If you have young kids, I am sure a trip to an orchard, corn maze or pumpkin patch is on your family’s to-do list. On my first visit to a local apple orchard with my then two-year old son, I was amazed with all there was to do. What I thought would be an hour visit to pick a few apples, turned into a half-day adventure! Yes, we picked apples. But we also played in a huge pile of corn, rode pedal tractors, picked pumpkins, took a hayrack ride, raced rubber ducks, found our way through a hay maze, fed farm animals and visited the homes of the three little pigs. Whew. Just typing the list made me tired. Who knew there was so much to do at an apple orchard?
Agritourism is growing in Iowa. Farms across the state have opened their doors to visitors and created a wide array of fun-filled activities for people of all ages. Many, like the orchard we visit each year are perfect for young families. Others provide complex corn mazes, horse-back riding and bon-fire rentals that appeal to teenagers and even adults without kids.
When deciding to visit a pumpkin patch, apple orchard or corn maze, most families have fun as the number one objective. But there is so much more hidden among the pumpkins, pedal tractors and piles of corn. It is a perfect setting to begin beautiful conversations about agriculture.
During my family’s annual visit to Center Grove Orchard last weekend, it dawned on me that this is as close as many kids, and even some adults, come to spending time on a farm. It might not offer the same experience and level of learning as time spent on a working farm, but it does spark curiosity and wonder. If we capitalize on this, we can provide a high learning-factor AND a high fun-factor. Here are a few of conversation starters that you can use with your kids!
How many different kinds of bales can you find? (Hint: Bales can be large and round, small and square, and even large and square. Hay is made from the entire plant and used to feed animals. Straw is made from the stems of grain plants, and used as bedding to keep animals clean and dry.)
Can you name the parts of a corn plant in the corn maze? (Hint: The tassel is the flower of the plant. It produced pollen that was blown to the silks at the end of the ear. The silks, now dry and brown, carried pollen to form the kernels of corn on the ear. Brace roots are the spider-looking structures at the bottom of the plant. They help keep the tall stalk upright during strong winds.)
How tall is a corn plant? (Hint: Stand next to one and use your own height to estimate. Field corn is usually 8-12 feet tall, much taller than sweet corn, popcorn or Indian corn.)
How big is the corn maze? (Hint: An acre of land is about the size of a football field, minus the end zones.)
What is the difference between farm animals and pets? (Hint: Every animal on a farm serves a purpose. Farmers raise animals for the meat, eggs, milk, wool, leather and many other products we eat and use daily.)
What do farmers do to take care of their livestock? (Hint: They provide food, water and shelter.)
Why are many farm animals raised in barns? (Hint: Barns protect animals from predators and keep them cool in the summer and warm in the winter.)
Our first and last stop during our recent visit to Center Grove Orchard was the corn pool. It contains nearly as many learning opportunities and conversation starters as it does bushels of corn. So, what is a bushel? (Hint: It is the unit of measure for grain. One bushel is about the size of a small laundry basket.)
Does this corn look the same as the corn we eat for dinner? (Hint: Sweet corn and field corn not only look and feel different, but they have different uses too. Sweet corn is eaten fresh, canned or frozen. Field corn is fed to livestock, made into ethanol and even used to make biodegradable packing peanuts.)
Do we eat field corn? (Hint: Do you like Doritos, Frosted Flakes or cornbread?)
Be sure to plan a visit to a local pumpkin patch, apple orchard or corn maze with your family this fall and make the most of the learning opportunities they provide!