6 Reasons to Apply for an Agriculture in the Classroom Teacher Supplement Grant

We know that teachers are always looking for new ways to engage students, but funding for classroom resources is limited.  We have a solution!

This week we kicked off another year of the Agriculture in the Classroom Teacher Supplement Program. Since 2003, teachers have utilized these grants to fund innovative lessons, classroom resources, outreach programs, field trips and more!

With funding from the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation offers $200 grants to support the integration of agriculture into preschool-12th grade in-school and afterschool programs. The subject-area focus of the grant changes each year to allow a variety of projects to receive funding and encourage teachers to consider incorporate agriculture across the curriculum. This year’s focus areas are agriculture in literacy/language arts OR agriculture in social studies.

Not convinced yet, here’s a few reasons to apply:

1.  Agriculture is a topic students can easily connect with because it is all around us! Nearly everything we eat, wear, use — even the fuel that powers cars and buses — comes from plants and animals grown on farms.

2.   Agriculture provides real-world connections to Iowa Core Standards.  Teaching about agriculture in Iowa is an ideal way for students to learn what their state is all about and provide real-life connections to all subjects.

  • Tip:  On the application, be sure to specifically describe what your students will learn about agriculture through your project– not just how a topic, like Iowa history or technology, relates to agriculture.

3.  Social Studies, Social Studies, Social Studies!  Iowa recently adopted new social studies standards, and many have strong connections to agriculture!  Here’s just few examples:

-1st Grade: Describe the diverse cultural makeup of Iowa’s past and present in the local community, including indigenous and agricultural communities. (SS.1.23)

-2nd Grade: Identify how people use natural resources to produce goods and services. (SS.2.12)

-4th Grade: Explain how Iowa’s agriculture has changed over time. (SS.4.26)

-6th Grade: Explain how changes in transportation, communication, and technology influence the movement of people, goods, and ideas in various countries. (SS.6.18)

-7th Grade: Analyze the role that Iowa plays in contemporary global issues. (SS.7.27)

  • Tip: Take a look at the National Agriculture Literacy Outcomes for more ideas about what students should know about agriculture as it relates to the study of culture, society, economy and geography. Social Studies content is in orange print.

4.  It’s a great way to build your classroom library. Books are a perfect way for students to learn about agriculture! Incorporate books with an agricultural theme into a language arts or social studies lesson described in the application.  Then add them to your classroom library to be enjoyed by students for years to come.

  • Tip: Take a look at the books in the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation’s Lending Library for ideas. We have over 200 titles, and you can even check them out to review before buying your own.

5.  Funding for field trips is hard to come by. Take students to learn about agriculture first-hand at a farm, museum or historic site. Iowa’s many agriculture museums and historic sites offer tours and self-guided opportunities to learn about Iowa’s agricultural history.

  • Tip:  Be sure to include what you will do in the classroom before and after the field trip to make the most of the learning experience.  If you are learning about agriculture long-ago during the field trip, describe ways your students will compare and contrast that to farming today once they return.

6.  It’s easy!  Many grant applications take hours to complete and require long essays, spreadsheets with details budgets, administrator approval, and more.  Not this one! It only has 10 questions, and most have short answers. Head on over to the application page, create a log-in, and get started.

  • Tip:  Take a look at the application questions now, think about project ideas, and return later to finish. Once you start the application, you can save and return as often as necessary before January 10, 2018.



Beggar’s Night Favorites

Usually when we think about agriculture, we think about all of the healthy fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy, and grains that we eat. But nearly all food comes from agriculture – even our indulgences like candy!

According to Candystore.com, Iowa’s most favorite Halloween Candy is Reese’s Cups. Second and third place contenders are M&Ms and Butterfingers.


Source: CandyStore.com.

Let’s break these down and look at the agriculture that helped make these sweet treats.

Reese’s Cups
It is no surprise that the three most popular candies are chocolate. Chocolate is a mixture of cocoa powder, milk, cocoa butter, milk fat, soy lecithin, sugar, and maybe a little salt. We discussed chocolate and how it comes from the cacao bean before. Milk and milk fats come from dairy cows. Chocolate comes in a wide variety. Different types of chocolates have different amounts of these core ingredients. Dark chocolate will have a higher ratio of cocoa powder than milk chocolate. White chocolate doesn’t have any cocoa powder – only the cocoa butter. Milk chocolate is somewhere in the middle.

Soy lecithin you may not be familiar with. Lecithin are fatty compounds that can come from plant or animal sources (eggs, cotton seeds, etc.). Soy is abundantly produced in Iowa, throughout the Midwest, and throughout the world which is why soy lecithin is found in so many of our foods. It acts as a great emulsifier that helps oils and water stay mixed in our food products. Just a small amount goes a long way to helping improve the texture, appearance, and shelf life of food.

Peanuts are the second main ingredient in Reese’s Cups. Despite the name, they are not nuts at all. They don’t grow on trees like almonds, walnuts, or pistachios. They are grown underground! They are legumes and related to beans and peas. What we know as peanuts are produced as part of the root structure of the peanut plant. Legumes are important in agriculture because they host bacteria in the soil that help turn nitrogen into nitrates. Plants use nitrates in soil to stay healthy. Peanuts and other legumes are used in crop rotation to help keep soils healthy. Peanuts can be roasted, boiled, and also ground into peanut butter.

The term “sugar” can be used to either refer specifically to sucrose or it can be used generally to refer to all simple sugars (lactose, glucose, fructose, galactose, sucrose, etc.). chocolatiers may use any of these sugars to sweeten their chocolate. Most commonly, sugar comes from sugar beets grown in the upper Midwest (Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana) or sugar cane grown in more tropical climates (like Florida).

Reese’s Cups also use another sweetener called dextrose. Dextrose is a simple sugar obtained most often from corn (field corn,  not sweet corn), but can be obtained from other sources as well, such as wheat, sorghum, and tapioca.


The primary ingredient is of course chocolate. It is a slightly different ratio of cocoa powder, milk, and sugar, etc. but it has all of the same component parts. What makes M&Ms fun and unique is their colorful candy shells. To get the right appearance and to not let the candy shell mix with chocolate center, the chocolate is sprinkled with a little bit of cornstarch. Cornstarch (from field corn) acts as a moisture barrier to keep the candy shell crunchy and not mix with the chocolate. The shells are then made from a little corn syrup, dextrin, food colorings, and gum acacia.


The flakey buttery center of Butterfinger candy is a mix of corn syrup, sugar, ground roasted peanuts, hydrogenated palm kernel oil, molasses, confectioner’s corn flakes, salt, soybean oil, and cornstarch. You can see a common theme in these candies (chocolate, sugar, etc.). The molasses, corn syrup, and peanut butter are all mixed together. Molasses comes from sugar beet or sugar cane juice that is boiled down until it yields a thick, dark syrup. It can also be made from sorghum, dates, or pomegranate.

The sticky rich mixture is poured over confectioner’s corn flakes. These are not like the breakfast cereal. They are small pieces of field corn that have been rolled flat and dried. The corn flakes provide the candy the crispity-crunchity texture. Finally chocolate is poured over the center filling. Check out the video on how Butterfingers are made.

As you can see, a lot of the ingredients used in these candies come from Iowa and Midwest agriculture. Corn syrup, corn starch, and corn flakes from field corn. Sugar and molasses from sugar beets. Soy lecithin and soy oil from soybeans. And milk! No wonder Iowans like these sweet treats.

Of course these candies probably can be considered a part of a healthy diet. So don’t overindulge. But we hope you enjoy Beggar’s Night and have a Happy Halloween!


What’s Cooking? Parmesan Crusted Pork Chops

October is National Pork Month, or “Porktober”! This is a great time to celebrate, because Iowa produces more pork than any other state in the U.S. About 1/3 of all pork in the U.S. comes from Iowa!

If you would like to celebrate, there are some good ways for you to do so. One, is to make this easy and delicious pork chop recipe. The star of the show is, of course, the thick, Iowa pork chops, but there are some also great co-stars, like Parmesan cheese, parsley, and breadcrumbs. Many of the ingredients are not widely produced in Iowa, like pepper, paprika, and garlic. To me, that just shows how fortunate we are to have established trade systems, so we can combine the things we do have close to home (like pork chops) with delicious things found abroad (like olive oil, paprika, and garlic).

To walk through the recipe and to learn more about each ingredient, watch this quick video:




  • 4 boneless pork chops
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan
  • 2-3 tablespoons dried, Italian breadcrumbs
  • 1/8 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • bundle of asparagus (optional)


  • Mix dry ingredients on a plate or shallow pan
  • Coat pork chops in mixture
  • Sear chops in olive oil on medium-high heat for five minutes on each side
  • Place pork chops and asparagus in glass baking dish
  • Coat asparagus with olive oil and Parmesan
  • Place in 350 degree oven for 30 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the pork chops is 145 degrees

Hope you enjoy this yummy Iowa treat!


Pumpkin Spice and Everything Nice

It’s that time of the year again. The season of warm sweaters, football games, and crunchy leaves. Not just that, but a variety of wonderful treats ranging from apple pies, comforting soups and finally pumpkin spice everything.

If you haven’t noticed, it’s pumpkin spice season and trust me when I say it’s everywhere from coffee and donut shops to pumpkin spice ice cream sandwiches, pumpkin spice Frosted Mini-Wheats to even pumpkin spice Oreos. It’s the flavor of fall and it’ll be around for many seasons to come.

But what makes this flavor so special? Well to make it yourself you will need all of five ingredients and less than five minutes of your time to create this unique flavor.

3 tablespoons ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons ground ginger

2 teaspoons ground nutmeg

1 ½ teaspoons ground allspice

1 ½ teaspoons ground cloves

Mix all the ingredients together and you have yourself some pumpkin spice. You might find it funny to note that there is actually no pumpkin in the spice itself. It is said that these 5 ingredients mixed together have been used in the creation of home baked goods for generations. When indulging in the flavor researchers state, that it brings back memories of home or of grandma’s homemade pumpkin pie.  The flavor brings out a sense of comfort, the holiday season, and nostalgia which has made it very popular in today’s culture.

It started with pumpkin spice candles then moved on to revolutionize the food industry with new and unique pumpkin spice creations. Each of the five ingredients adds to this flavor and creates the unique experience with each food or drink that is eaten.


The cinnamon spice dates all the way back to 2,000 B.C. where it was used by the Egyptians as a perfuming agent. As time went on cinnamon became a highly demanded product in Europe but the source of cinnamon was not documented which began the search of explorers looking for the spice. It was first found in 1518 by Portuguese traders. They discovered the spice near present-day Sri Lanka. 90% of the world’s cinnamon comes from Sri Lanka.Image result for cinnamon

Cinnamon has been used for centuries as a medicine. It is known to effectively boost the  immune system and may aid in lowering type 2 diabetes to helping sore throats. Cinnamon comes from the inner bark of a cinnamon tree. Farmers will shave off the outside bark of the tree and the next layer is the cinnamon layer. Farmers will shave the bark and lay it out to dry. As the bark dries, cinnamon has a natural tendency to curl; which gives cinnamon sticks its appearance. To see how cinnamon is harvested and processed check out this video.


Native to the Maluku Islands in Indonesia, cloves work as a preservative for medical reasons to help prevent the growth of food-borne illnesses like E.coli. Cloves’ strong, pungent, and sweet aroma aid in the taste and aroma of pumpkin spice and add an enriched flavor.Image result for cloves on the plant

Cloves have to be handpicked for harvest. After they are picked they are laid out to dry for 3 days. Click here to see how cloves are harvested and marketed.


Related imageFor thousands of years, ginger has been used to treat stomach aches and pains and nausea. Which explains my grandmother’s reasonings for eating two ginger snap cookies after every meal. I always thought it was just an excuse to eat a sweet treat but ginger really does have the property to aid in digestion. Originally from Southern Asia, it is known as a warming spice and adding a little kick to the taste buds.

The part we harvest to make ginger is the root of the plant. After we turn up the plant and take off the root, it needs to be washed and processed.


This tropical evergreen tree is native to the Spice Islands of Indonesia. Its benefits include those that interact with the nervous system, digestive system and blood circulation. The spice nutmeg has a distinctive pungent fragrance and slightly warm sweet taste. The nutmeg trees may reach a height of about Image result for nutmeg on the plant65 feet and bear fruit that is like the appearance of an apricot. Farmers have to climb the tree and pick the fruit. Once they have picked the fruit they can pick out the edible part of the plant.


This last spice is known for aiding in toothache pains. Allspice is the dried, unripe berry of Pimenta dioica, an evergreen tree. After drying down, the berries are small, dark, brown balls. Allspice comes from Jamaica, Guatemala, and Honduras. Check out this video that tells you everything you need to know about allspice.

With a combination of these flavors, the pumpkin spice flavor is created. All with the simple combination of five unique spices. So the next time you are out, take note of all the pumpkin spice creations. Maybe try a few to see which is your favorite or try recreating it on your own at home. Either way, it’s the season of sweater weather, football games, crunchy leaves, and pumpkin spice everything.


Prime, Choice, Grass-fed, Flank steak, Round roast….What does it all mean?

Standing at the meat cooler in a grocery store can be a bit overwhelming. There are so many options. And it is even more intimidating to talk to the butcher and ask for a specific cut of meat. How do you know what to ask for? There is so much lingo and jargon. All you really want is a delicious dinner for your family.

Let’s try to break it down and make sense of the word soup. Let’s be specific and talk about beef. Pork and chicken have some of their own terms.


Where the meat on the animal comes from and specifically how it is sliced or chopped, will determine the cut of meat. For beef, the animal can be broken down into four main quadrants. Cuts of meat from the hind leg are from the round. Cuts from the front leg are the chuck. The two middle sections are then the rib and the loin.

Different cuts of meat are better for different dishes that you may want to prepare. Briskets come from the chuck of the animal and can be very tough and dense meat. It needs to be cooked for a long time at a very low temperature so that the meat will break down and become softer. Briskets are perfect for corned beef. If you prefer to cook meat for a short period of time over high heat you want to start out with a cut of meat that is naturally tender. Filet mignon which is a cut of the tenderloin is known as being one of the most naturally tender cuts of meat.

If a recipe calls for a specific cut of meat, you could potentially make a substitution if you know what part of the animal it comes from. For example, you could interchange top sirloin steaks, New York strip steaks, and Filet mignons because they are all from the loin section of the animal. This video from Bon Appetit gives a complete breakdown of cuts of meat that butchers can get from a steer. Cuts from different parts of the animal can also have different flavors.


Within each cut of meat, we can assess the quality for the meat. Beef is evaluated by skilled meat graders and rated with a scale created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The meat is evaluated for tenderness, juiciness, and flavor as well as the amount of usable lean meat on the carcass. The four grades are prime, choice, select, and standard.

8424794896_550f4beb1d_h.jpgPrime beef is produced from young, well-fed beef cattle. It has abundant marbling (fat interspersed in muscle tissue). It is generally sold in restaurants and hotels. Prime roasts and steaks are excellent for dry-heat cooking such as broiling, roasting or grilling.

Choice beef is high quality, but has less marbling than Prime. Choice roasts and steaks from the loin and rib will be very tender, juicy, and flavorful and are suited for dry-heat cooking. Many of the less tender cuts can also be cooked with dry heat if not overcooked. Such cuts will be most tender if braised, roasted or simmered with a small amount of liquid in a tightly covered pan.

Select beef is very uniform in quality and normally leaner than the higher grades. It is fairly tender, but, because it has less marbling, it may lack some of the juiciness and flavor of the higher grades. Only the tender cuts should be cooked with dry heat. Other cuts should be marinated before cooking or braised to obtain maximum tenderness and flavor.

Standard and Commercial grades of beef are frequently sold as ungraded or as store brand meat. Utility, Cutter, and Canner grades of beef are seldom, if ever, sold at retail but are used instead to make ground beef and processed products.

Marketing terms

If you know the cut of meat and the quality you should be set for a high quality, delicious meal. Marketers try to help consumers understand the beef that they are buying. But sometimes it can actually muddy the waters.

One of the terms that is used is grass-fed. While this doesn’t have an official definition, it typically refers to cattle that have been raised on pasture their entire life. Many cattle spend the last two months of their life on a diet that is supplemented with corn and nutrients in addition to grass. This is called grain-finished beef. This diet of corn helps increase the marbling of the meat and can increase the quality of the final cuts. It is harder for cattle raised on only grass to achieve the Prime grade. In the United States grass-fed beef seems to have a perception of higher quality, in part because it isn’t as readily available. In other countries like Australia, grain-finished beef has a perception of being higher quality. Most beef sold in the U.S. is grain-finished.

Marketers might also use terms like hormone-free or antibiotic-free. Hormones occur naturally in the body and help the animal grow. The FDA regulates any artificial hormones that might be used. Meat raised with hormones have to be safe for humans to consume and can’t harm the animal or the environment. If hormones are used, they are usually synthetic versions of naturally occurring hormones. So, the meat can’t be 100% hormone free, but it could be synthetic hormone free.

Antibiotics are an essential strategy to help animals get healthy if they get do get sick. Just like a doctor might prescribe an antibiotic for a sick human, a veterinarian may prescribe an antibiotic for a sick animal. The important thing to know is that antibiotics have a withdrawal period before that animal can be harvested. Many antibiotics have a 60 day withdrawal period. That means that the animal waits 60 days or more before it is slaughtered. The animal won’t have antibiotics in its system or in the meat. If the meat is being sold, it is required by law to be antibiotic free. The label ‘antibiotic free’ doesn’t mean much.

beefcow34.jpgYou might also see beef labeled as 100% Black Angus. Black Angus is a great breed of cattle. There is a certification process to guarantee that it is Certified Angus Beef. However, is Black Angus better than Hereford, Simmental, or even Holstein? Some might argue that it is, but all three can grade the same and be Prime or Choice. If looking at two steaks right next to each other you, probably couldn’t tell the breed of the animal or which one is a Black Angus steak. And both steaks are going to taste great.

So the next time you are at the grocery store, stop and look at all of the labels. See if you can decipher the code and pick the best cut of meat for your next dinner.


Hey, That’s Not Hay!

759-pumpkins-on-straw-bales-pvI recently saw a sign at a local store advertising hay bales for sale. I looked around and didn’t see any. There were pumpkins, potted mums, gourds, Indian corn, and baled straw— but no hay.  It took everything in me to keep from shouting out, “Hey, that’s not hay! It’s straw.”

I see this mistake often in children’s books, on crafting and decorating blogs, and at craft stores and garden centers. Calling hay straw irritates me. It’s like calling a soccer ball a volleyball or dish soap shampoo. They may look similar at first glance, but they have very different uses.

So, what is the difference between hay and straw?

First, let’s talk about the similarities. Hay and straw are both agriculture products made from plants. They are both cut and formed into big round, big square, or small square bales. But that is where their similarity ends.

The biggest difference between hay and straw is their indented use. To put it simply, hay is food for animals and straw is bedding. The cartoons below illustrate this point well, and should ingrain the difference in your mind forever.

What they are made from is extremely important, too, and explains why each serve a different purpose. Hay is made from the entire plant; leaves, stems, flowers, and sometimes immature seeds. The whole plant has a much greater nutritional value than just dried stems. Hay is cut before the seeds have matured. This keeps valuable nutrients in the stalks and makes a nutrient-rich feed for horses, cattle, and other ruminant animals.

hay in fieldThe nutrient and protein value of hay will vary depending on what plant it is made from and when it is harvested. The fiber content of hay increases as it grows, while the protein content diminishes. Most of the protein in hay is in the leaves, while the stocks are richer in fiber.

Plants grown for hay can be divided into two categories: legumes and grasses. Legumes generally have a higher protein and calcium content than grasses because they have a higher leaves to stalk ratio. Alfalfa and clover are the two most common legumes grown for hay. Grasses used for hay include rye, timothy, orchard, and fescue. Farmers specifically plant these crops to make hay, and usually get about three cuttings of hay off one field per year.

baling-straw-360x238Straw, on the other hand, is a byproduct of cereal grains like wheat, barley, and oats. When the seeds of these crops are harvested the stems, or stalks, are left behind. Most of the stalks’ nutrients were depleted while producing seed, leaving little nutritional value as a feed source. The stalks can, however, be baled and used for straw.

Straw makes a good, inexpensive bedding for livestock. The dry stalks absorb moisture from manure, and provide a soft, clean place for animals to rest. Straw is also commonly used as garden mulch, to help establish new grass, and for outdoor décor.

If you are shopping for straw, be sure to look for golden yellow-brown bales made of stems only.  Hay is light green and include leaves and dried flowers or seed heads.

I highly recommend checking out Lucus County’s Hay Bale Art Contest to see a creative and entertaining use of bales. This annual fall event in south central Iowa includes more than 20 giant sculptures made of bales of all shapes and sizes. My kids and I visited a few years ago, and they are still talking about it.





The Story Within the Hands of Agriculture

A couple of weekends ago, I went home to de-stress a bit after the first week of classes started up for the fall semester. Nothing beats coming home for a weekend to relax, but this weekend was even more exciting because my dad found out about a farm auction that was going on.

drill handI absolutely love auctions; from the atmosphere, to the unknown treasures that are being sold, to the sweet musical sound of the auctioneer rattling off numbers and taking bids. It’s music to my ears. I’d have to say they are one of my favorite events to attend with my parents, not only because of the atmosphere, but also because of the stories that lie within the items being sold. Not just that but I love to think about the stories of the people who used these items before they were placed on the sale rack too. It’s history first hand. At this sale there were items from old cream separators, to feed sacks, to bushel baskets, to tractor seats.

While looking at these treasures, I started looking at the people at the sale who were bidding. Most were farmers both young and old, some were Amish families, and there were many others that love farm auctions, like myself. But where this story begins is when a gentlemen farmer picked up an old tractor seat. It wasn’t the seat that attracted my attention, it was his hands that did.kedric hand

They looked very similar to my dad’s, and I’ve always thought my dad has had very unique hands. You see my dad has very large powerful hands like a bear, with thick muscular fingers. There are a lot of cracks and creases and usually when I see him his hands are very dirty because of the work that he is doing on the farm, whether it be fixing tractors, working with animals, or working out in the field.

After this farmer’s hands caught my attention, I began to look around and observe everyone’s hands including my dad’s and my own. I noticed that many of the farmers that were at this auction all had hands similar to my dad’s. And then I remembered thinking back to a time when my dad and I were practicing handshakes. I remember he told me that my hands were a lot like my mothers. I never thought anything of it. I just always thought I inherited hands like my mom’s instead of my dad’s—it never struck me though that the type of work could define someone’s life through their hands.

corn shellsSo amongst my observations, I leaned over to my mom and mentioned my thoughts to her. She looked around and commented back, “Well they’ve got the farmer’s hands.” Still trying to comprehend, I questioned back and she replied, “The work that they do requires a great deal of manual strength. Their hands are muscular because they have had to adapt to the physical work they are putting in. Their hands are proof of the amount of strength needed to be a farmer.” I let that sink in a bit and then started looking around at all the items that were being auctioned off. All these items were huge advancements in their day. They were created to make farming and living easier for the ones that were using them. Even though they were considered advancements, they still required a great deal of manpower to run efficiently. The same can be said for the agriculture advancements of today. Even though we use a lot more technology and innovative farm equipment like Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and combines and planters, the equipment still requires a great deal of physical labor to be put in. The equipment won’t work unless those hands do. The work can’t be done unless those hands get to work.water handle

Now just because farmers might have larger and stronger hands than some does not mean that anyone else’s work is not successful or as hardworking. The hands of a farmer just reflect the work they do everyday. They tell a story of the trials they’ve faced and the accomplishments they’ve won. I guarantee if you sat down with a farmer and looked at his or her hands, you could see the scares, the cuts, the missing fingernails, and the burns and ask them about it and get a story to go along with it. It could be a story of the lesson they learned while fixing fence, a memory of bringing a calf into this world, or a story of the hands they’ve shook along the way. Whatever it is, these hands have experienced a great deal of trials and lived to tell a tale of it. They are unique to the agriculture industry, and a symbol of the work that is done here. Without these hands, we would have no food, no clothing, and a great deal of more work thrown on to our own shoulders. So the next time you see a farmer, shake their hand and ask for the story that is held within.