy to tuck in, where a tree may not fit.

On this edition of Talk of Iowa, Denny Shrock, Master Gardener Coordinator at Iowa State University, discusses some of his favorite suggestions and he provides an extensive list of beautiful October bloomers as well as perennials with outstanding fall foliage colors.

Courtesy of the Des Moines Register

Iowa has shuttered more than 4300 school districts since 1950 as a result of demographic changes in rural Iowa. What that means for residents and students in rural Iowa is highlighted in a new documentary “Lost Schools.”

Daniel Hartwig / Flickr

In Iowa, state-specific history is taught in fourth grade. For most Iowans, that's the last they'll learn about their state's past. Tom Morain, Director of Government Relations at Graceland University and former head of State Historical Society of Iowa, is working to change that. He's developed a curriculum, an online course he's dubbed Iowa 101, that anyone, anywhere in or out of state, can access and participate in.

Louis / Flickr

When Alyssa Varner’s college apartment was torn apart by a tornado in 2006, it got her thinking about the weather.

“I started thinking about tornadoes as villains,” she says. “I was living with 9 other people in a house, and we were all scrambling because of the tornado. It didn’t hit the house next to us, and I got to thinking about how selective severe weather can be.”

Robert S. Donovan / Flickr

  Over the last few months, Beth Howard has traveled more than 30,000 miles and has visited 9 countries and has made 211 pies as a part of her “World Piece” tour. She set out to learn about pie around the world and spread the joy that pie making adds to her life. What she found was both good and bad.

“I went to a refugee camp in Syria with my host to give away some pie, and it was really hard. The family I visited had been living in a tent in the camp for two years,” she says.

Seney Natural History Association

As agriculture and new construction in Iowa continue to expand and occupy Iowa's wildlife habitat, humans are in contact with predators like coyotes more and more. Like a caller said today during the our broadcast, one of the ways to handle that problem is to kill the predators that threaten domestic pets and backyard chickens. 

But author John Shivik says there’s another way. “Moving forward, we need to balance lethal versus non-lethal methods of dealing with predators. We can biologically deal with the issue instead of killing them to make ourselves feel better.”  

Courtesy of the Clinton Lumber Kings

Joyce Wilkerson has been going to as many Clinton Lumber Kings games as she can since the early 1990’s. She keeps coming back because she loves the stadium, the fans and the team. “There’s no time in baseball; I love that.”

Vera Kratochvil/Wikimedia Commons

It may not feel like it yet, but it is officially fall. This hour on Talk of Iowa, Charity Nebbe talks with Aaron Steil, assistant director of Reiman Gardnes in Ames, and Iowa State University Extension horticulture expert Richard Jauron about spring blooming bulbs. It’s best to get them in the ground before the first frost, sometime in early fall. 

Jauron says that when you’re talking about tulips and daffodils, it works best to plant between 15 and 20 bulbs in a clump.

Better than Bacon / Iowa Public Radio

Steven Pinker has studied language and the mind for more than two decades. Now, he's written The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. Though he's added another book to the pantheon of writing guides and rule books out there, he's the last to say that a reference text is in charge of what is and isn't allowed in writing.

University of Iowa

Women's health pioneer Byllye Avery has for more than 40 years been on the front lines of the women's heath movement in the United States.  It was her husband's sudden death at age 33 that was the catalyst for her commitment to improve the health of the African-American community.   She told IPR that it was 1970 and she and her husband, who was close to getting his doctorate, had two small children and a third child on the way.  But she says the health care system at the time did not make it clear to them how deadly high-blood pressure could be and her husband tragically died of a massive h

Alan Light/Wikimedia Commons

A new coalition of organizations in Iowa is working to keep young people who identify as LGBTQ out of the welfare and juvenile justice systems by finding them supportive places to live. The group calls itself AFFIRM, and it’s looking to include gender-neutral language in all paperwork required of potential foster and adoptive parents.

One of AFFIRM’s founders, Penny McGee, says such changes may not be as easy as they appear, possibly requiring legislative approval and some costs.

What makes Iowa, Iowa?  How did we get to be ‘us?’ These are questions that Michael Luick-Thrams, of the TRACES Center for History and Culture based in Mason City, set out to answer. 

"I grew up in a very different Iowa. Iowa has changed," he says. "Moving forward, there will be more changes, and the questions is 'how thoughtful will it be?'" 

Iowa State University

With Iowa trees readying themselves for fall and the changing colors of leaves, look no further than Ames, Iowa for a new healthy seedling.  Bill Graves, Associate Dean of the Graduate College and Professor of Horticulture at Iowa State University, says he is excited about the Swamp White Oaks offered this year.  Graves loves to see people who enthusiastically purchase trees from ISU as well as discovering what becomes of those trees.

Dr. Dan Murphy

Dr. Dan Murphy has spent the past seventeen years working in East Timor, a Southeast Asian nation which gained independence from Indonesia. He grew up in Alton, Iowa and received his medical degree from the University of Iowa but realized his help was needed outside the U.S.

In the last 20 years, he's traveled to Mozambique, Laos, and Nicaragua but found East Timor most in need.

  “East Timor was kicked around worse than any other country I can think of… and it’s a place that cried out for attention.”

Fourth Wall Films

U.S. Highway 6 runs from California to Massachusetts, the longest of all highways.  It has traversed Iowa in one form or another since about 1910, when parts of it were made from wooden planks.  We don't sing songs about Route 6 and it doesn't carry the historical mystique of the Lincoln Highway, but it's a road with a fascinating history and many associated stories from over the decades.

Katherine Perkins / IPR

There was a time when Iowans knew their neighbors. They relied on each other to help with labor on the farm, or to keep an eye on children. And if you didn't see your neighbors during the week, you saw them on Sunday at church. But as church attendance declines and farms are fewer and farther between, Iowans are finding new ways to form community.

RDECOM / flickr

For most of us middle school is the most awkward time of life. Kevin Brockmeier has plunged back into this difficult years with his new memoir, A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip: A Memoir of Seventh Grade. Today on Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe revisits middle school with Brockmeier.

Later in the program, Director of the Iowa Youth Writing Project, Dora Malech, talks about the importance of getting kids writing, along with some tips and best practices.

Doug McGr / Flickr

When the automobile became available to the larger population, it made major waves in how people spent their weekends. Iowa was no different, as both rural and urban areas saw the advent of drive-in movie theaters.

“We had over 80 drive-ins across the state at one time. You could be in a larger town, but towns like Pocahontas had drive-ins, Perry, Emmetsburg, and they would stay open late into the fall,” says Iowa State Historical Society state curator Leo Landis.

Iowa Digital Library / Flickr

From one room country schools to high tech multi-million dollar facilities, schools in Iowa have changed a lot. What goes on inside the schools has changed a lot too.

“Every decade or two we see these large transformations in what the school is asked to do."

On this edition of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe kicks off "Iowa Week: Then and Now" with a look at education in Iowa over the years.

Mark Kortum / Flickr

Parenting in Iowa has changed a lot over the decades.

“We have the luxury of giving lots and lots of time and energy to kids that our great-grandparents didn’t,” says Pamela Riney-Kehrberg of Iowa State University.


The way we think about food has changed a lot over the last 30 years. Today, we see yogurt and brown rice on mainstream grocery store shelves, but that wasn't always the case. Theresa Carbery, one of the founders of New Pioneer Food Coop in Iowa City, says in the early 1970s, she was a part of a buyers' club to get foods that weren't available in grocery stores.