Iowa’s Big Four Cooking Contest Winners

Each year, the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation (IALF) honors Iowa’s agriculture industry and its commodities including corn, soybeans, pork, and eggs through our Big Four cooking competition at the Iowa State Fair. “We invite aspiring chefs of all ages from across Iowa to showcase their culinary skills in two different divisions, sweet or savory, they can get as creative as they like and the only requirement is to use at least two of the big four Iowa commodity ingredients or a by-product of them,” stated IALF Executive Direction, Kelly Foss.

This year’s entries were judged by commodity organization experts, Anne Rehnstrom (Iowa Pork Producers Association), Carrie Dodds (Iowa Corn Growers Association), and Lydia Zerby (Iowa Soybean Association). Foss admitted that “we had fun watching the judges as their eyes lit up with each tasty entry, this year the winner of the sweet category was a warm comfort food and got the judges nodding their heads and clamoring for more.”

Iowa’s Big Four Winners – Sweet Category

Maple Bacon Bread Puddin by Jamie Buelt of Polk City is this year’s cooking contest winner. The winning recipe includes bacon and eggs. Sharon Lesan of Ankeny came in second place with Lemon Bar Pie. Our third place winner is Jennifer Goellner of West Des Moines with Chocolate Caramel Bacon Cupcakes.

The Puddin’:

  • 6 cups of dry bread cubed
  • 5 strips of bacon, fried and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 6 eggs, divided
  • ¼ cup of Baker’s sugar
  • 1 cup of pure Maple syrup
  • 2 ½ cups of half & half
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2-3 tablespoons of bourbon

Arrange bread on a cookie sheet and place in 250°F oven for 10 minutes, just enough to dry out the bread. Cut bread into bite-sized pieces. When dry, increase oven temperature to 350°F. Butter a cast iron skillet and set aside.

Beat the eggs and sugar until light. Add cream and other ingredients, but only half the syrup. Mix ½ cup syrup and bourbon and pour over bread. Distribute bacon pieces on top of the bread and then pour the egg mixture over bread, making sure that all the bread is covered. Allow to set about 30 minutes or longer so that bread can absorb the egg-cream mixture.

Bake at 375°F for 50 minutes or until the pudding is brown and a knife comes out clean.

The Sauce:

  • ¼ cup Maple syrup
  • ¼ cup salted butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon bourbon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons of Woodford Reserve Bourbon

Warm the syrup and add the butter. Watching carefully add the brown sugar, bourbon and vanilla extract. When mixture comes to a boil, add the cream. Then turn heat down and continue to cook for 5 more minutes.

Note from the Cook: Bread pudding is the ultimate second-chance food. It allows you to repurpose bread, cake and pastries with yummy egg-cream custard. For this recipe, I had a third cup of mango-peach-ginger compote leftover. It struck me that with some bourbon and cream, it would make a fitting sauce. This particular recipe has evolved over the past several years. I have used apples, raisins, and cherries, but my family prefers the peach.

Iowa’s Big Four Winners – Savory Category

Cowboy Cornbread Salad Cups

The savory category winner in this year’s cooking contest is Cowboy Cornbread Salad Cups made by Ann Gillotti of Ankeny. As Ann states, “This is a great eye-catching salad for your next picnic or potluck and features all of Iowa’s Big Four ingredients – corn, bacon, soybeans (in the mayo), and eggs!” Iowa Girl Breakfast Egg Rolls submitted by Brooklynn Sedlock of Indianola received second place. Jamie Buelt of Polk City received third place with her Iowa Celebration Corn Salad.


  • 15 oz box Cornbread Mix
  • 1/2 cup Unsalted Butter, melted
  • 1 cup Shredded Cheddar Cheese
  • 2/3 cup Whole Milk
  • 1 Large Egg
  • 2 Small Jalapenos, diced

Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray an 8-inch baking pan with nonstick spray and set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together cornbread mix, milk, butter, and egg until moistened. Stir in cheese and jalapenos. Pour mixture into prepared pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Let cool completely and then crumble into pieces to make 2 cups for salad.

Cilantro Ranch:

  • 1 packet Dry Ranch Dressing Mix
  • 1 cup Buttermilk
  • 1 clove Garlic
  • 1 cup Mayonnaise
  • 1 cup Cilantro Leaves

Add all ingredients in a blender and run on medium speed for 2-3 minutes until smooth and creamy. Refrigerate until ready to assemble the salad.


  • 15 oz can Sweet Corn kernels, drained
  • 1 small Red Onion, diced
  • 1 Tomato, chopped
  • 1 cup Cilantro Ranch
  • 1 teaspoon Chili Powder
  • 1/2 lbs. Bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • 14 oz can Pinto Beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 Green Bell Pepper, diced
  • 1 cup Shredded Cheddar Cheese
  • 1 teaspoon Smoked Paprika
  • 1/4 cup Green Onion, chopped
  • 2 cups Crumbled Cornbread
  • 8-9 oz cups for serving

Combine the cilantro ranch, paprika, and chili powder, set aside. Add 1/4 cup of cornbread to the bottom of each cup. Add a layer of pinto beans, corn, onion, peppers, and tomatoes to each cup. Top each cup with 2 tablespoons of ranch mixture and 2 tablespoons of cheese. Add 1-2 tablespoons of crumbled bacon and garnish with green onion. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.


Career Corner: Milo Locker Meats

Milo Locker Meats in Milo, Iowa

Milo Locker Meats in Milo, Iowa, is owned and operated by Angie and Darrell Goering. At their locker they process deer, cattle, and hogs. While they process typical animals for Iowa, they set themselves apart from other lockers through their grocery section. Another way they distinguish themselves from other lockers is through their schedule accommodations for deer and county fair seasons. During the weeks of their surrounding county fairs, Milo Locker Meats clears their schedule for those 4-H and FFA animals. In December, they block off the whole month for deer processing.

Inside Milo Locker Meats grocery area

After an early retirement, Darrell bought the locker that originally was across the street, later designing and building the locker they processes in today. Darrell learned how to properly cut and process meat from the previous owners and once he figured out the trade, he started independently processing meat for sale. He has continued to learn as new endeavors and ideas have been brought forth as the demand has changed over time. Angie entered the locker when her and Darrell got married. She now is the manager of the office, which is essential to an efficient and effective business. While Angie manages the bills, phones, marketing, and so much more, Darrell manages the processing aspect of the locker.

Locker Positions

While purchasing a locker may not be an option for everyone, there are many job areas within the business. An entry-level position for a high school student would be assisting with the sanitation process. This position is vital to a lockers success as meat types cannot be cross contaminated; it could result in consumers becoming ill. At this level, there is also the job of loading out meat to consumers. Those that fulfill this job learn the locations of freezers and meat within those freezers. This position also includes a large amount of communication skills as they will be directly speaking with customers. While speaking with customers, employees listen for any questions or concerns that need to be answered or resolved prior to the customer leaving. Another entry-level position is the harvest floor, there the employee will remove the animal byproducts to maintain sanitation in the area.

The positions in the processing room are available after an employee has graduated with a high school diploma or obtains a GED. In this section of the meat processing the jobs of de-boning the meat, stuffers, wrappers, and labelers are needed. These positions do not require any further degrees or experience as employees learn these machines while on the job. Although further degrees are not required, the willingness to work and have pride in a job well done are necessary.

While the previously listed jobs are all in the meat processing sector of a locker, there are also positions within the retail and office side of the business as well. An office manager is the position that Angie holds. As mentioned before, she answers calls, oversees the financials, markets products, oversees retail area, and interacts with the public in various settings. Employees that assist office managers are holding the position of office assistant. The other position held in the office is the retailers. These employees ensure that the retail section of the locker is stocked and arranged for customers.

Mac & Cheese Flavored Cheddar Bratwursts

Classroom Connections

The classroom connections in this field relate to math and communication skills. Communication skills are vital for retailers, office assistants, office managers, and those loading out meat as they are speaking directly with the customers. This interaction provides the opportunity to answer any questions or resolve any concerns that the consumers may have. Those processing the meat must be precise with their math skills as they are weighing the meat that is later packaged by weight. If these amounts are inaccurate a customer they could be not enough or too much given to the customers.

Learn More


Fun Ways to Learn About Agriculture at the Iowa State Fair

Some of my earliest memories are of riding in our camper and pulling into the Iowa State Fair to show our horses. I always knew when we passed by the Anderson Erickson cows that we were almost there. A lot has changed since I was a kid, but one thing hasn’t – the importance of agriculture to the state of Iowa. The Iowa State Fair is one large celebration of our Iowa’s agriculture industry and the important role it plays in our daily lives and economy.

There are lots of ways to enjoy the Iowa State Fair but I love that it provides an opportunity to take my children around to teach them more about agriculture. Here are a few of our favorite stops!

Avenue of the Breeds

From elk to horses and sheep to fish, this is the place to see 100 different breeds and approximately 120 different animals of all kinds. You’ll see breeds here that you can’t see anywhere else at the fair. Each breed has its own unique benefits and purpose. When they’re side by side it’s amazing to see all the differences. Representatives are available in the hallways to ask questions about the animals. The Avenue of the Breeds is located west of the 4-H Building.

Little Hands on the Farm

Little Hands on the Farm

This is a place where the kids get a chance to get their hands dirty and become a farmer. Kids will plant, grow, harvest, and sell their produce just like a farmer. They’ll get a basket and proceed along a path that includes a garden, grain bin, apple orchard, chicken coop, tractor shed, sheep barn, and dairy barn. After gathering items along the way they’ll get the chance to sell these items at the Farmers’ Market and spend their money at the grocery store.

Milk a Cow at the Milking Parlor

Learn how cows are milked at the Milking Parlor, which is located on the north side of the Cattle barn. You’ll learn all you want about a cow’s life on a dairy farm. Once you’re done, enjoy an ice cream cone at the Dairy Barn nearby.

Meet Baby Animals at the Animal Learning Center

Get up close and personal with all kinds of farm babies from ducklings and calves to piglets and chicks. You never know what you might see in the Animal Learning Center including animal babies being born. There are veterinary students on hand to oversee the animals so it’s a great opportunity to ask questions about animals, veterinary sciences, and agriculture. The Animal Learning Center is located south of the Little Hands on the Farm.

How Does Your Garden Grow?

My garden is brown and dead so maybe I need a trip to The Garden at the Iowa State Fair to get some help. Kids can learn how a garden grows. This area is full of garden beds and displays to teach kids how vegetables take root in Iowa soil and grow. There is also a special composting exhibit that teaches the value of ecology and sustainability. The Garden is located north of the Little Hands on the Farm.

IALF Activities at the Fair

If you’re at the fair on certain days, you’ll have a chance to see agriculture learning in action. IALF has two main activities at the fair this year.

  • Big Four Cooking Competition  
    • Wednesday, Aug. 17, 1:30 p.m., Elwell Food Building
    • IALF honors Iowa’s agriculture industry and its biggest commodities of corn, soybeans, pork, and eggs, through this cooking contest each year. Stop by to see our judges determine the winners this year!
  • STEM Day at the Fair
    • Sunday, Aug. 21 from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Grand Concourse
    • Join us to learn more about biodegradable packing peanuts with hands-on activities.

There is a ton of agriculture learning that can happen at the fair if you just look for it. What are some of your favorite agricultural learning activities at the fair?


Specialty Agriculture in Iowa: Alpaca Farming

Alpaca at R & K’s Alpaca Farm in Sigourney, Iowa

Did you know alpacas make great lawnmowers? Unlike other animals that graze, alpacas only chew to the midway point of the grass blades rather than eating the whole plant. This allows the grass to be trimmed rather than the whole plant being uprooted.

Alpacas are native to the high elevations of South America where temperatures can be very low. This allows the alpacas to withstand brutal Iowa winters. In Iowa, there are only 2,558 alpacas registered in the Alpaca Owners Association INC. Their diets are composed of grain and grass, which allows them to be low maintenance. Alpacas are also known for screeching when in danger or pain. This screeching noise is how they get the attention of other alpacas for assistance.


Group of Alpacas at R & K’s Alpaca Farm in Sigourney, Iowa

When alpacas have reached the age between one year and 18 months, they have matured enough to be bred. The male alpacas are kept in separate pens from the females as they can cause problems to females that are not mature yet. During the breeding process, the male is introduced to the female roughly every two weeks. Once the female has conceived, she will sometimes spit at the male along with running from him. When this occurs there is a 95% chance that the female has conceived. The female alpaca’s gestation period (how long they are pregnant) is around one year long! Alpacas are known for giving birth between 7:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. because of their inability to protect their baby, which are called cria, from predators. This time period of daylight allows the mother to get the cria cleaned, nursing, and into shelter before sunset. These crias typically weigh between 12 and 20 pounds when they are born. The mother and cria hum and cluck with each other the communicate and connect. After the female alpaca has given birth, she is receptive to being bred within two to six weeks later which starts this process over again.


Fiber being processed at R & K’s Alpaca Boutique in Sigourney, Iowa

Alpacas are sheared once a year, with this process being comparable to a person getting a haircut. Here in Iowa, alpacas are typically sheared during the late spring. This shearing process is relieving to the alpaca as the fiber that an alpaca produces can restrict the animal from cooling off, especially during the summer heat. The alpacas are laid on their side to be sheared with the switching of sides to reach the whole animal. Shearing tends to be a quick process, which relates to less stress on the animal. Most alpacas produce anywhere between 5 and 10 pounds of fiber each year. After the shearing is complete, the fiber that is collected is then processed. The fiber can be processed into many different items including socks, blankets, stuffed animals, dryer balls, etc.

Fun Facts

  • Alpacas are known for relieving themselves (pooping) in the same spot.
  • Their feces is commonly used for fertilizing plants indoors because their feces does not have an odor.
  • Chickens can be a good asset to the alpacas because they eat parasites and bugs that bother the alpacas.
  • Alpacas are her animals so they should be bought in pairs. They have little to no defense without another and they do not like to be alone. It has been said they can die of loneliness.
  • There are only two breeds of alpacas, but many colors.
  • Alpacas were first introduced in the United States in 1984.


~ Lauren

Conservation Efforts: Farmers go to great lengths to care for the land

Some parts of Iowa have been getting a lot of rain lately. With below average rainfall totals in April and May across the state, this rain was welcomed by farmers. Rain is essential for plants to grow, but too much rain can be a problem. Or, rain at the wrong time can be a problem. Rain in the spring can sometimes delay planting.

With heavy rainfall, water can carry soil away through water erosion. Wind too can be a problem for farmers. Strong winds, like a recent dust storm that went through Iowa, can lift soil off a field and carry it away. This is called wind erosion. Soil is a valuable resource that farmers want to keep on their fields.

A lot of water on a field can also wash nutrients in the soil, like nitrogen, into the watershed. Too much nitrogen in water can be harmful to humans and other animals. For plants, nitrogen is important because it keeps them healthy, so farmers typically want to keep nitrogen on the fields. Nitrogen can come from the air, fertilizer, or from animal waste like manure.

Farmers love the land and are conservationists by nature. Typically, land is passed down through generations with each generation taking responsibility for that land when it’s their turn. They want to do the best they can to ensure the land stays fertile and profitable for future generations. Farmers are constantly researching and looking for new ways to balance the various farming techniques to obtain the best yield and what’s best for their land (good land conservation). Here are a few ways farmers work to preserve their land’s resources.

Cover Crops

Cover crops coming up in a harvested corn field

Farmers can plant cover crops in the fall after harvest. The growing plant roots help hold the soil in place during winter and early spring. Wind and water erosion can be greatly reduced. Cover crops can also absorb extra nutrients in the soil (like nitrogen). This prevents them from running into watersheds. Cover crops can increase soil health, water retention, and even yield.

No-Till Farming

Soybeans in no-till field

Many farmers till their fields to loosen soil and make it better for seeds to start growing. Loose soil is more at risk to wind and water erosion. Some farmers choose to plant their fields using no-till farming methods. No-till is when seeds are planted without plowing. The organic matter from previous year’s crop helps hold the soil in place. No-till helps preserve the microorganisms that live in the soil. Microorganisms are things like bacteria, fungi, worms, and insects that live in the soil – they help keep soil healthy.

Buffer Zones

Drainage Ditch Near a Northern Iowa Field

Sections of plants between fields and streams, creeks, lakes, and wetlands are called buffer zones or buffer strips. These areas slow and filter water runoff and help stop soil from washing off the fields. They are also vital in providing wildlife habitat and help rainwater absorb into the ground.


Terraces placed on the slope protect the soil from erosion in Avoca, Iowa.

Installing terraces is one type of soil conservation practiced by farmers in certain terrains. Terraces are earthen, manmade structures that help reduce erosion. They are used on hillsides and steep areas of a field to transform long slopes into a series of shorter slopes. They hold back and slow down water on a field. Terraces also help reduce sediment pollution of lakes and streams. Grassed frontslopes and backslopes of some terraces also provide cover for wildlife.


Helping land drain water can improve crop yield. Farmers use tile systems to drain the land. These systems also move nitrate-nitrogen, which can cause some issues. A bioreactor is an underground trench of woodchips at the end of a tile line. Water from the tile flows through the woodchips before entering a stream or river. Microorganisms live in the woodchips. These microorganisms ‘breathe’ the nitrate-nitrogen from the water. Then they release the nitrogen into the air, making it harmless.

Careers in conservation

Did you know there are scientists that specialize in soil and soil conservation? Celia Takachi’s career as a soil scientist has taken her all around the world. She was born in Brazil and studied in Japan. Farmers need to know how much fertilizer to add to their fields. She tests soil and helps farmers get a good yield. She says “We all need food and soil is the key.” Learn more about careers in soil.

For more information about watersheds, soil, and more read our Iowa Ag Today issue 3.

Want to bring soil topics into your classroom?

Here are several lesson plans that will help students understand soil conservation.

What are some ways you can bring soil and water conservation practices to your own yard or property?


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.


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.

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


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.


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