Unique Agriculture Commodities: Asparagus

As the days become longer and warmer, they often bring back spring memories for me. When I was in middle school, I would ride around the Iowa countryside with my mom. These trips would be filled with impeccable musical voices and long talks about the world around us. But one specific ride stands out to me. The ride where my mom pulled the car over to the side of the road. Reached in the back seat of the car, grabbed a plastic bag, and told me to get out. As alarming as all this may sound, my mom, with her keen eyesight, spotted a patch one of Iowa’s finest vegetables, asparagus. And my mom was always prepared to harvest something worthy of adding to dinner.

Wild Asparagus (Photo credit: Virginia State Parks)

Asparagus is easiest to locate in the “wild” after it has gone to seed in late summer. Its tall seedy leaves wave a flag to next year’s harvest area for those that know how to look for it. But not everyone is ready for a quick romp in the ditch to gather a tasty treat, and luckily, you can find asparagus in many supermarkets year-round and farmers markets during the spring season.

Why Asparagus?

I think the better question may be, “why not asparagus”? This vegetable is versatile and can be eaten raw, broiled, grilled, microwaved, or my favorite, roasted. When cooked, asparagus’ flavor transforms into a nutty-slightly bitter that hits the back of your tongue begging for another bite. Rich with vitamins like C, E, and K this high fiber vegetable has been linked to reducing blood pressure and to improving gut health.

If its flavors weren’t enough, asparagus is a perennial crop that can be grown from seed, or a root cutting known as a “crown”. Once established (2-3 years after planting), the plant grows each year without having to be replanted and can live up to 15 years. The longevity of the crop provides food security for gatherers, and an early season crop for farmers and gardeners to harvest.

Asparagus farming in Iowa…

Planting asparagus crowns in a furrow (photo credit: The Garden of Eating)

Establishing a bed of asparagus takes time and planning. Cultivated varieties lack some of the competitive genetic features that wild asparagus has, making it a plant that needs to be maintained to reduce competition, like weeds. The plant will live up to 15 years (or longer) and farmers and gardeners want to make sure it’s in a place that will get at least 6 hours of sunlight and has soil that drains well. Once the location is determined a furrow, or shallow trench, is dug and crowns are placed along the bottom of the furrow and covered with soil. Crown starters come in male or female, and most large operations grow male asparagus because they produce larger stalks.

Harvesting asparagus

Most of Iowa’s asparagus farms have established beds (some cover up to 8 acres of land!), and since the plant is perennial, the farmer gets to skip the planting season that is experienced by corn and soybean farmers. And what do they do instead of plant? They wait for the glorious warm spring days to see the little heads of asparagus popping up and jump right into harvest.

Harvesting asparagus is short lived in Iowa and only occurs for two months starting in April when the temperatures increase into the 50 and 60s and ending in May. When the spears reach 6-8 inches, it’s time to harvest. And though a farmer may have acres of the vegetable, this crop is harvested by hand. Bending over and either cutting or snapping the spears, each spear is taken from the field, washed, and then prepared for bundling and selling. Julie Vanderpool reflected on the 2022 harvest in an interview with Bob Bjorn (Iowa Farm Bureau), and though the crop came up late, her 8 acres of asparagus will still yield around 10,000 pounds, that’s 180 pounds per day to be harvested!

Late season asparagus farm that has gone to seed (photo credit: Paul Sableman)

Though the asparagus plant can produce multiple spears in a season, asparagus farmers let the plant go to “seed” after 1-2 cuttings. This is an important part of asparagus cultivation because it allows the plant to photosynthesize (learn more HERE). Otherwise, the plant wouldn’t have a body structure to capture sunlight because we harvest the stem. As the plant goes to seed the stem begins to bush out with branches and modified leaves, and sometimes berries if it’s a female plant. This bushy stage of asparagus allows the plant to gather sunlight and create sugars for food. These sugars are then stored in the plant’s roots for overwintering, and to prepare for the arrival of Iowa’s spring weather.

Try it at Home

One of my favorite ways to have asparagus is roasted in the oven or on a grill. Normally, I toss the asparagus with a little olive oil and then sprinkle with salt, but, when I’m truly feeling fancy I indulge in a recipe I saw on Iowa Ingredients.

  • Ingredients
    • 1 bunch of asparagus
    • 1/4 cup olive oil
    • 1/2 cup fresh dill, chopped roughly
    • 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped roughly
    • 1/4 cup pecorino cheese (or parmesan)
    • Salt and pepper to taste
    • 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • Directions
    • Heat a grill pan to high heat. In a large bowl add asparagus and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Toss so the asparagus is coated in oil. Place the asparagus on the grill pan and heat on one side until slightly charred. Rotate and cook on the other side. Remove from heat. Place asparagus on a serving plate. Add parsley, dill, and cheese. Drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice. Season with some salt and pepper. Serve and enjoy!

My Takeaways

  • When asparagus goes to seed the long frills are considered leaves and are modified stems
  • Asparagus is only harvested for two months in the spring in Iowa
  • Cultivated asparagus plants are mostly male and don’t develop berries
  • Asparagus has a life span of 15-20 years

~Cathryn

Want to learn more about asparagus? Check out these great sources!

Foraging for Wild Asparagus: Hunting and Cooking – DNR News Releases (iowadnr.gov)

Consider a Springtime Favorite: Asparagus | News (iastate.edu)

Growing Asparagus | Iowa Ingredient – YouTube

Planting Asparagus Crowns – Investing In a Tasty Future | The Garden of Eating

A Day in the Life of an Agricultural Engineer

My son can fix anything. He’s always been able to look at a mechanical problem and find the solution. Using tools and supplies like hammers, nails, wrenches, and as he’s gotten older, sheet metal and welders, he has always been able to take an item, and rework it to fix a problem or improve a tool. He gets that ability from his grandfather.

Running the skid loader for dad.

My father-in-law is a farmer and his skill at “manufacturing” items is one he passed down to the next generation. And the next. While Roger has never attended a trade school, my husband’s father is an agricultural engineer.

When equipment breaks down in the field mechanic shops aren’t close by. A farmer could be miles from the road even! So, the tools a farmer has on hand (sometimes not more than a little duct tape and baling wire) might have to be what it takes to get you going again. I can’t count the number of times Roger has walked up to a problem, like  a broken axel or bent tongue metal (connecting piece) on a harrow, and worked out a solution in in a matter of minutes. One time, we were moving a corn head trailer (for the combine) and got a flat tire. The trailer was too low to the ground to get the spare trailer tire installed. Before you could scratch your head he was grabbing a spade to dig out a hole while I braced the spare tire in place. It was fast work, just like an Indy pit crew.

Problem solving and designing can be an agriculture career. Agricultural Engineering is the area of engineering concerned with the design, construction and improvement of farming equipment and machinery. Agricultural engineers can work in hydroponic, aeroponic and traditional farming, forestry and natural resource management, or food production and processing. Agricultural engineering jobs can include designing or improving power supply and irrigation systems as well as harvesting and production machinery. They also work with pollution and fertilization issues and the processing and storage of agricultural products.

Tyler Marion is a product engineer at Hog Slat, Inc. He designs ventilation and cooling systems for pig barns. Maintaining comfortable temperatures is very important in pig production. Tyler designs new or improves existing products. This helps pork producers take better care of their animals. He works with others to evaluate products, create designs, and find partners to help create end products.

Tyler attended North Carolina State University, where he learned about many types of engineering. He studied mechanical engineering and electrical engineering through the lens of agriculture. He says this program allowed him to gain an understanding of many concepts. This prepared him to be an agricultural engineer.

Tyler says the best part of his job, “is seeing a project go from inception to completion.” In many engineering roles, individuals only work on part of a project and pass it on to someone else.

“Our industry offers a unique opportunity to see it start to finish,” he said.

Tyler Marion

For students thinking about being an engineer, Tyler has some advice. “First, an interest in learning more about math will help a lot. Math is important in engineering.”

“Pay attention to detail,” he added, saying that problems come up when details are missed. “If you make it a habit…to pay attention to detail, it will help later.”

Agricultural engineering responsibilities include:

  • Designing climate control systems for outdoor and indoor farming and livestock needs
  • Designing equipment, processes, systems and facilities to improve the production, harvest and storage of agricultural products
  • Testing and assessing equipment and products for quality, safety and compliance to health and environmental regulations
  • Overseeing the development and operation of agricultural facilities

Agricultural engineering jobs include:

  • Agricultural consultant
  • Soil scientist
  • Farm manager
  • Plant breeder/geneticist
  • Rural practice surveyor

So, if you like to work with your hands and fix things by solving problems, and you want to work in agriculture you might want to consider becoming an agricultural engineer, and make a career helping farmers.

-Melanie

Avian Influenza and Ag in the Classroom

Springtime is a busy time of year for teachers and Agriculture in the Classroom coordinators to lead programs on embryology and chick hatching. With the current strain of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) impacting poultry, what should we know? IALF staff met with Elycia Ahl, the Poultry Health and Education Manager with Iowa Poultry, to learn more.

1. Disease is spreading from wild birds to domestic birds

At the current time, it is looking like the bulk of disease spread is coming from wild birds interacting with domestic birds while migrating. This interaction should be mitigated as much as possible with home or school flocks to keep those birds safe, not only this year but every year during wild bird migration.

2. Disease is not spread from hen to egg

If a hen has HPAI, the fertilized egg she has laid will not inherit that in utero. This makes purchasing fertilized eggs (like many do for school programs) one of the safest ways to get birds currently.

3. Basic biosecurity practices should be followed

Should any students have a farm or flock at home, the simple step of washing hands before handling new chicks can help deter disease spread from home to school. As the chicks hatched in classrooms are in a very secure environment, they pose almost no risk of spreading disease to other birds. If any students do have flocks at home, a conversation about not wearing barn shoes to school may also be appropriate to provide more protection for the class’s chicks.

4. There is no treatment or cure for avian influenza in poultry

Preventative measures to keep sick birds away from healthy birds are the most important thing we can do, as there is no current treatment for affected birds. If birds start becoming symptomatic, contact a local veterinarian or the state veterinarian right away. However, please note that this strain does not transfer to humans.

5. Quarantine chicks before introducing to a new flock

If classroom chicks will be moved to a flock at someone’s home, keep them in a separate location as a precautionary quarantine measure.

6. Chick hatching programs are safe!

The bottom line is: chick hatching programs are safe. These birds are hatched in controlled environments that pose very little risk to birds on students’ farms. Basic biosecurity practices on farms, such as washing hands and wearing specific shoes only in your barns, can help reduce risk even further.

Chicks hatched for a school program

Though HPAI is a serious disease and can be quite scary, chick hatching programs are among the safer activities with poultry at the moment. The disease cannot be spread to humans and the chicks should remain at a very low risk of contracting HPAI from an outside source. For more information, check out the following resources:

-Chrissy

Career Corner: Bill Belzer

Bill Belzer standing in front of the Corteva Agriscience Progress Center

Not only can you find Bill Belzer connecting with his team all around the globe, but you can also find him spending time farming with his family. Bill was born and raised in Albia, Iowa where his family owns and operates an equipment business and farm operation. Growing up, Bill was involved in 4-H and FFA and later became a District and State FFA Officer. Bill’s passion for farming and agriculture led him to Iowa State University where he graduated with a degree in Agriculture Education.

After graduating from Iowa State University, Bill taught high school agricultural science for a year before transitioning into the agriculture business space. Across his career, he held various positions in production, research and marketing for companies including Stine and his current employer, Corteva Agriscience. Bill has also worked in the international space for Corteva where he was a Registration and Regulatory Affairs Manager for Latin America. During his time in this role, Bill was responsible for employees in Mexico, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil.

Photo Courtesy of University of Illinois Urbana Champaign Research Park

Bill is presently the Global Stewardship Director of Corteva Agriscience. His team has responsibilities in the areas of crop protection, seed, and seed applied treatments. Bill declares that “stewardship is the responsible use of a product from inception to use and ultimately to its discontinuation.” Bill and his team work diligently in the regulatory compliance space, create  product use guides, aid in the area of insect resistance management, container recycling, proper use of pesticides, and the appropriate disposal of unused products. While no day looks the same for Bill, his days tend to start early and end late due to global hours. He enjoys meeting with his team in one-on-one to, as Bill states, “help them by clearing the brush off of the road so they can do what they do best.” Bill enjoys the creativity, teamwork, and practicality that his team and this position offer him. “At the end of the day, helping customers be successful is what we are dedicated to doing,” expressed Bill.

agfound-logo-top
Photo Courtesy of the American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture

One of the greatest accomplishments that Bill stated is helping bring a customer mindset to his work at Corteva.  Additionally, he is also proud of helping advance agricultural literacy through his service on the American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture board. Belzer served on the American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture board as Corteva’s representative for the last 6 years. During his time on the board he had the opportunity to assist with the development of agricultural education apps, the reorganization of materials used for agriculture literacy, and the creation of new programs to extend agriculture literacy tools in order to reach more students. Belzer also stated that he enjoys serving farmers in his work by “approaching things from the farmer mindset in driving practical solutions.” Bill and his team have the opportunity to utilize this mindset when working on projects that will simplify complicated and complex items.

Bill notes that the future of agricultural innovations are key to feed a growing population and to help growers overcome their ongoing challenges with pests and disease. It is also important to note the importance of good scientific policy globally to approve these product innovations and create understanding of the public about their value and overall safety. Belzer remarked that “these decisions [by regulators and the public] will either create opportunities to feed our growing world population or to potentially face issues related to [food] scarcity.” Agriculture has advanced remarkably in the aspect of yields, technology, and innovations. As declared by Corteva, “We bring our global presence, deep knowledge and diverse resources so that farms can flourish, moving our world forward.” 

Want to learn about more agriculture careers? Check out these lesson plans and blogs:

– Lauren

Iowans Who Made a Difference: George Washington Carver

Is there a person who influenced or made a difference in your life? How about the lives of Iowans or people throughout the world? Iowa is home to many people who have had or continue to have a strong influence on the world. This new blog series will cover some of those Iowans and what impact they’ve had in our state and around the world.

George Washington Carver

He’s been called the Plant Doctor, Black Leonardo, the Father of Chemurgy, and the Peanut Man. George Washington Carver had many names bestowed upon him during his lifetime but for a brief time he was also an Iowan.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia: Photo taken by Frances Benjamin Johnston in 1906

Although not born in Iowa, George Washington Carver’s name is regularly brought up when discussing famous Iowans. He’s most well known for his advancements in agriculture conservation, but he was more than just a scientist. He was also an artist, a musician, an educator, a humanitarian, and a leader.

His early years

Carver was born into slavery near Diamond, Missouri in the final months of the Civil War. His enslaved father was killed in an accident before he was born. His mother, a sibling, and Carver were kidnapped by Confederate raiders while he was still a baby. Moses and Susan Carver, the family who owned his mother, tried to track them down. George was found and returned but they were unable to locate his mother. George was freed and raised by Moses and Susan Carver. They were the first couple in his life to recognize and nurture his abilities and talents, and encourage his interest in plants. At an early age he was drawn to nature. He was frail as a child, so he was not required to help with heavy farm chores. Instead, he spent his days helping with household chores, tending the garden with Susan as well as exploring nature.

His formal education didn’t begin until much later due to segregation in schools. He had to walk eight miles to attend school and sometimes stayed in Mariah and Andrew Watkins’s house, a local Black family who lived nearby the school. He eventually moved in with them and worked for his room and board so he could go to school. They were like parents to him. They encouraged him to believe in himself and help others in the Black community once he received his education. He moved a few more times in search of more fulfilling educational experiences. He worked menial jobs to save enough money to attend college. He was accepted by Highland College in Kansas but was turned away upon arrival due to his race. His path eventually led him to Simpson College in Iowa to study art. He was driven to learn as much about everything as he could. His art teacher was impressed by his plant knowledge and encouraged him to pursue a degree in horticulture. He transferred to Iowa State Agricultural College where he earned his Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Sciences in 1894. The university asked him to stay on as a faculty member while he earned his Master of Science, which he finished in 1896. He was the first African American to earn an advanced degree in this field.

His life’s purpose

After earning his masters, he was offered a position by Booker T. Washington, a respected educator at the Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Ala. While there, he decided his purpose in life – he wanted to help former slave populations become self-sufficient through farming.

“Whenever the soil is rich, the people flourish, physically, and economically. Whenever the soil is wasted, the people are wasted. A poor soil produces only a poor people.” ~George Washington Carver.

Through his education at Iowa State University and his time at the Tuskegee Institute, he became well known for emerging agricultural theories like soil conservation and crop rotation. He brought these concepts to southern Black farmer populations through simple brochures and later a traveling wagon called the Jesup Agricultural Wagon. It was a mobile classroom that allowed him to teach farmers and sharecroppers how to grow crops and practice conservation efforts that were practical and beneficial. Even today, the concept of the Jesup Wagon is in use with organizations such as the United States Department of Agriculture. Look at any mobile education unit and its early use points back to the Jesup Wagon.

Agricultural impact

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Carver can be credited for our modern system of crop rotation. He encouraged farmers to rotate their crops to conserve nutrients in the soil, planting soil-enriching crops like peanuts one year and soil-depleting crops like cotton the next year. He also encouraged farmers pay closer attention to their soil composition and submit samples of their soil and water for analysis. Through his work in the laboratory, he also develop plant hybrids and researched plant diseases. Carver also studied livestock care and food preservation techniques. When farmers didn’t have an end-use for all of the peanuts, he worked on developing uses for those peanuts. In the end, he developed more than 300 uses for the peanut plant and 100 uses for the sweet potato and soybeans in his Tuskegee lab. Uses included things like beverages and medicines to paints. Henry Ford, a well-known automobile maker, called him the ‘world’s greatest living scientist.’ Ford asked him to collaborate in the development of alternative fuels with soybeans. He also perfected a process for extracting rubber from the milk of the goldenrod plant. Despite all of his inventions, he never patented most of his discoveries – only three. When asked why he said, “If I did it would take so much time, I would get nothing else done. But mainly I don’t want my discoveries to benefit specific favored persons.”

Throughout all his efforts he was focused on enhancing the economic and agricultural productivity of southern Black farmers, but these efforts benefited all farmers. Today, farmers all over the world continue to follow his sustainable farming practice of rotating crops to benefit soil conservation as well as many other practices he developed.

It’s service that measures success

George Washington Carver is the embodiment of that quote – “It’s service that measures success.” Throughout his life, the common thread is service to humanity. Instead of fortune and fame, he found honor in being of service to humanity.

“All mankind are the beneficiaries of his discoveries in the field of agricultural chemistry. The things which he achieved in the face of early handicaps will for all time afford an inspiring example to youth everywhere,” President Franklin D. Roosevelt shared upon Carver’s death in 1943.

Millions of lives were saved thanks to Iowans like George Washington Carver. To continue your education about him, search his name on our website for lesson plans or check out a few of our favorite books. 

  • A Picture Book of George Washington Carver by David A. Adler
  • A Pocketful of Goobers: A Story About George Washington Carver by Barbara Mitchell
  • A Weed is a Flower: The Life of George Washington Carver by Aliki
  • George Washington Carver by Tonya Bolden

Additional resources

~Melissa

Unique Agriculture Commodities: Crickets

This is the fourth blog in my series, Unique Agriculture Commodities. I wanted to take some time to share my reasoning behind this blog topic. Iowa is a state where agriculture is the backbone of the economy. And, when we think of agriculture in Iowa, we often picture our top commodities: corn, soybeans, eggs, and pork. But Iowa’s agriculture extends beyond these and encompasses many specialty crops and unique livestock. My goal with this blog series is to highlight agriculture that extends beyond the “norm” and enter the unique. To shine light on the specialty crops and livestock that are grown and raised in Iowa and around the world.

This week let’s explore something with a high protein content and a versatility that allows it to be used in baked goods, salads, and even fresh off a grill. You might find them creepy, perhaps even crawly, but insects are a key source of protein in many countries. And you can find crickets being farmed in the Midwest, and yes, even here in Iowa.

Why Insects?

In the United States, and especially in the Midwest, the thought of eating an insect may seem repulsive or “weird”. However, more than one quarter of the world’s human population includes eating insects. Over 2 billion people indulge in over 2,000 varieties of edible insects! There are five main species of insects that are eaten: Hemiptera (cicadas and water bugs), Orthoptera (grasshoppers, crickets, and locusts), Hymenoptera (ants, bees, and wasps), Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), and Coleoptera (beetles, weevils, and worms).  So, a lot of different people eat insects. But, why?

Just like a steak or pork chop can provide flavor, so can insects! The flavor profile of insects ranges from citrus (i.e. ants) to pop-corn (i.e. crickets). This versatility makes them a great addition to any dish. By the year 2050 the world population is estimated to reach 9 billion. Currently the world does not produce enough protein to sustain this change in population. Farming insects and the continuation with current meat production could be one way to help with this. Insects are high in protein and provide other essential minerals and micronutrients humans need to function. Current research by the University of Wisconsin-Madison showed that people that consumed insects had healthier gut-bacteria growth and reduced intestinal inflammation than those that did not.

BeefCrickets
Protein21%20%
Iron0.002%0.005%
Unsaturated Fat6%3%
Calcium0.005%0.1%
This table compares cricket and beef nutrient percentage pound for pound. Both steak and crickets are packed with valuable protein, iron, fat, and micronutrients.

Consuming insects can also lead to positive economic impacts. With an increase of insect farms there will be more insects to sell, thus, creating a market that can sustain income all year around for many farmers that otherwise could not raise livestock. This can lead to more choices for consumers in many areas that lack access to protein and open potential global markets.

Insect Farming in Iowa

Currently there are five crickets (the number is growing) that are raised and gathered for consumption, but here in Iowa the commonly raised cricket is Acheta Domesticus, or the Common House cricket. Yes, that cricket you see for sale in pet stores or bait shops. Unlike other crickets, this cricket lacks that “pop” when biting into it and provides more of a salty-meaty flavor making it a delicious snack or addition to any salad.

Shelby Smith’s Cricket Castle

Shelby Smith (Ames, IA), owner of Gym-N-Eats Crickets, has been a cricket farmer since 2018 when her dad encouraged her to look beyond their family’s corn and soybean fields and explore a niche market. After doing some intensive research, she purchased her first 10,000 crickets and hopped into a journey of raising livestock. Smith says that “every cricket operation is different,” but raising insects as livestock is similar to raising other livestock. Just as other livestock, crickets need shelter, food, water, and heat to survive. Unlike other livestock, crickets are ectothermic, meaning they are cold-blooded and rely on the environment to heat and cool their bodies. Since Iowa’s weather is often changing, and we have months of temperatures below 30 degrees and other months with high humidity, crickets must be raised inside where the environment is controlled (just like pigs and chickens!). Raising livestock in buildings also creates a biosecurity net (keeping viruses, pests, and disease out). Though crickets aren’t as affected by disease as poultry and pigs, pests (like mice, spiders, and mites), mold, and fungus can be a problem. If any of these get into a cricket building it can cause a farmer to lose their whole orchestra (a group of crickets). To make sure their livestock has the best living and reproductive conditions, cricket farmers take special care to control the internal environments of the barn and to provide clean habitat (crickets can become cannibalistic and require places to hide).

With crickets being little (1/2 inch – 3/4 inch) a farmer can raise crickets with a smaller land footprint. Rather than building out, cricket farms can build up and utilize vertical space by stacking cricket pens (often tote-bins which can hold ~7,000 crickets). With less space to heat and cool the energy input to maintain barn temperatures is reduced. But, with more livestock, comes more mouths to feed. Crickets are omnivorous, they eat both meat and vegetation. This type of diet is met in many operations by utilizing a ground feed meal. A regulated meal is ideal for the farmer because it allows them to strategically plan growth cycles, mating times, and build consumer confidence. But remember when I said that crickets are ectotherms? Being an ectotherm means that crickets don’t spend energy trying to maintain a body temperature, which means they require less food per pound than warm-blooded livestock. So, there may be more mouths to feed, but there is still a reduction on feed cost. Which leads me to another but, and yes, this one is from a butt. With more livestock there is also an increase of waste. Cricket farmers need to dispose of the feces created by the livestock. To do this many cricket farmers will sell the feces or use it themselves as fertilizer for soil (just like beef, pork, and chicken producers!).

Try Them At Home

Raising the crickets is only one part of the story. Crickets need to be processed before we dive into their rich flavors. Processing crickets includes harvest, washing, cooking. Crickets can be served-up in different forms and flavors of powder, nutrient bars, and whole-roasted. Gym-N-Eat Crickets offers a number of items that you can purchase from their website, or you can find them at some local farmers markets.

Or maybe you want to wrap your mandibles around a new take on a classic recipe.

Cricket Crispy Treats (by Shelby Smith)

  • Ingredients:
    • 12 tbs of unsalted butter
    • 2 10oz bags of mini marshmallows
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract
    • ½ tsp salt
    • ½ cup cricket powder
    • 4 ½ cups of crispy rice cereal
    • 4 cups of choco crispy rice cereal
  • Directions:
    • Line a 9×13 pan with aluminum foil. Butter the aluminum foil and set aside.
    • Melt butter in a sauce pan over medium heat. Once melted turn heat off and add salt and ¼ tsp of vanilla, mix.
    • Add 1 and half packet of marshmallows to butter mix. Cook and stir until all marshmallows are creamy and melted.
    • Add cricket powder and stir. Remove from heat.
    • Add cereal and mix until evenly coated. Stir in the rest of the marshmallows.
    • Dump mixture into buttered pan and press the mixture in until it is evenly spread.
    • Let cool, then cut and enjoy.

My Takeaways

  • There are many different types of insects that are eaten.
  • Insects are a source of protein.
  • Iowa mostly raises Common House crickets.
  • Raising crickets has some similarities to raising other types of livestock.
  • Crickets are delicious!

~Cathryn

Want to learn more about edible insects? Check out these great sources!

A Day in the Life of a Cattle Farmer (Winter Edition)

I’ve often wondered if farming had its own language. A special kind of vocabulary you either grew up with or learned fast as it infiltrated your everyday speech. Phrases like “grazing stalks”, “feeding cubes”, “pounding posts”, “stringing hot wire”, “chopping ice”, “midnight checks” and “hauling pairs” are all phrases we use around our cattle farm during the winter months. For this edition of “A Day in the Life of…” I’ll be explaining what these everyday phrases mean in the life of a cattle farmer.

Grazing stalks: In Iowa, farmers grow an awful lot of corn. Over 2 billion bushels per year. In fact, Iowa grows more corn than most countries! In the fall, farmers harvest those long rows of corn by removing the kernels from the cobs. This process is called combining which requires a huge machine. It leaves the stalks, leaves, and corn husks in the field. It can also leave full ears of corn in the field. This corn can be a problem in the spring because the kernels on the cobs can sprout in places you don’t want them to. This is called volunteer corn. (And is very inconvenient in a bean field as the corn will take sunlight, water, and nutrients from the bean plants you are trying to grow.) The cows eat these “leftover” corn stalks.

In the winter months, we rent stalks from a neighboring farmer for our cows to graze – when the grass in the pastures is no longer growing – they get to be the cleanup crew for corn fields. Sometimes we pay a certain amount per acre for the use of their fields, other times farmers are happy to have us bring our cows to “clean up” the farm that we get the use of the stalks for free. Our cows will walk miles each day finding and eating the delicious, nutritious field corn.

Feeding cubes: Because farms in Iowa are very large, averaging 355 acres per farm, it would be impossible to find and check your cows each day unless you had a way to call them to come to you. To help “call” our cows we feed high protein range cubes (feeding cubes) once or twice a week. (photo of cubes) The animals enjoy the treats, and it makes it easier to count each cow – and then know you have to go looking for any that didn’t come in. We also feed extra ear corn as a way to get our livestock familiar with people, making them easier to handle when it’s calving, pregnancy checking, or vaccinating vaccination time.

Pounding posts: Not every farmer has livestock, so not every farm has fences. When we rent stalks we sometimes need to add additional boundaries to the farm to keep the livestock in. This involves pounding steel fence posts into the ground. We usually use our side-by-side U.T.V. to haul supplies: posts, hot wire and insulators. Then one of us walks the entire length of the fence using a hammer to “pound posts”. The insulators are placed over the steel posts and screwed tight.  Then the wire is attached, so that the wire may be “hot” or electrified (stringing hot wire) to keep the 1,200-pound animals from pushing right past the fence. This helps to keep the cows safe.

Chopping ice: If the farm we move our cattle to in the winter does not have a fountain or piped water supply then we need to make sure the creek (pronounced “crick” in parts of Harrison Co. Iowa) is open for the cows to drink. A hatchet or ax is usually carried around in each of our trucks for this purpose. A small opening is made in the ice to allow the cows to get their daily supply of water. Cows can drink up to one gallon of water for every hundred pounds of body weight.

Midnight checks: No, this is not money that magically appears in the middle of the night. This is the routine for a cattle farmer from January through March. It is where they will get up in the middle of the night, and monitor the livestock to see if any animal needs assistance with calving. This isn’t always midnight, but it is approximately three hours from the last check. When a cow begins to calve, or give birth, the calf is enveloped inside a water bag, called the amnion, a clear white membrane immediately surrounding the calf. If that bag breaks, the famer only has about an hour to pull the calf – or the calf could suffocate inside the cow. It is important to stay vigilant to the needs of cattle during calving season.

Hauling pairs: Success! Once a calf has been born, it is important that cow and calf “pair up” and get familiar with one another. When the pair up occurs, the cow accepts the calf as hers, and the calf figures out that mom means milk! A calf is able to stand within a few minutes of being born and can walk within an hour. After a few days, and once the calf is moving around fine, we haul the pair out to a field where the sunshine and open areas are good for the calf. An animal can develop scours if it lays in wet conditions which is why we haul pairs often.

So no matter where you were born, you’ll now know exactly WHAT that cattle farmer is talking about as he or she works with their livestock through the winter.

-Melanie

What are those doors at the top of a barn for?

When I was in college, I remember going on a walk through campus with some of my friends who did not grow up in rural areas. We walked past the horse barn on Iowa State’s campus, and one friend made a comment that he had thought it was a door for airplanes to fly out of and still didn’t know what they were for.

Barn at Norman Borlaug Childhood Home

You know, I feel like I also remember seeing something showing an airplane flying out of a barn, but to this day, I still can’t put my finger on it. Maybe Stuart Little flew his airplane out of a barn once? But even if it’s just a trick of our memories, that is, in fact, not what the doors are for.

Older barns have two stories. The main level of the barn housed livestock and potentially some equipment. The upper level was the hayloft (also sometimes called a hay mow depending on who and where you are). There, farmers would store hay to feed the animals below, or straw to use as bedding for the animals. (Hay has more leaves and nutritional value, whereas straw is more stemmy and provides very little nutritional value, but both can be stored similarly.)

If you look closely, you can see the track at the peak in the roof in front of the door – this would have helped haul hay.

But why the door to the outside from the second level? To get the hay inside!

Before more mechanization happened on farms, hay would be pulled up from the ground using a series of pulleys on a track attached at the peak in front of the hay mow door. Someone would need to stand at the ground level to load hay onto a fork or claw attached to the pulley system, another person would be in the hayloft to stack the hay properly, and a third would be outside the barn with a workhorse (or a tractor later on) that would be the force of the entire pulley system. To see a really great video on this process, check out this one from some folks in Fairfield, IA.

As more mechanization came later, conveyor belts or hay elevators could be used to carry hay up to the door instead of using pulleys. Here’s a video showing a hay elevator hauling hay bales to a hayloft.

With hay stored in the building where the animals lived, it was then easier for farmers to climb into the hayloft and simply toss down the hay needed to feed their animals and not haul it in from elsewhere.

Barns with these features are today largely a relic of the past. As farms became more specialized and less diversified, farmers would create larger, specialized barns for their livestock with more modern technologies. And with more animals to feed, the hayloft became a bit too small for what was needed.

Today, a dairy farm might have a large feed shed with bunkers for each ingredient the cattle need. A tractor or even a robot might measure those ingredients, mix them together, and deliver them to the livestock barn for distribution.

So, no, the doors on barns aren’t for airplanes to fly out of. But if you can think of the cartoon that showed that, please let me know.

Chrissy

A Little Bit About Me: Lauren Kaldenberg

Hello Everyone! My name is Lauren Kaldenberg, and I am the new Education Programs Intern for this upcoming year.

I was raised on a diversified crop and cattle production operation just outside of Albia, Iowa. Growing up I was involved in various clubs throughout my school and community. I was a part of our local FFA Chapter and 4-H Clubs, which played an instrumental role in my life. These organizations helped me understand my passions and how to pursue them, my biggest passion being agriculture.  

I am currently in my second year at Iowa State University studying Agriculture Communications with a minor in Agronomy. At Iowa State, I currently serve as the Treasurer for Collegiate Cattlemen and Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow. I am a member of the Agronomy Club, Iowa Corn Growers, and Public Relations Student Society of America.

My future career aspirations are to work within Agriculture Policy, hopefully for an agriculture establishment. I want to be the voice for agriculture and help make a positive change in agriculturalists’ lives.

I am excited to assist with growing students’ and educators’ understanding of the importance of agriculture and what our world would look like without it. I am also excited to meet new people and make new connections with educators and professionals. I am looking forward to the experiences that I will encounter throughout this internship!

Fun Fact About Me: I was a Meteorology Major when I enrolled at Iowa State

Somewhere to Visit in Albia: Welcome Home Soldier Monument

Hobbies: Traveling, Biking, Baking, Doing Puzzles, and Sewing with my Grandma

Let’s not ‘split hairs’ – whether it’s mohair or cashmere…goat fiber is great

When you think of goats and goat production, Iowa may not immediately come to mind. However, Iowa ranks third in terms of total milk goats across the United States coming in only behind Wisconsin and California. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, Iowa has 38,000 head of meat and other goat uses inventory, a nine percent increase over the prior year. In our previous blog series on goats we focused on Iowa’s dairy goats, meat goats, and general goats in agriculture facts. To wrap up this series, we’ll focus on the goat fiber market.

Goat fiber breeds and types of fiber

Sheep usually come to mind when you think of wool production, but you might be surprised to learn that some of the most illustrious fibers are produced by goats. For hundreds of years, goat fiber has been used in clothing and a variety of other materials, and is typically referred to as cashmere or mohair. The benefits of using goat fibers versus synthetic materials include being biodegradable and renewable. There are two main types of goats that are used for fiber purposes in the United States: Angora Goats and Cashmere Goats.

Angora Goats

Angora goat, photo courtesy of the American Goat Federation

The Angora goat dates back to early biblical history, originating in the district of Angora in Asia Minor. This type of goat is somewhat unusual in that both sexes of this breed have horns. These are relatively small animals when compared to sheep and other goats like milk goats. Angora goats are known for their mohair. This fiber is durable, resilient, and is noted for its high luster and sheen. It’s often used in fiber blends and has excellent insulating and moisture-wicking properties. Finer, softer hair from younger animals is used in items like scarves; while thicker, coarser hair from older animals is mostly used in carpets. Goats are sheared twice a year, in the spring and fall. The hair is processed to remove natural grease, dirt, and other matter.

The average goat in the U.S. shears approximately 5.3 pounds of mohair per shearing. Mohair production in the United States during 2020 was 589,000 pounds. Goat fibers bring an agricultural economic value to the U.S. economy to the tune of $2.99 million annually. South Africa is the largest mohair producer in the world with the United States coming in second. Want to see if you can purchase an Angora goat or their fiber? You can find Angora goat breeders in Iowa here.

Cashmere Goats

Cashmere goat, photo courtesy of the American Goat Federation

You might be surprised to learn that the fine, soft fiber we think of for expensive sweaters actually comes from the down undercoat of goats. Any goat except for the Angora goat can grow cashmere, but those with the ‘cashmere’ title have been selectively bred to produce a larger amount of the fiber. The quality of the cashmere fleece is determined by three factors: length, diameter, and the degree of waviness (crimping). Cashmere goats can be multiple colors, but the parts sheared should be a single color. Cashmere goats have two kinds of hair: guard hair (majority of the hair) and cashmere (downy undercoat). The guard hair and cashmere hair must be separated to be used in cashmere products. Cashmere goat breeders and fiber producers can be found in the Cashmere Goats Association database. Both sexes of cashmere goats have horns.

Farmers take great care of their animals to produce a healthy animal and products that can be used from the animal. They take many things into consideration such as housing, predator prevention, nutrition, veterinary care, and more. If you’re interested in seeing goats up close, visit an Iowa county fair or the Iowa State Fair to see agriculture in action. Many Iowa 4-H programs include goat projects!

Closing thought

Can you think of any cashmere or mohair products that you own? If you can, think about the farmer who raised that animal for your product’s use.

~Melissa

Resources

Goat Shearing Video
Cashmere – Wikipedia 
The American Cashmere Goat Association
The American Goat Federation
Goats for Fiber
Angora goats are good, hairy business in Iowa