How Many Ears?

How many ears will you find on a stalk of corn?

The question seems simple enough. Often times, cartoon drawings of corn plants show bountiful plants with six or eight or more ears of corn – one with every leaf. But the reality is much different. How many ears of corn on a single stalk? The short answer is….one.

But as Paul Harvey would say…and now, the rest of the story.

How many ears on a single stalk of corn? It depends! Corn or maize is a grass and like other grass species it has the possibility of producing tillers (stems that grow after the initial parent shoot grows from the seed) or branches. In the case of corn, the branch is called the shank which is a small stalk-like structure that grows out from a leaf node. Leaf nodes in the middle of the stalk have the potential of growing these shanks. It is from this shank that an ear of corn will grow.

One factor that will influence ear production is population density. Over the last half century, farmers have been able to plant corn plants closer and closer together. This allows for more total production and more bushels of corn per acre to be harvested. As the plant’s genes interact with its environment the plant will respond. More light, water, and nutrients will produce more branching. In high density populations (like in a typical cornfield) light doesn’t get all the way down and so there is less branching. The plant can dedicate all of its resources to producing one really good ear of corn rather than wasting water and nutrients on producing multiple, less viable ears. The corn plant’s main goal in life is reproduction and it wants to give its seeds the best chance of survival. One ear of corn with 600-800 seeds is better than two ears with only 200-300 seeds.

In modern cornfields in the U.S., farmers may plant 30 inch rows with 30 to 35 thousand seeds per acre resulting in that many individual plants. Some farmers are planting 12 inch rows with as many as 60,000 plants per acre! Soil and available nutrients have to be able to support that many plants, and each farm and each field is different. Corn varieties that farmers use today have been selected and bred for high densities, meaning that they can tolerate high populations and usually only produce one ear per plant.

But in the right conditions things could change. If those high density varieties of corn (or any other cultivar of corn) are spaced out with low competition, plenty of sunlight, water, and nutrients, they could branch more and produce more ears of corn. Often times, farmers will see more ears at the edges of fields because the end rows have more sunlight and more space. But the second ear will not usually be as good of quality. The primary nutrient that is a limiting factor for overall growth and ear development is nitrogen.

Sometimes farmers can increase the population of corn planted and actually decrease the number of ears. Some plants would be barren and not produce an ear. If the farmer is growing the corn as stover (stem and leaf materials) to feed to livestock as chopped silage, there is no need to produce a large ear.

Of course with all of this, we are primarily talking about field corn (also called dent corn). Field corn accounts for 99% of the corn grown in Iowa. Field corn can be used for human food (tortilla chips, cornbread, etc.), animal food (both ground corn and fresh silage), and fuel production (ethanol and corn oil biodiesel).

Sweet corn, the kind that we enjoy fresh off the cob in the summer, is sometimes considered a low-value crop when compared to other vegetables. This is because it takes up valuable room – a lot of room – in a garden and only produces one ear per plant. Sweet corn can take up to 3 square feet of space. If you harvest a cucumber from the garden, more will grow and you can get multiple harvests. But if you pick an ear of corn, the plant is done producing. Sweet corn may produce two or sometimes three ears per plant because there is wider spacing and less competition. Early maturing sweet corn varieties may still only have one ear. Later maturing sweet corn varieties might have multiple ears.

So, don’t believe those cartoon drawings! Corn usually only has one ear per stalk.

And now you know the rest of the story.

-Will

 

7 Things You Should Know about Farming and Agriculture

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I begin nearly every program I teach with the same question. “What is agriculture?”  I’ve heard MANY answers over the years, but the most unique and humorous response came while doing a summer program at an elementary school in Des Moines a few weeks ago.  After asking “What is agriculture?” a third-grade boy raised his hand with utmost excitement and said, “It’s when you look up at the stars with a telephone!”  He was thinking of a big word that starts with A, but not the one I had in mind.

While this example is funny and a bit extreme, his understanding of agriculture was similar to most upper elementary and even older students I encounter.  Other very common answers are “nature” or something involving “cultures.”

Usually someone in the group eventually says farming, but with a few follow up questions I discover that most don’t realize what farmers do, and that there are a lot of other good jobs in agriculture, besides the job of a farmer.

Early in my agriculture literacy career a teacher in an urban school district passionately told me that she wants her students to understand the knowledge and skills that it takes to work in agriculture.  During the conversation she said, “Many of my students think that anyone with dirty hands is not smart.  That’s just not true.  My grandfather was a farmer, and he was the smartest person I’ve ever met.”

For the last 10 years, I’ve been compiling a list of what I wish people knew about farming, farmers, and agriculture in my head.  I’ve finally written it down to share.

7 Things You Should Know about Farming and Agriculture

1. Agriculture is everything involved with growing plants and animals to be used for something else. This is not the definition you’ll find in the dictionary, but it is practical and accurate. It encompasses production agriculture, but also everything before and after the farm too.

Agriculture includes science, technology, and engineering. It is the genetics work used to improve the seeds and animals farmers purchase.  It is the development, design, production and sales of everything farmers use – tractors, equipment, buildings, fertilizer, and more.

Agriculture includes business. It is the financial and legal aspects of acquiring land and other assets needed to farm. It is the marketing, sales and distribution of the plants and animals produced.

2. Nearly everything we eat, wear and use come from a plant or an animal raised on a farm. I always ask, but I have yet to have a student name something they eat that doesn’t come from a plant or an animal.  And everything except wild caught fish, shellfish, and wild game came from a farm.

 I often have students look around their classroom and name something that comes from a farm.  At first they are stumped, but once we talk about wood, cotton, and corn and soybean ingredients in industrial products they realize the list is long.  Aside from metal, stone, and plastics made from petroleum, nearly everything we use includes something from a plant or animal raised on a farm.

3. Farming is a job, a way to earn money. This seems obvious, right?  Well, I discovered many years ago that students don’t always think of farming as a source of income.  Many think farmers raise crops and livestock to feed their families, but that’s it.  They don’t realize that they sell most or all of what they produce to earn a living.  This enables them to pay their family’s bills, purchase food at the grocery store, and buy clothes at the mall, just like the rest of us.

farmchatDuring a FarmChat® program a few years ago, a 7th grade student asked the farmer where he buys stuff.  The farmer explained where he gets farm supplies – tractor parts, seed, etc.  The student followed up, “No, where do you get clothes, food, and stuff for your house?”  The farmer smiled, looked down at his Under Armor sweatshirt and said, “I got this shirt at Scheels. The one just down the road from your school. I shop at the same places you do.”

4. Farms today are specialized, not like most portrayed in story books. When my grandparents were my age, farms looked like those in children’s books. They raised a little of everything on their farm. They made a good living off 160 acres of crops, a few cows, laying hens, and some pigs.  Add in my grandma’s large garden, and the farm produced nearly everything their family of 10 ate as well.  Over the years, their farm changed.  As they invested in tractors and other equipment, they focused their efforts to make the most of those investments.  The same is true today.  If farmers raise livestock, they usually raise one type.  This enables them to acquire the facilities, technology, knowledge and skills needed to produce it, and produce it well.

5. Farming is high-tech. Farmers use iPads, laptops, drones, robots, and more. Many livestock barns have Wi-Fi, web-cams, and automated feed and climate control systems. Farmers can monitor a cow in labor or adjust the temperature in a barn from their smart phones.  If the power goes out, back-up generators automatically start and the farmer is alerted with a text.  This technology enables farmers to be efficient and provide precise care to their animals.inside cropped

6. Farmers are smart. They are problem solvers. They use math often. Most are tech savvy. They must have a good business sense to be successful.

70% of farmers have a higher education including a college diploma or trade/vocational certificate.  Some choose an agriculture major like agronomy or animal science, but others study business, mechanics, or another area to hone particular skills that will benefit their family’s farming operation.

7. Farmers care about the land and water. Several years ago I took a group of college students taking an environmental science class to visit a cattle farm and see conservation practices first-hand.   During the visit, the farmer told the students “This land isn’t mine.”  I watched the students exchange puzzled looks since he had just told them that the farm has been in his family for many years.  The farmer then continued, “Well, I own it, but it’s not mine. I am borrowing it from my son.  He is young now, but I want to pass it on to him in as good or better condition than I received it from my dad.”  This statement left a lasting impression on me, as I’m sure it did the students too.

sprayingOver the 4th of July I visited my parents’ farm and took my kids, nieces, and nephews fishing in their farm pond.  As we were fishing, I looked up and saw my brother spraying herbicide in the field behind the pond.  I took a picture to try to capture the whole scene.  Although it’s hard to see the sprayer in the picture, I think it is impactful.  My brother is spraying chemicals on the field that drains into the family’s farm pond where his kids fish and swim.  Obviously, he wouldn’t do this if he didn’t think it was safe. Farmers use utmost caution and regard for safety when making decisions about farming practices.  After all, it affects their families too.

 Now it’s your turn.  What do you wish people knew about farming? Or what would you like to know?

Cindy

 

 

What’s the Difference? Sunflowers

Just about two weeks ago, I got married! We had sunflowers for the ceremony, and they were lovely. A few days later, we here at IALF attended the National Agriculture in the Classroom Conference in Kansas City. Though we primarily stayed on the Missouri side, Kansas’s state flower is the sunflower. So I got to thinking about this plant. I knew there are many uses, but are all sunflowers the same? Let’s find out!

Sunflowers are a beautiful addition to a bright bouquet, but that isn’t their only purpose. We also grow sunflowers as an oil crop, and as a “confectionary” crop for human consumption! There are about 70 species of sunflowers, and they all share the genus Helianthus. The common sunflower, Helianthus annuus, has many cultivars that produce slightly different variations of the same species of flower.

The two major agronomic uses for sunflowers are as an oilseed crop and as a confection crop. You can tell the difference between these two types of sunflowers by their seeds. Confection sunflower seeds, like the kind we eat, have white stripes on them. Oilseed sunflower seeds are all black, and are generally smaller.

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To further distinguish the sunflowers, oilseed sunflowers can be split in three different categories: linoleic, mid-oleic (also called by the brand name NuSun®), and high oleic. This basically just refers to the chemical makeup of the lipids in the seed. Linoleic sunflower oil is polyunsaturated, mid-oleic sunflower oil has low saturated fat levels, and high oleic sunflower oil is mostly unsaturated and is trans-fat free.

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According to one sunflower farmer from California, oilseed sunflower seeds are the preferred type when making bird seed mixes. However, some kinds of confection sunflower seeds can also be used.

Commercial oilseed varieties can be purchased based on oleic content, disease resistance, and higher yield. Most commercial varieties are hybrids, so sunflower seed farmers would buy seeds every year.

Most oil-type sunflower seed is processed in North Dakota and western Kansas. With the remaining seed material, a sunflower seed meal is made and can be used as livestock feed.

In contrast, confection variety sunflowers only take up about 10-20% of the crop each year, according to the Thomas Jefferson Agricultural Institute. These seeds fetch a premium at market, but also can be a trickier crop to cultivate and sell. Farms looking to grow confection sunflower seeds need to be close to a processing facility for the seeds. They also need to be mindful of pests and high winds, which can damage the large seed heads of these varieties more easily than those of oilseed sunflowers. Though these sunflowers may have a higher risk, the higher reward of premium prices may pay off for some producers.

You may know from personal experience that sunflowers sold for human consumption can come either in the hull, or dehulled. What happens to the hulls of those that are marketed without? Well, most of them are used as turkey bedding! The rest are ground into pellets that can serve as a supplemental fiber source in animal feed.

Commercially grown sunflowers for oil or confection use are harvested much later than the sunflowers in the flower shop. The petals have dried up, and the center of the flower is packed with seeds. Farmers use combines with a corn header to harvest them. Though sunflowers are primarily grown in the upper Midwest due to a short growing season, they are also very drought tolerant, so you may see them as far south as Texas! Here’s a great video from a Texas news station that learned more about the crop.

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Not counting seed producers (farmers raising sunflowers to be harvested as next year’s seed crop), the last kind of sunflower production is for the ornamental uses we all enjoy. The different varieties can range from large flowers great for bouquets or small flowers better for boutonnieres. Many of these types of sunflowers are also hybrids!

 

In summary, sunflowers are an interesting, versatile, hardy, useful, beautiful plant and crop. Though we may call them weeds here in Iowa, our neighboring states find them to be an important part of their agricultural industry. Maybe we can learn more from this plant in the future!

-Chrissy

Workshop Experience – Gets an A+

It’s the time of year when school lets out for kids and teachers are looking for opportunities for professional development classes. To keep up to date with licensure, teachers need to get continuing education time by attending professional development classes every year. Teachers look for ways to bring new and interesting information into the classroom. Teachers are seeking ways to engage students, peak interests and promote retention of information learned.

Our best motivation is to see the interest ignite as students learn how integral agriculture is to Iowa and to our everyday living. We take very seriously the opportunity to bring agriculture into every classroom across Iowa. Every summer, we and partner organizations promote and hold two-day summer workshops where teachers earn credits for attending. The two-day workshops are packed with learning and help teachers apply Iowa Core standards including science and language arts in the context of agriculture. The workshops also use agriculture to teach other core concepts and skills like social studies and math. The workshops are hands on and interactive with one day of site visits and tours and one day of practical classroom application. Many STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) concepts are integrated throughout.

I attended one of the first workshops held in Moville in cooperation with Siouxland Ag in the Classroom. I was amazed at the amount of information learned on the tours. I cannot3 tell you enough about how interesting they were. Our first stop was at the family farm of Taylor Nelson. Taylor shared information about their farm operation and toured us through the journey of how his family plants, harvests, and sells corn for use in local production of ethanol. We saw many types of machines used in his farm business. We saw the process go full circle. We had ethanol fuellunch at a wonderful gas, food, and fuel stop, that Taylor and his wife own and manage. The station buys ethanol (which started out as corn on his farm), to be mixed with gasoline and supplied as fuel sold to customers on a daily basis. IMG_3262Touring the entire production made the “farm-to-you” come to life right before our eyes. Teachers were very excited to see how they could use this in a classroom by doing a FarmChat® or an actual visit to these sites. Many of the teachers were looking for new ways to ignite a passion for learning and because using agriculture to teach science, social studies, engineering and math is new to them, their excitement for new ideas was visible.

Our second stop was at Siouxland Ethanol. Our tour guides, Pam and Casey, from theddgs plant shared the process of accepting corn via trucks and then through several steps to turn the corn into ethanol for vehicles. The corn delivered has to meet special requirements. The process is amazing to see in action. The sights and sounds of the machines in action and the different smells from the plant were amazing to experience. The actual scent was hard for me to compare to anythingethanol tour else…it had a sweet, yet lingering smell and everyone seemed to like the scent. Seeing the action of milling and mashing to cooking and cooling, I learned so much about turning corn into ethanol from start to finish. It makes me value the ease and ability to just go to a pump and fill up my tank. There is a lot of work behind the gas pump.

Our final tour was at the Purina Plant in Sioux City, Iowa. Purina takes great pride in the way they produce quality feed. They test the product as it goes through the process of 5.jpgbeing made. They use computer programs to be certain everything is done precisely to order and has the correct proportions of ingredients. We were able to see the chemistry 4behind the scenes as well as the care that was taken. To Purina, they believe that what they are doing is not just producing feed – it’s food for very important animals. I was amazed to see all of the different animal foods that are prepared on sight. They had things for guinea pigs all the way up to horses and cattle. They have a solid quality standard in place and seeing the pride that is taken in meeting those standards was truly a testament to the quality of the product.

I still have a lot to learn in regards to agriculture. I am grateful that Agriculture in the Classroom takes very seriously the importance of educating everyone about agriculture and the part it plays in our lives. I am also proud to be part of the IALF team and value the part we play in aligning with AITC across Iowa to make a difference. Teachers, if you haven’t signed up for a workshop you still have time. Check it out on our website.

-Sheri

 

If You Give A Kid A Dairy Show Heifer

When I was growing up I had a favorite children’s book that I loved to hear. And to this day I will still quote the book in conversations to signify a cause and effect that is about to happen, just like the book did. The book I’m thinking of is If You Give A Pig A Pancake by Laura Numeroff. As I grew up, I never thought that this book would come up as much as it did, but in the past year I have been able to see this book come to life with my brother and his dairy heifers. So with that, enjoy the story of what happens if you give a kid a dairy show heifer.moxi and harry

If you give a kid a show heifer, they might ask to give that heifer a name.

It was a year ago when my family was at a dairy sale up in Northeast Iowa. My family hasn’t been in the dairy industry since the 1990s when my grandpa decided to quit milking due to the impact of the  Farm Crisis. I grew up with beef cattle, so the dairy industry is not one that I am the most familiar with. At this sale, my dad had no intentions of going to buy anything, but at the end of the sale my 11-year-old brother walked away with two dairy heifers, one was a Jersey heifer named Sonata and the other was a Holstein heifer named Tribute.

If you give the heifer a name, they might ask for a place on the farm to give them a home.

Well if you buy an animal they need a place to stay. So, my brother and dad cleaned one of the lots on our farm, added in some clean bedding, and fixed up the water machines and the feed bunkers to accommodate for these two animals. Even though these dairy heifers are considered farm animals, they still require daily chores to be done just like any other family pets. My brother learned quickly about the importance of mixing up the right feed amounts for each animal, the necessary care each animal needs between grooming and washing, and the general chores of keeping their pens cleaned out and restocked with fresh bedding.the-whole-gang-is-here.png

If you give the heifers a home, you might get asked to get them out of their pen to lead them around every now and then, so a kid might ask for a halter and lead rope to do so.

It’s not like walking a dog. Breaking farm animals to lead can be a big challenge to overcome. When I say “breaking to lead” what I mean is it is not in the nature of the animal to follow wherever you lead them. It is a process that requires the animal to learn to trust the owner or the leader in order to follow them. This process takes a lot of patience, time, strength, and more patience. The more you are around the animals and work with them the faster the animal will learn to trust and be comfortable around you. Since dairy cattle are bred for milk production they are used to being around humans and having that interaction between them, but it can still be a challenging process.

If you give a kid a halter and lead rope and they break their heifer to lead, they might ask to take their heifer to a dairy show.

Showing animals is a sport that kids dedicate many months in advance to prepare for. Showing animals are judged on different characteristics depending on the type of animal, age of animal, as well as the purpose of that animal. For example, dairy cattle are raised for milk production. In a dairy show, they are judged for their dairy characteristics (dairyness), how their body is structured and built for milk production, and their genetic makeup of the heifer or cow itself. To be more technical, a judge will first look at the overall balance of the dairy cow/heifer. They are looking for no flaws and a complete and balanced animal throughout. When looking at overall balance they look at length in body, stature, and openness of frame (the wider the better). A judge will look at the legs of the animal to make sure the legs are not too stiff or too curved. They also look at the depth of the ribs of a dairy cow to show their condition. It might not seem like it but you do not want a fat or round dairy cow—that signifies they are over conditioned and are not milking efficiently.Harry laying with cows

So, if you let a kid take a dairy heifer to a dairy show, they might ask for white pants to wear.

Now another thing that might surprise you is when you show a dairy animal the standard dress code is white pants. White pants might not seem like the most logical choice when working with animals that relieve themselves at any time of the day, but this is the standard in the dairy industry. There is not a direct reason why you wear white in dairy shows, but one source states that it dates all the way back when showing animals first began in the early 1900s. In the early years of showing, different standards and rules were adopted and one of them was white pants in dairy shows. White is a symbol of cleanliness and it was mentioned that when you show your dairy animal you are wanting to show off your animal and not yourself, so exhibitors would wear all white to show cleanliness and not take away from the animal’s spotlight. White pants were also worn by the milk man and so some would argue that this trend stems from matching the milk man. For more information, here is the link to the source I found about white pants and the dairy industry. Some shows require exhibitors to wear all white, some allow nice button up shirts with white pants. But, for the most part you want to look presentable because the cleanliness of the exhibitor is reflected in the judgement of the cleanliness of the animal.Selfie hunter brad hannah harry cow

Now if you give kids white pants and the required tools to show, they might need a support team behind them.

Just like any good sports team nothing can get done without the people behind the scenes and the fans that travel along for positive support. Showing one animal is more than one person can handle by themselves. It takes a team of family and friends to come together to take on a dairy show from helping break to lead, to the preparation of the show, to clipping and styling the hair for the show, to watching the cattle once they are prepped to make sure they stay clean, to bringing food to the show barn to feed the exhibitors, and to be there for positive support when something doesn’t go the way it was expected. This industry is more than one person can handle all by themselves, it’s a team effort—which in the end provides more learning experiences for everyone involved.harry-and-millie-vanillie.png

This industry is more than just cows, milk, and ice cream. It creates opportunities for the youth to learn about a sector in the agriculture industry and to create relationships amongst family and friends. My brother fell in love with the dairy industry and is now joining the county dairy quiz bowls (dairy trivia competitions) and joining different dairy promotion events. I don’t think anyone in my family knew what would happen when my brother walked away from a sale with two dairy heifers, but I guess you never know what you’ll get unless you give a kid a dairy show heifer.

-Hannah

Summer Boredom Busters

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We’re only a few weeks into summer break, but I know many kids are already saying, “I’m bored.  There’s nothing to do.”

Whether you’re trying to keep your own kids busy or want to teach a group of kids about agriculture, we have many ideas for you!  Below are some great ways to help kids explore the world of agriculture, have fun, and learn about science or history too!  Some will work well for one or two kids to do at home, while others can easily be done with larger groups at a county fair, summer camp, etc.

GrassheadbigGrow Something

  • Create a Cover Crop Monster with grass seed, soil, stockings or old tights, a few art supplies. The grass grows into a funky hairdo your kiddos will love!
  • Plant a seed necklace. Add a corn kernel and a soybean seed to a jewelry-size zip top bag filled with moisture beads or a moistened cotton ball. Punch a hole in the top, add a piece of yarn, and viola… you have a living necklace featuring Iowa’s two main crops.
  • Get gardening. Remember, you don’t need to a big garden to get started.  Plunk a seedling or two into an existing flower bed, or create a container garden with something you already have around such as an old flower pot, bucket, barrel or even a shoe.  Just make sure it has holes in the bottom, to allow excels water to drain.
  • Plant soybeans in plaster of Paris. Say, what???  Just do it.  I promise you won’t be disappointed!

 

TypingRead & Write

  • Read the digital version or request your own copy of My Family’s Beef Farm or My Family’s Corn Farm. For farm kids, have them to write and illustrate a simple story about their farm.  This would be a great family project!
  • Explore the list of books in our Lending Library with your children and pick out a few of their favorites to read together. See if your local library has these titles, or check them out through us for two weeks.  A few of my favs for younger children are Who Grew My Soup, and So you want to Grow a Taco, and All in Just one Cookie.  Great picks for older kids include The Kid Who Changed the World, Farmer George Plants a Nation. A Hog Ate my Homework, and The Beef Princess of Practical County.
  • Click Clack Moo, Cows that Type is one of my kids’ favorite books. In this super silly book, the cows write letters to the farmer demanding extra amenities in the barn or they will go on strike. After reading this book and “My Family’s Beef Farm,” ask kids to write a letter to Cecelia’s family from the perspective of one of the calves.  Their letters can be silly or more serious and consider the needs of the calves and what Cecilia’s family provides for them.  Instead of a “demand” letter, maybe they’ll choose to write a “thank you” letter.  To make this extra fun, ask around to see if you can find an old typewriter so the kids can type the letter just like the cows in Click Clack Moo.  The digital version can be found at PBS and it’s in our Lending Library too.

ice-creamGet Cooking

2050Play Games

  • Farmers 2050 is perfect for the middle and high school videogame-loving kids. This online and app-based game allows players to grow crops, raise livestock, and support their local community, and engage with local and global partners as they level up.
  • My American Farm’s interactive games are perfect for elementary-age kids. Players learn where food comes from and how those products get from the farm to their dinner plate.

IMG_1354Create Something:

  • Paint with Soil! Yes, dirt can be beautiful. The color of soil in Iowa varies quite a bit, but for a more colorful work of art ask out of state friends and relatives to send you soil too!
  • Make corn mosaics. Explore the difference between Indian corn, popcorn, and field corn while creating a beautiful work of art. Gather seeds of each type, craft glue, and cardboard squares and let your little artist create a masterpiece worthy of display in the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD.
  • Forget rubber stamps, an ear of corn is all you need to create a beautiful work of art with ink pads or washable tempera paint. Rolling the whole ear in paint will create a beautiful pattern, but also try printing with the husks, cob, or a cross section of an ear. Other veggies like broccoli, potatoes, carrots, and even lettuce leaves make great prints too!

Grout-Museum-District-362x272Go Somewhere:

  • Visit a farm. Ask a relative, neighbor, or friend if your family can come visit their farm – or even better put the kiddos to work for a few hours help.  In person is best, but don’t forget about virtual visits too!  Check out our FarmChat® tips to learn how.
  • Have fun at a local farmer’s market. Encourage kids to help you pick out vegetables or ask the farmers questions.  This farmer’s market scavenger hunt will make the visit extra fun too!
  • Plan a family road trip to visit one of the many agricultural historical sites in Iowa. Check out Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area‘s eight Ag Adventure loop guides to make your planning easy! Even better, let the kids explore the website and help decide where to go!

-Cindy

 

 

 

Agriculture in the Classroom, A History

“Throughout much of the history of the United States, agriculture and education have been closely related. During the decades when most Americans lived on farms or in small towns, students often did farm chores before and after school. Indeed, the school year was determined by planting, cultivating, and harvesting schedules. Old school books are full of agricultural references and examples because farming and farm animals were a familiar part of nearly every child’s life.

In the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s, the farm population began to shrink and agricultural emphasis decreased in school books and educational materials. Educators focused on agriculture as an occupational specialty, rather than an integral part of every student’s life. Agriculture education was mainly offered to those few students wanting to make a career of agriculture.

During this period, a small nucleus of educators and others persistently pushed for more agriculture in education. They recognized the interlocking role of farming, food, and fiber production with environmental quality topics like maintaining a clean water supply and preserving and improving forests and wildlife habitat. They kept education in agriculture and the environment alive during a period when interest by the public as a whole was decreasing.

Picture2.pngDuring the 1960s and ’70s, educators began to realize the need for quality materials. Many excellent films, books, and classroom aides were financed and produced by businesses, foundations, nonprofit groups, and associations, as well as state and federal agencies. There was, however, little coordination of effort or exchange of ideas among the groups and no central point for national coordination.

In 1981 the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) under the leadership of then Secretary of Agriculture John Block, invited representatives of agricultural groups and educators to a meeting in Washington, D.C. to discuss agricultural literacy. A national task force was selected from this group. Representation came from agriculture, business, education, and governmental agencies, some of whom were already conducting educational programs in agriculture. Block believed that agriculture should be an integral part of every student’s education experience – not just a subject offered in career and technical programs at the high school level.

This task force recommended that the USDA be the coordinator for national agricultural classroom literacy and that it sponsor regional meetings to help states organize their own programs. They also urged the department to encourage the support of other national groups. Since that time, significant progress has been made through these partnerships of agriculture, business, education, government and dedicated volunteers.

Picture3.pngEach state organization addresses agriculture education in a way best suited to its own needs. In some cases, an all-volunteer network is responsible for teacher education and materials distribution. States have formed educational nonprofit organizations which have the benefit of a tax-deductible status. In some states leadership is provided through the departments of education, agriculture or other government agencies; in other states through agriculture organizations or commodity groups; some through universities or colleges; and in some cases through the dedicated efforts of one or two individuals.”

– from National Agriculture in the Classroom

In Iowa, Agriculture in the Classroom enjoyed the leadership from the Iowa Farm Bureau with many county Farm Bureaus leading engagement activities with local teachers and students. These active county organizations have created robust programs and even pooled resources forming organizations like North Central Iowa Ag in the ClassroomSiouxland Ag in the Classroom, and Central Iowa Ag in the Classroom.

IALF logo - FINAL.jpgAgriculture literacy isn’t only the responsibility of the Farm Bureau. It affects the whole of the agricultural industry. In 2013 and 2014, Iowa Farm Bureau organized meetings of key stakeholders and in May 2014 the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation was born. As the central resource for Agriculture in the Classroom in Iowa we work with educators, volunteers, and students to teach agriculture. As a leading producer of agricultural products, it is important for all Iowans to understand the essential role agriculture has in their lives.

Through the development of lesson plans, organization of teacher professional development, and a variety of other activities, the organization has increased students reached per year from roughly 16,000 to more than 175,800.

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This equates to roughly 41% of students in grades K-6 receiving agricultural literacy programming. Teacher engagement too has increased with more than 3100 teachers receiving training to expand their classroom activities and teach science, social studies, and language arts with agriculture. Programs like FarmChat®, student readers like Iowa Ag Today, and books like the My Family’s Farm series have all played a key role in expanding the reach of agriculture literacy in Iowa.

More than 30 Iowa educators will travel to the National Agriculture in the Classroom conference in Kansas City, Missouri this year. The excitement and enthusiasm for agriculture literacy has continued to grow. This is the largest delegation that Iowa has ever had to the national conference. These individuals will bring home curriculum ideas, resources, best practices, and even a national teacher award winner.

One in 5 jobs in Iowa is in agriculture or a related industry. It is vital that our students understand agriculture. Most won’t become farmers. But many will work in this vibrant, growing industry. Food is depended upon three times per day for most people. That food and many other products that we rely on everyday come from agriculture. With advances in technology and the need to continue to increase production while still protecting our natural resources, we need more people interested in agriculture and that means that we need to start them on an educational path with Agriculture in the Classroom!

-Will