Where Is Agriculture?

From the moment you woke up this morning to the moment you’ll lay down for bed, your life is surrounded by agriculture. What is agriculture? It’s the industry that supplies the food, fuel, and fiber in our daily lives. From the food we eat, to the fuel in our cars, to the clothes we wear, to our common household items, agriculture created it all.

Who is the workforce behind this industry, you may ask? Farmers. And today’s farmers are not your typical “Old McDonald” farmer that has a red barn, a cow, chicken, horse, and pig. Today’s farmers are usually specialized in one or two livestock or plant species and using the most modern technologies on their operation. Farmers are the men and women who grow and raise the animals and plants that supply our daily products. Without farmers, we would each have to produce the food we eat and grow and make the clothes we wear. Without farmers, we would each have to become the farmer.

Before we go on, I want you to look at the picture below and I want you to identify the items that came from agriculture. Keep a count of all the products that come from agriculture.

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There may be some obvious products like milk that comes from diary cows, and eggs that come from chickens, and carrots that came from a garden. But what if I told you there are 40 products in this picture that come from agriculture. Go ahead, I’ll give you another second to do another count…

The 40 products that come from agriculture that are in the picture are:

Bathroom– band-aids, hair conditioner, tissue, shampoo, soap, toilet paper, tooth brushes, toothpaste, towels, vitamins

Bedroom– baseball, baseball bat, baseball glove, bed frame, bed sheets, night stand/table, pillows, rug, slippers, teddy bear, wood floors

Kitchen– bone china, cabinets, cook books, eggs, flour, flowers, fruits and vegetables, ketchup, milk and cheese, pie, soup with a spoon, sugar, soda, pepper, oven mitts, and ham.

This picture shows how our daily lives are filled with agricultural products that we might not generally think of. Agriculture is more than just an industry, it’s a necessity.

Coming from the state of Iowa, we are one of the top agriculture producing states, and produce products that are exported internationally! Iowa is a leading producer of corn, soybeans, pork, and egg production. Now you may be wondering how toothpaste and Band-Aids can come from agriculture? In order to explain more, I’d like to take a closer look at the corn industry.

You might think all that corn growing in the Iowa fields is sweet corn, but it’s not. 99% of the corn grown in Iowa is field or dent corn and it’s not something we can eat right out of the field. Less than 1% of the corn grown in the United States is sweet corn. Dent/field corn is mainly used for ethanol production and as a feed source for livestock, but it also helps make over 4,000 other products we use every day. The starch of the corn plant goes into making adhesives for glues, plywood, fireworks, sandpaper, and wallpaper. The oil of the corn plant goes into making tanning oils, printing inks, and vitamin carriers. And the corn cob goes into making cosmetic powders, cleaning agents, and construction paper. Products like toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo, medicines, glues, chewing gums all have corn in them. The picture below offers more of the products that were made possible by corn.

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How is this possible? Well we use the by-products of plants and animals to make these items. By-products are goods that are produced additionally to another product. For example, the main purpose of beef cattle is for meat production. After the meat has been harvested there are still many uses that can be made from beef cattle. The hooves, horns, and bones are used to make toothbrushes, toothpaste, cosmetics, glues and adhesives, paper, Jell-O, marshmallows, and bone china. The hide of cattle is used to make leather products such as sports items like baseballs and gloves, as well as belts, shoes, and jackets. And beef fat helps make soaps, shampoos, and other personal hygiene items.

Soybeans also contribute to the list of items made from agriculture. Some of the more familiar products from soybeans would include soy milk, soy sauce, and bean sprouts. But also edamame are immature soybeans and tofu is another use of soybeans. Soybeans also go into products that we may not generally think of like pastry fillings, whipped toppings, paints, crayons, biodiesels, laundry detergents, antifreeze and so much more. For more information on products that come from soybeans check out the picture below.

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The last commodity group that I will hit on is the pork industry. Not only is the pork industry known for their juicy pork chops and sweet honey hams but it also contributes largely to the medical industry. If you are diabetic the insulin you use comes from the pancreas gland of pigs. Cortisone is produced from the adrenal glands and heart valves come from the heart to aid in medical surgeries.

So, my question for you is do you think you could live a day without agriculture? If you did, that first picture would look a little bit more like this.

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Almost everything we use and eat come from the agriculture industry. Without this industry our lives wouldn’t be what they are today. So, I encourage you to stop and take the time to think about how your life would change without this industry and ask yourself, “Where is Agriculture?” Not only that but if you want to learn more I encourage you to join in the conversation. Connect with farmers and ask them questions or if you are looking for more educational resources check out these resources and continue to learn about the industry that impacts us all!

-Hannah

http://www.iowaagliteracy.org/

https://www.iowacorn.org/corn-uses/

http://www.iasoybeans.com/

http://www.iowapork.org/

Iowa’s Beef Breed

In previous blogs, we have talked some about the differences in breeds of cattle. Over time, cattle were bred for different traits in different parts of the world, which resulted in many of the breeds we know today. For instance, Holsteins are large dairy cattle with superior milk production. Angus cattle are a popular beef breed with superior marbling and meat quality.

But if you think back to old westerns, it’s rarely a Holstein or an Angus that was represented on a cattle drive. More often than not, the herds are a mass of red and white with curly hair on their faces, and those animals are called Herefords.

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Screen capture from The Rare Breed, starring Jimmy Stewart

The Hereford breed of cattle was founded in Herefordshire England in the 1700s. Herefords are known for being docile, and were bred for high meat production and quality. Traditionally, they are a horned breed, meaning that all animals (both male and female) of this breed naturally grow horns. Since early cattle breeders actually preferred horns, this trait became more or less fixed in the breed, with polled animals being only a rarity. However, once the trait was fixed, producers noticed it was a problem.

When cattle have horns, it’s very easy for them to hurt things. Horns can be long and sharp, and with a quick toss of the head, an animal can push, cut, or skewer other animals or their owner. This not only becomes a liability for the other members of the herd, which are the farmer’s livelihood, but they also become a danger to the farmer themselves.

Because of this, cattle owners began the practice of dehorning cattle. It’s not a fun, easy, or nice task. Over the years, producers have gotten better at it, using local anesthetics and more humane techniques, but even now it is simply a necessary task that producers grit their teeth to accomplish to the best of their ability.

Let’s rewind back to 1898 to Warren Gammon, an Iowa lawyer and cattle breeder.

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Warren Gammon was a Hereford breeder that hailed from Des Moines, but his farm was near St. Mary’s in Warren County. He first saw naturally hornless (polled) cattle at an exhibition at the Trans-Mississippi Fair in Omaha in 1898. From there, he ran with this idea: can we develop a modern beef breed without horns?

In Gammon’s mind, dehorning was an unnecessary practice. He felt that he could better the treatment of cattle by selecting for naturally polled animals. He once wrote an essay titled “Is It Morally Right to Use a Horned Bull?” In this essay, he said:

“When we consider all of her [a cow’s] merits, we are forced to conclude that there is no species of animal on earth that is more entitled to sympathetic and kind treatment or that has greater claims on our admiration than the American cow and her progeny.”

On his quest, Gammon searched the country for other naturally hornless Hereford cattle. According to Birth of a Breed by Orville K. Sweet, Gammon wrote letters to 2,500 members of the American Hereford Association searching out these odd, naturally hornless animals. He purchased four bulls and ten cows from these inquiries. Three of those animals were eliminated from his breeding stock, and the remaining 11 were the first of the Polled Hereford breed registered in 1901.

Just a few years later in 1907, the American Polled Hereford Breeders Association was founded and headquartered in Des Moines. Both Warren and his son, Bert, were instrumental in the growth and development of this breed. By the 1950s, Polled Herefords had proven to be a popular, versatile, hardy, and adaptive breed. In 1995, the American Polled Hereford Association merged with the American Hereford Association, both of which are now housed in Kansas City, Missouri.

From an Iowa standpoint, we can claim not only this breed, but also these two influential Iowans. Warren and Bert Gammon were able to use their knowledge of heredity to create a breed of cattle that is safer to handle while eliminating an imperfect practice.

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You can even pay homage to the birthplace of the Polled Hereford breed! There isn’t much left of the original site (now on the National Register of Historic Places), but there is a boulder with a plaque explaining the significance.

What’s more, you can even visit the Gammons’ barn at the Iowa State Fairgrounds! The barn was moved from the origin site to the fairgrounds in 1991, where it now serves as a museum. This lesser-known beauty is tucked in between the Livestock Pavilion and the Cattle Barn. Inside, you can see bronzed hats of American Polled Hereford Association Hall of Famers, books, documents, pictures, and other historical pieces relating to the Polled Hereford breed. (And as a bonus, when you’re there you might meet my dad, Ray!)

I hope you had fun learning about one of my favorite pieces of Iowa history!

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-Chrissy

Ps. If you’re interested in modern efforts to genetically dehorn cattle, check out this really cool video!

What’s Cookin’? Chocolate Milk!

What’s Cookin’? Chocolate Milk! I am an avid milk drinker. I like it skim, 2%, and chocolate! To me there is not much better than an ice-cold tall glass of chocolate milk.choc milk Chocolate milk might seem like a simple topic, but I recently became aware of some shocking statistics and thought it would be interesting to investigate. I recently read that 7 percent of Americans believe that chocolate milk comes from brown cows and that 48% surveyed do not know where chocolate milk comes from. I would like to shed a little light on some history and then make an awesome chilled glass of chocolate milk.

For a little history on milk, I will refer to a 2015 blog of AG 101:It’s More Than Just Milk. In this blog, we walk through the process of milk production – from the cow to the refrigerator. Our milk comes from dairy cows. Yes, the grocery store sells soy milk from soybeans and almond milk from almonds. But for today, we are focusing on that old-fashioned goodness that comes from cows. The ?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????process is very interesting and I highly suggest reading the blog to help clear up any misunderstandings of the process.

The next question would be, if white milk is from dairy cows…where does chocolate milk come from? The easy answer is that the same kind of normal whole white milk comes p15705pcfrom black and white Holstein cows or a reddish colored Devon Cow. (Another great blog on varieties of cows is Never Too Old to Learn Something New.) All cows of any hair color or coat pattern produce the same kind of milk. There may be differences in quantity or quality but it’s all white milk.

The chocolate comes from adding the chocolate as a separate ingredient. Chocolate is from the cacao bean. Read more about the cacao bean in the blog What’s Cookin’? Dark Chocolate Basil Cake. The chocolate we have come to love originates from a tree grown in tropical climates. The blog does a great job of explaining how we get chocolate from the cacao bean. Chocolate is made when we grind and mix the chocolate of the cacao bean with sugar and other additives.

The actual creator of chocolate milk is Hans Sloane from Ireland in the late 1700’s during a trip to Jamaica. Given a local beverage made from the cacao plant that made him nauseous, he decided to add milk to the local beverage and found the new beverage not only very pleasing to taste, but also healthy.

Making a sweet chocolatey glass of milk is easy nowadays. There are only a couple of ?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????ingredients and the resulting beverage is cold and delectable! For starters choose the kind of milk you prefer: Whole, Skim, 1%, 2%. This drink is best served very chilled, so be sure the milk is cold.

The chocolate I use comes from a chocolate syrup or my favorite is a chocolate powder which contains sugar, soy lecithin, salt, carrageenan and vitamins and minerals.

Ingredients:

8-10 oz. Milk

2 heaping tablespoons chocolate powder or chocolate syrup

Slowly stir the chocolate syrup or chocolate flavored powder into cold milk, stirring until completely dissolved. And voilà – a delicious ice-cold glass of chocolate milk is the result! Go ahead, enjoy a glass with me! I am enjoying this part of my blog best of all! Cheers!

-Sheri

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