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.


What’s in a Name? GMOs

At this year’s Iowa State Fair, the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation hosted a screening of FOOD EVOLUTION every day at 1 p.m. If you are unfamiliar with FOOD EVOLUTION, it is a 90-minute documentary (soon to be available on iTunes and Hulu) that essentially outlines modern uses of genetic engineering and the scientific consensus about their usefulness, oversight, and safety.

This documentary brought forth many conversations about genetic engineering and food issues as a whole. While I always try to encourage open dialogue and a healthy level of skepticism, I soon noticed a pattern. Genetically modified organisms (or GMOs) tend to get jumbled up with a plethora of other perceived issues. Upon noticing that, I thought I would try to separate and define those issues via blog post.

O.K., folks, here we go.

Before we can really talk about GMOs, we have to understand a small bit of genetics – the root of the G in GMO.

Genetics is the study of heredity and the variation of inherited characteristics. So at the basic level, we know that organisms tend to look or behave like their parents, because they inherit those traits. The thing that codes for those traits is DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid. All living organisms – plants, animals, and microorganism included – have DNA.

The cool thing about DNA isn’t just that everything has it, it’s that it’s all made of the same stuff. DNA is made up of four nitrogenous bases (chemical compounds containing nitrogen) called adenine, guanine, thymine, and cytosine, or A, G, T, and C for short. These bases are then lined up in specific orders, and groups of these bases will code for a specific protein to be made. Those proteins are synthesized and sent on to a specific place where they are necessary. It’s like computer coding, but biological!


This can sometimes be hard for people to wrap their minds around. How can we be made of the same stuff as potatoes or rattlesnakes? While that is pretty crazy to think about, it is just nature, and isn’t necessarily something to be worried by.

So now that we have the first letter of GMO down, what’s the rest all about?

GMO may stand for “Genetically Modified Organism,” but GMO itself doesn’t have a really concrete definition. Some folks say that only things that have had their DNA altered in a lab are genetically modified, while other folks say that by artificially selecting for better crops or fruit or health, you are genetically modifying that plant.

Personally, I tend to favor the term genetic engineering, because it seems more specific. Genetic engineering, engineers the genetic code to solve specific issues.

But wait, there’s more! Genetic engineering still isn’t completely specific, because there are multiple ways to change genetic code! Genetic modification then becomes an umbrella term that includes genetic engineering, which then becomes an umbrella term including specific methods, like CRISPR-Cas9, agrobacterium-mediated transformation, and particle bombardment. The variety of genetic engineering methods can help scientists insert a helpful gene, remove a problematic gene, or even turn off production of a specific enzyme.

Concept map

The thing about talking about GMOs in terms of how they’re produced, though, is that most people don’t see that side of it. Instead, they will hear about a specific crop or trait. This can cause confusion, because scientists can look more at the accuracy and ease of use of the specific method; whereas the public may look more at the traits that are expressed or where those traits came from, which we now know doesn’t matter much, since all organisms share a similar genetic code.

One well-known trait is the Bt trait. Bt crops are named after Bacillus thuringiensis, the naturally occurring soil bacterium a specific protein was taken from. This soil bacterium is common, but when specific kinds of insects eat it, a protein within the bacterium causes complete failure of the insect’s digestive system. The protein only affects certain kinds of insects, and does not harm humans. This protein is used on many farms as an insecticide to spray on the crops. However, with the trait is inserted into the plant’s genetic code, producers don’t have to take the extra step.

This can provide many benefits, including saving time and money, as well as protecting producers from being impacted by too many pesticides. The problem, however, is that it often gets confused with another common trait, which is the Roundup® Ready trait.

Roundup® Ready is the brand name for crops that are tolerant to the herbicide glyphosate. Monsanto’s brand name for glyphosate is Roundup®, therefore, Roundup® and Roundup® Ready can be used together. Herbicides have been used for a long time, and different herbicides might target only broadleaf plants or only grasses, and some are nonselective, meaning they will kill all plants. Glyphosate is a nonselective herbicide, is very effective, and has a toxicity less than that of caffeine or salt. Really, it’s quite an amazing piece of technology.

Basically, the Roundup® Ready trait enabled farmers to spray for weeds while their crops were in the field. Prior to this, farmers either had to pull those weeds by hand, or use tillage to dig the plants up. Herbicide tolerant crops meant that farmers could spend less time managing weeds, while being able to drastically slow soil erosion by practicing no-till and conservation tillage. No-till farming is also being shown to improve other things, like soil structure and health, decrease soil compaction, and improve nutrient and water-holding capacities of the soil.

Let’s review. Bt and Roundup® Ready are two of the main traits people think about when discussing GM technology, especially in Iowa. Bt means that the plant will kill harmful insects without extra pesticides. Roundup® Ready means the crop won’t die if glyphosate is used on it. There are only a select few species of plants that have these technologies, including corn and soybeans, but because of the types of crops associated, they are the most commonly talked about in Iowa.

weekly food menu

Sometimes these two can get mixed up with each other, which can be easy to do since genetic engineering is a complicated topic. However, it is important to understand the differences in certain things to be able to discuss them well. Especially since these are only two of the applications of genetic engineering. Some others are papaya trees resistant to the debilitating Papaya Ring Spot Virus; potatoes resistant to bruising, which reduces food waste; bananas that are resistant to the Banana Wilt Disease; and rice fortified with beta carotene, which can keep children from developing blindness due to vitamin A deficiencies.

Each one of these applications is tested vigorously by the group creating it, as well as specific government agencies. In the U.S., GMOs are overseen by the USDA, EPA, and FDA to ensure safety to humans, to the environment, and other factors. This testing and approval process can take 7 to 20 years. Each application has different nuances that need to be analyzed. But to reiterate, each application only has a small change in one or a very few number of genes. These genes are made up of a common genetic code across all species. Modern technologies for editing these genes are precise and accurate, and testing of these organisms costs an average of $130 million.

In the film FOOD EVOLUTION, the scientists make it clear that they want the data to help them form their opinions. Currently, there is no evidence that shows any negative health effects of consuming GMOs, but many still agree that testing needs to continue to happen with every application to ensure that no mistakes happen in the future.

If you still have questions about GMOs, or are interested in learning more, I’ll put below some good resources to check out. If you have some other favorite resources, please put them in the comments below!

Happy learning!

GMO Answers

What is CRISPR-Cas? Video

How does Agrobacterium-mediated gene transfer work? Video

How are GMOs Created? Video



Break The Fast

Whether you are young or old, you have probably heard or said “Eat your breakfast- It’s the most important part of the day.” Why is it so important, and what kind of food is best 146807105_4x3to start the day with? My daughters are now grown and I still tell them how important it is to feed your body in the morning. I would say, “You have to break the fast – eat a healthy breakfast!” But as young kids, my girls didn’t want to eat breakfast. I had to be creative at times to get them to eat. It can be fun to create new and crazy things that are healthy to eat. (Like a mock pizza for breakfast – English muffin with a little pizza sauce and mozzarella cheese.)

Eating healthy food in your breakfast meal helps fuel the body. Eating foods that are rich Capturein whole grains, fiber, and protein and low in sugar helps to enhance a child’s ability to concentrate and focus for better learning in the school day. Foods high in fiber are things like apples, bananas, berries, as well as bran cereal, oats and English muffins. It is easy to link healthy food to the foods that farmers provide to us throughout the year. By adding a glass of milk, you also supply the child much needed calcium and protein. Finding foods that are nutritious and not packed full of sugar can be easier if you concentrate and try to provide something from at least three of the five food groups which consist of vegetables, fruits, grain, dairy and protein. It could be as easy as a piece of toast with peanut butter and bananas, along with a glass of milk or juice.

Teachers should watch for signs from children that come to school hungry. They might be sluggish, less alert, and have difficulty concentrating. Schools face problems of children coming to school hungry and because of this many are serving free breakfast. Some schools are serving breakfast in the classroom, so that there is no shame in not being able to afford the food. As parback to schoolents, we don’t want our kids’ grades to falter because they can’t stay focused. There is reason to believe that eating well does help performance of students. Many studies have been done and they all express the same results that those who eat breakfast perform better than those who do not.

It is important to provide kids healthy options. Sugary food is nice and sweet and spike the blood sugar levels, but then in just a couple of hours the levels fall and kids are hungry. Foods that are absorbed slower into the body provide energy that can last until lunch time. This would be the difference of a sugary bowl of cereal or a bowl of granola. Food is fuel for kids. As parents, we need make healthy choices as well as teach our children how to eat healthy. Food gives the body energy, as well as works throughout the body healing and helping bones and muscles to grow strong and healthy

Now that I am a grandma, I try to be even more fun with the breakfast options. It doesn’t have to take a long time. Many things can be prepared the night before to lessen the stress in the morning. Try prepackaging fruits and nuts into mini baggies. Prep fruit the night before for a fruit smoothie they can drink on the way to school. Go ahead, be adventurous and get your creativity going. Have fun making great things for breakfast!



What’s Cookin’? – Bacon & Ricotta Polenta

IMG_3702.JPGThe Iowa State Fair brings approximately a million people to Des Moines. It is a time to celebrate new foods, carnival rides, traditions, harvest, and fun. We can be found around the fairgrounds sharing the story of agriculture literacy. At the Elwell Family Food building we shared a cooking demonstration connecting the farm-to-fork. With a delicious recipe, we discussed where each product came from — the farm.

This recipe makes a delicious appetizer. Slightly bigger portions could turn this into the perfect side dish. Polenta is cornmeal used in Italian cooking, so you can think of this as this as Italian cornbread. Where does corn meal come from? How about the other ingredients? Here is the story of Bacon & Ricotta Polenta Bites.

IMG_3718.JPGCornmeal: Although Iowa farmers do raise some of the best-tasting sweet corn in the country, less than 1% of the corn grown in our state is sweet corn. Although one is considered a vegetable and the other a grain, sweet corn and field corn are close relatives. Sweet corn is a naturally occurring genetic mutation of field corn. The sweet corn plant is shorter, matures faster, and its kernels have a higher sugar content. Cornmeal actually comes from field corn. Field corn is harvested after it is dried in the field. The corn kernels can then be ground up to make cornmeal. Field corn can be used for a variety of human foods (everything from tortilla chips to the corn syrup in ketchup), but it can also be used to feed livestock or turned into ethanol as fuel for vehicles.

Bacon:  This tasty pork product comes from the side and belly of the pig. Pork bellies are cured in a salt brine and flavorings to provide the rich taste. The curing process evolved before refrigeration as a way of preserving the meat. Iowa is the number one producer of pork in the U.S. Companies like Farmland Foods and JBS Swift have meat packing plants in Iowa and employ hundreds of Iowans.

Cheese: Cheese is typically made from cows’ milk but can also be made from sheep, goat, and other animals’ milk. The flavor of cheese comes from the type of milk, the butterfat content, and also the type of bacteria and/or mold used in the aging process. Cheese might have a slight natural yellow color, but the dark yellow color of cheeses like cheddar come from the addition of food coloring.

Milk:  Milk or heavy cream is a great source of protein and vitamin D in our diets. Most dairy cows in the U.S. are Holstein (the black and white ones) which are prized for their ability to produce almost 9 gallons of milk per day. Once milk is collected from the cow it is trucked to a processing plant where it is homogenized and pasteurized before bottling. Once bottled it is sent off to grocery stores or other consumer outlets. The whole process takes less than 48 hours and the milk is never touched by human hands.

Chicken stock: Iowa raises a lot of chickens. There are three different categories of chickens raised with many different species in each category. Chickens are broilers (raised for meat), ornamentals (raised for feathers), and layers (raised for eggs). Most of Iowa’s chickens are layers. Chicken broth is made from boiling the meat and bones. The juice from this cooking process is chicken broth and can be used for soups or flavorings.

Vegetable Oil: Most vegetable oil is made from soybeans. Iowa and Illinois are the two biggest soybean growers in the U.S. After the soybeans are harvested in the fall they are crushed to extract the oil.

Pepper:  Black pepper comes from the fruit of a pepper plant species which grows in hot and humid tropical climates. The unripe dried fruit, called peppercorns, are ground into the spice we call pepper. Pepper was one of the spices that early explores traded because of its high value. It came from the spice islands of southeast Asia which also were known for nutmeg, mace and cloves.

Salt: Salt isn’t exactly an agricultural product. But, is an important component because it is the only rock that humans seek out and regularly consume. Salt can be harvested from salt pans (dried lakes) or mined from underground.

IMG_2773.JPGOregano and basil: Basil and oregano are herbs that are typically associated with Italian cooking. The herbs grow quickly and are great for home gardeners. Harvest the leaves and cut the stems back for continued regrowth. Local herb growers commercially produce a wide range of herbs sold in locally grocery stores including basil and oregano.

And the recipe…

  • 3 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 ½ cups course cornmeal
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 6 strips of bacon
  • 15 oz. whole milk ricotta
  • 1 cup fresh chopped oregano & basil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Vegetable oil


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and generously grease a 9×13-inch baking dish.
  2. Whisk together the cornmeal, whole milk, chicken stock, Parmesan cheese, and salt and pour into the baking dish. Bake for 50 to 70 minutes or until firm. Refrigerate overnight.
  3. Fry bacon until crisp. Drain the fat and refrigerate, if not using immediately.
  4. Mix together the ricotta, herbs, salt, and pepper. Taste and season more if desired. Refrigerate if not using immediately.
  5. Remove the chilled, firm polenta from the fridge and brush lightly with vegetable oil. Place under a broiler for 5-10 minutes.
  6. Slice into triangles and remove from pan. Spoon a dollop of the ricotta onto each triangle and sprinkle some bacon.



Why do they do that? – Walking Beans

 When I was young I got many compliments on my nice golden tan. Many people thought I spent my summer as a lifeguard, playing softball, or laying out in the backyard sipping lemonade and listening to music like many girls my age. My tan was earned in a much less “cool” way – walking beans.

Early in the morning, my mom or dad would drive my brothers and me out to a weedy soybean field. With a hoe in hand, we’d walk the half-mile long rows removing any plants in the field that were not soybeans. Buttonweed, milkweed, sunflower, morning glory, fox tail, and cockle bur plants are common weeds in Iowa soybean fields.  These weeds compete with soybean plants for valuable moisture and nutrients.  If they are not removed, soybean yield can decrease, the plants go to seed resulting in a weedier field next year, and the field will look unkempt. A farmer’s tolerance for weeds varies just as much as a person’s acceptance of a messy desk. Some are okay with a few weeds, while others prefer a pristine field.

Many farmers used a bean hook or corn knife to walk beans, but not us. Dad’s preferred tool was a hoe. I’m not sure if that’s because he didn’t trust us with sharp objects, or because a hoe did a better job. 

We would go back and forth down the rows until it was time for dinner (that’s lunch on the farm) or the field was weed free.

Early-to-mid July was prime bean walking season. Before planting and early in the growing-season, farmers used a tractor and cultivator or rotary hoe to remove the weeds. These machines worked great, but they could only be used when the soybeans were small and there was ample space between the rows.

Weeds usually weren’t a problem late in the growing season either. In August and September the soybean plants were large enough to shade the space between the rows, making it difficult for emerging weeds to thrive.

During the era when walking beans was common, farmers also used chemicals, called herbicides, to control weeds. Before planting, pre-emergent herbicides were applied and incorporated into the top few inches of soil. Like their name suggests, these chemicals must be used before weeds emerge since they prevent weed seeds from germinating. Pre-emergent herbicides are only effective on select weeds types, so a combination of pre-emergents are often used to kill multiple weed species. Because most pre-emergent herbicides are effective when tilled into the soil, their use declined as the popularity of no-till farming increased.

Walking beans is rarely needed today thanks to the development of Roundup® Ready soybeans in the late 1990’s. Roundup® (glyphosate), is a non-selective post-emergence herbicide.  In layman’s terms, it kills all plant types when sprayed on plants’ leaves. It works by interfering with plants’ ability to produce essential amino acids. Glyphosate was patented in the 1970’s and widely used by farmers and home-owners.

Glyphosate resistant crops are genetically engineered to be resistant to glyphosate. Using a gene gun scientists insert germplasm from a bacterium into seeds so that they can still produce the amino acids. Then when glyphosate is sprayed it kills the weeds but leaves the desired crop. This technology greatly reduced the need to mechanically remove weeds, both with tractors and tillage equipment and by hand with a crew of young bean-walkers. This Roundup® Ready trait has been introduced to corn, soybeans, canola, cotton, sorghum, and even alfalfa.

Using Roundup® and other herbicides is not the only tool farmers use to control weeds. Tillage methods and crop rotation are important too.  And sometimes, even in Iowa, farmers still walk beans.

Walking beans didn’t take much skill, but I did learn some valuable skills in those hot soybean fields.

  1. Get the job you dread the most done early in the day.
  2. Be thorough. It takes less time to do a job well, than it does redoing a sloppy job later.
  3. The gratification of a job well done is worth the pain of a few blisters you get along the way.
  4. When you remove the bad things, the good things will thrive.
  5. Good company & a little humor always help.

      – Cindy


      Where Is Agriculture?

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

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

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

      PaintA2-without directionsjpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      corn post jpg

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

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

      soybean poster

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

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

      Without Ag jpg

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