Audio Astra: ‘Grassland Groupies,’ Wichita homesteaders, summer school blues

June 25, 2021 3:33 am

A drive through Kansas was much more interesting after listening to the Flatlander podcast about grasslands such as the Konza Prairie in the Flint Hills. (Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism)

Audio Astra reviews recent audio reporting on Kansas news, including podcasts and radio stories. Eric Thomas directs the Kansas Scholastic Press Association and teaches visual journalism and photojournalism at the University of Kansas.

The three podcasts I’ve spotlighted this week all wander into nature in their own ways: one through a “virtual” summer school field trip, one through a profile of the Kansas grasslands and one through a family homesteading outside of Wichita.

This week’s Kansas Reflector podcast, meanwhile, involves a different kind of nature. Tim Carpenter’s interview with John Wilson, who leads the nonprofit Kansas Action for Children, considers how Kansas is one of the last 12 states yet to expand Medicaid. The interview provides many reasons why Republicans should end this political stalemate still hampering the health of Kansans — specifically Kansas kids.

Kansas Grasslands with guest ‘Grassland Groupies’
Flatlander Podcast, June 11, 2021

This is a stark statistic: Only about 2 to 4% of tallgrass prairie remains. Most of it’s in Kansas.

This podcast will provide you with dazzling cocktail-party trivia, such as the fact that the tall grasses of the prairie can grow to higher than 14 feet tall and their roots dive sometimes even deeper than that below the ground.

Unexpectedly, my favorite part of this episode is its recitation of local species and how they interact with the grasslands. Before listening, I assumed the grasslands were homogenous, but hearing guests Rachel Roth and Nicole Brown list the names of birds and grasses helped me realize how much more diverse they are.

Particularly crazy is a story about pronghorn (not a goat, not an antelope), which diverged on its evolutionary path from exotic animals such as giraffes. You might have seen or heard about a Kansas herd of these animals living near livestock pens and an overpass on Interstate 70. As one of the guests says, the pronghorn is the last remnant of a prehistoric biological past with a vibrant prairie grassland inhabited by huge mammals.

My drive home past miles of grassland seemed much more interesting after this listen.

Homesteading in Wichita
Wichita Podcast, June 18, 2021

How is it possible to be completely self-sufficient in the shadow of Kansas’ largest city? This interview with Olivia Hayse, a digital marketer and host of her own podcast, describes life as a modern homesteader. Hayse talks about how her family began working with animals and crops a few years ago in a way that allows complete isolation if necessary, such as, I don’t know, a pandemic.

Be warned: This conversation here strays into details about butchering animals and other nitty-gritties of farm life. Hayse also talks about decisions involving real estate, work and education that led to her family’s homesteading life.

“I think it matters what you’re putting in your body,” Hayse says about one of her central motivations.

She sees a huge improvement in what she feeds her family now over what they were eating five years ago.

I really appreciated how host David Michael Hahn said that this isn’t a “yes-man podcast.” He and Hayse talk about downsides of homesteading and she points out that the first year “there was a lot of death” as they figured out how to protect their animals from predators and disease.

The Pandemic Left Kids In Kansas Needing Summer School More Than Ever, Yet Less Willing To Enroll
Kansas News Service, June 21, 2021

This podcast’s foray into nature is a digital one, as reporter Suzanne Perez briefly details how students in one summer school class took a virtual field trip to follow butterflies. The Wichita school district offered free half-day school this summer, and more students are attending than any previous summer.

But some parents in Perez’s report are intentionally throttling back on summer activities.

“I’m not going to have her do anything,” one mother says of her daughter’s schedule.

We hear from parents who want their kids to play with the family dog, be outside and step away from computers.

That sentiment connects with my week directing a summer journalism workshop for high school students at the University of Kansas. Normally this workshop would be in person, but this year summer activities on campus were restricted and the results of meeting via Zoom were underwhelming. One of my very smart colleagues pointed out that this is not only due to student Zoom fatigue but also the habit among high school students and young professionals of RSVP-ing for events and then never attending.

As educators, we are hoping to reach kids. How do we do that when they are so understandably burnt out and hungry for summer fun?

What did we miss? Email [email protected] to let us know of a Kansas-based audio program that would be interesting to Audio Astra readers.

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Eric Thomas
Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas directs the Kansas Scholastic Press Association, a nonprofit that supports student journalism throughout the state. He also teaches visual journalism and photojournalism at the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. He lives in Leawood with his wife and two children.