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?


Unique Agriculture Commodities: Plot Harvester

Last week I was driving in Ames near Iowa State University. As I drove by the outskirts of the campus, there were pieces of land broken into small sections. Each section had a crop growing, some were covered with nets, others had small signs in front of them, while some had been roped off from the other sections. These sections of land are known as “test plots.” As a scientist myself, these plots are always fascinating as they give you a glimpse into the future technology of agriculture.  

Every year scientists, agriculturalists, and researchers are working to develop new technology to improve yields. These improvements are necessary to reduce agricultural impacts on the environment, and to keep up with the world’s growing needs of food, fiber, and fuel. But, before new seed, fungicide, pesticide, and herbicide varieties become commercial products farmers can purchase (check out our blog A Day in the Life of a Seed Dealer), they must be tested and verified. Test plots can be found all around the world as researchers investigate the effectiveness of a new product (e.g., seed variety, fungicide, pesticide, herbicide, etc.), or if a product can work in a new location. Each research question is specific, but every researcher has a goal of collecting data. The type of data collected is based on the research question. For example, if a research team is investigating a new seed variety, they might collect data on drought tolerance, wind resistance, pest and fungal resistance, and yield. While a research team that investigates a fungicide might gather data on yield, moisture, infection rate, and seed weight. Gathering this data is critical to the success of future technology that can be available to growers, because if the product doesn’t do well, it will not be approved for distribution. 

Collecting Data

Some of the data researchers gather can be done using simple tools like a ruler, scale, or image chart. Other data may need to be collected using complex tools that can measure fat (lipid) amounts or moisture levels within a single sample. Though data can be collected at any time during the growing season, many researchers collect at harvest, and test plot harvest requires specialized machines. Research scientists want to eliminate as much human error as possible. One way they can do this is by using customized equipment that is tailored to their specific research needs. Engineers, mechanics, and technicians work with a team to develop machinery to be used in these plots to gather data and to maneuver in a smaller area. 

Harvesting a Test Plot

In the fall, crops are harvested using a combine. This machine helps to remove the seed (e.g., corn, soybean, etc.) from the plant material to then be sold to make other products like corn syrup or feed for livestock. The combine is a menagerie of simple tools. For example, when harvesting corn the combine will cut the stalk, remove the ear, husk the ear, and shell the corn off the cob. Depending on what is being harvested the head (or front) of the combine can be changed to fit the crop harvest needs. Commercial, or large scale, combines today can harvest up to 32 rows (~42 feet) at a time.  

Commercial combine

Just like a commercial combine, plot harvesters include the same basic parts. When harvesting corn they will cut the stalk, remove the ear, husk the ear, and shell the corn off the cob. Their heads can be interchanged to fit the crop that is being harvested. Unlike a conventional combine, plot harvesters are much smaller. Test plots are broken into small pieces of land rather than large acres in one field. This requires a smaller combine that harvests on average four rows at a time. When harvesting a test plot, they are gathering samples and data along the way. To do this, plot harvesters have more tools than a commercial combine. The tools increase efficiency while also reducing human error (a big positive for research!). Many of them will have built-in moisture readers, seed scales, seed samplers, external seats for a sample bagger, and automatic bagging systems to collect and package seed samples. Once harvested, the test plot seeds are sent back to the lab for detailed analysis to help the research team with their investigation. 

Plot Machines in Iowa

A thresher, a harvest machine, that separates seed from the plant.

There are several companies that engineer and design agricultural machinery to be used in test plots, and you don’t have to travel too far in Iowa to find one. ALMACO is in the heart of the Midwest, and the current town I live in, Nevada, Iowa. The first time I drove by ALMACO I was perplexed not only by how to say their name (it’s “al-may-co” if you’re wondering) but by the machines I saw.  

As you peak through the large garage door that faces 2nd Street, you’ll see an iconic blue, and in the summer, what looks like a miniature combine. The combine structure is narrow, and the heads are small and vary based on the crop to be harvested. ALMACO’s harvesting equipment has been engineered to be used in fields of wheat, rice, corn, soybeans and more. One of their most recent harvesters, the R2 Twin-Plot Rotary Harvester, has a dual head and chamber allowing it to harvest two plots at the same time. From within the cab researchers (sometimes a graduate student or intern) can monitor yield, moisture, and the equipment can even be engineered to take samples of the seed automatically. These technological advancements can reduce harvest time and increase time researchers spend in the lab gathering more data and analyzing that data. 

ALMACO planter

In the spring you might catch a glimpse of an ALMACO planter with large magazine cartridges filled with seed. The planter utilizes some basic technology that would be in a commercial planter, but also includes specific technology based on the research team’s needs. For example, if the team is investigating seed varieties, the equipment might have variable rate planting depth and specific chambers for each seed type (like the magazine cartridges). Or, if the research team wants to test fertilizer it might have separate tanks that contain each variety. Researchers and technicians can then program the planter to know what seed or fertilizer should be planted at any given spot in the test field. These technological changes increase efficiency and safety for researchers, reduce the risk of contamination, and reduce human error (again, a big plus for research!).  

Each of these machines have been designed, engineered, and manufactured to aid in the advancement of agriculture technology. With the equipment being custom built, researchers and manufacturers (like ALMACO) have the flexibility to tailor equipment to researcher questions and needs. Together they work to reduce agricultural impacts on the environment, and to keep up with the world’s growing needs of food, fiber, and fuel. 

My Takeaways

  • Seeds, fungicide, pesticide, and herbicides all need to be tested before entering the commercial market. 
  • Research teams are always innovating new technology to improve food, fuel, and fiber, while also being sustainable. 
  • Test plots require specific harvest and planting machines. 
  • ALMACO designs, engineers, and manufactures custom equipment based on the needs of the research group. 
  • There are many career opportunities within the development side of agriculture.  


Want to Learn More

Education Resources

**I wanted to take a moment to thank ALMACO for providing images and videos for this blog.  

A Day in the Life of a Tire Repair Technician

Ever since the invention of the wheel, humankind has been going places. People need to haul things from point a to point b and they try to do so as efficiently as possible, so they use wheels. 

However, one of the major issues of wheels was and is, wear and tear. While the constant rotation around a central axle was excellent for carrying heavy things or moving quickly, it meant that the wheel would slowly wear away over time. They wouldn’t wear away evenly either. A chip, a rock or simple uneven wear would make the wheel no longer round causing the expensive task of replacing something that wasn’t quite broken. What was needed was an expendable layer that would absorb damage, wear away and then be easily replaced at a much more affordable cost than a brand-new wheel. That is what a tire does.

Agriculture is an industry that includes a lot of transportation, and a lot of hours on the road. This adds up to A LOT of  tires. So, farmers need reliable tire repair technicians. Our tire repair technician goes by the name, “Paco” and he owns and operates Paco’s Tire in Underwood, Iowa. Also known as Jeff Andersen, Paco has a motto, “if it rolls we fix it”. He told me about his most unusual tire repair, a stroller tire.

“Paco” of Paco’s Tires

The tire shop is open from 8-5 Monday through Friday and Saturday mornings. People bring in all types of tires for repair and Paco sends service trucks out to the country if a fix is needed in a field. When I asked Paco what the most difficult part of his job was, he told me ordering new tires and coordinating the delivery of those tires. When people want their vehicles serviced, they want to be sure those vehicles are up and running again as soon as possible. Paco and his customers have to wait when delivery trucks run late, certain tires are unavailable, or companies are short staffed and can’t hire enough people to load tires.

Coordinating schedules isn’t the only problem when running a tire repair shop. This can be a dangerous job if a tire wall is weak, and the psi (pounds per square inch) causes an explosion. Paco uses a tire inflation cage when making repairs. One of the main reasons he uses a tire inflation cage is because most large truck tires are made out of different components that can fly out of the tire at high speeds. If a person is standing too close to an unprotected tire during inflation, he or she risks experiencing devastating injuries such as head injuries, cuts, and lacerations – which could be fatal. Paco trains his employees to watch and listen and be ready to protect themselves in case of a blowout.

On the job training is something a new technician can expect to receive once hired by Paco. He looks for people who have experience around tires and then spends two or three days having them watch how he works. The next days are spent working tires while a trained technician watches, taking up to two weeks before the new hire is ready to work on their own. Paco employs three technicians, a bookkeeper, and works on tires himself. He strives to be honest with his customers and deliver a high-quality product and reliable service. He has been working with tires since 1989.

Tire technicians repair and install tires on cars, trucks, and heavy vehicles. They mostly work for vehicle repair shops, tire stores, and dealerships. The duties of a tire technician include installing, balancing, and repairing tires for passenger cars and commercial vehicles. They may also be required to perform roadside assistance.

A successful technician needs to have good communication skills and be able to perform physically demanding tasks. Ultimately, an outstanding tire technician can work quickly and efficiently, while maintaining high industry standards.

As a tire repair technician and a small business owner, Paco is always working to set boundaries between home and work life, but here are some other Tire Technician Responsibilities:

  • Talking to the customer about any issues they are experiencing.
  • Inspecting and assessing tire tread levels, wear patterns, valve quality, and overall health.
  • Recommending appropriate repair treatment or replacement of tires.
  • Repairing punctures and replacing faulty valves.
  • Installing new tires.
  • Balancing tires and completing wheel alignment procedures.
  • Studding tires for snow use.
  • Retreading tires for tractors and other off-road vehicles.
  • Conducting inventory and maintaining equipment.
  • Conducting road-side repairs.

Tire Technician Requirements:

  • High school diploma or GED.
  • Good communication skills.
  • Proven work experience as a tire technician.
  • Attention to detail.
  • Extensive knowledge of tire patterns and material composition.
  • Ability to lift heavy objects.
  • Ability to work in a crouched or standing position for extended periods.

There are as many different types of tires on a farm as there are pieces of equipment. We have tires for tractors, sprayers, wagons, trailers, combines, semi-trucks and pickups, just to name a few.

Six foot tires on the boom sprayer.

Keeping the farmer rolling is a huge priority for agriculture. So to Paco, and to all of the other tire repair technicians, we thank you!


Unique Agriculture Commodities: Asparagus

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

Wild Asparagus (Photo credit: Virginia State Parks)

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

Why Asparagus?

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

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

Asparagus farming in Iowa…

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

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

Harvesting asparagus

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

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

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

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

Try it at Home

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

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

My Takeaways

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


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

Foraging for Wild Asparagus: Hunting and Cooking – DNR News Releases (

Consider a Springtime Favorite: Asparagus | News (

Growing Asparagus | Iowa Ingredient – YouTube

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

A Day in the Life of an Agricultural Engineer

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

Running the skid loader for dad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tyler Marion

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

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

Agricultural engineering responsibilities include:

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

Agricultural engineering jobs include:

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

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


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


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

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

Goat fiber breeds and types of fiber

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

Angora Goats

Angora goat, photo courtesy of the American Goat Federation

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

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

Cashmere Goats

Cashmere goat, photo courtesy of the American Goat Federation

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

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

Closing thought

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



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

Food From the Farm

During regular classroom programing in the last month, I have had three students tell me, “Mrs. Bruck, my food doesn’t come from the farm. My parents buy it at the grocery store.” I have to admit, this is the part about teaching Agriculture in the Classroom I really look forward to. Helping students realize there is a “before the store.” Then walking them through the many steps it takes to get from the farm to the table is a lesson I feel will serve them well their entire lives.

Students learns about agriculture and colors the handout “From Farm to You”. see link above

Did you know that less than two percent of the people in this world are farmers? That means that most children will not have the first-hand experiences of growing their food. I tell my students that every one of your parents, and one day, every one of you, will get to work at whatever job you want because you will have trusted a farmer to feed your families.

I begin lessons by asking the question, “what is agriculture.” I tell them not to worry if they’re not sure, some adults have a hard time defining agriculture as well. I get answers like farming, something you plant, animals, a type of culture, and my favorite, something you do outside. All good answers, but I ask the students to think specifically about the three F’s. I write the letter F on the whiteboard three times vertically and tell them agriculture is something you eat – food. Something you put in your vehicle – fuel. And something you write on, build with or wear – fibers. And lastly, I remind the students that agriculture is everything it takes to get the food, fuel, and fibers from the producers  to the consumers. This process includes many people like field workers, truck drivers, packagers, veterinarians, bankers, grocers, agronomists, seed dealers and many more.

Teaching students about the supply chain, can be an overwhelming job, but there is a multitude of lesson plans and resources available that make it easier. Some of the lessons include:

  • Agriculture Pays In this lesson, kindergarten through second grade students discover that agricultural careers are interconnected, and that agriculture influences many parts of their daily lives.
  • A Day Without Agriculture teaches students grades 3-5 to explore the wide scope of agriculture, identify the variety of agricultural products they use in their daily lives, and discuss the difference between needs and wants.
  • Digging Into Nutrients will help middle school students  gain background knowledge of the nutrient requirements of plants, how those nutrients are obtained by the plant, what farmers must do if the nutrients are not available in soils, and current issues related to agricultural production.

This seventh grade student is demonstrating how plants “drink” nutrients. The soil will need to be replenished if the farmer wants to continue to increase his or her yield.
  • Helping students understand how packing plants work and materials are processed can be accomplished with these lessons:
  • Corn to Cereal  Students will sequence photographs to tell the story of Seed to Cereal, while learning about corn production, beef production, ethanol production, and food production in general.
  • Cotton to Blue Jeans Students will learn about goods and services and how different goods get from the farm to the consumer.  
  • Farm Economics and Food Processing  Students will learn about the steps involved in producing food and other goods from farm to our homes, including how farmers use natural resources to grow plants and animals, how they are sold, and how companies turn them into the good we purchase at the store.

It’s never too early (or too late) to start learning about where your food comes from. Having grown up in the city, I never even considered where my own food, fuels, or fibers came from. As far as I was concerned, they all came from the store. Marrying a farmer sure changed that by giving me a firsthand knowledge regarding what really goes on in agriculture, and how much work it takes to live on a farm. Volunteering in schools has allowed me to bring my experiences local classrooms. Be sure to reach out to your county’s Agriculture in the Classroom coordinator today!


Lessons Learned

As much as I don’t want to admit it, this will be my last blog as the 2021 education programs intern. This year has been a whirlwind and not at all what I expected, but I loved it. I want to take you through the ride of my last ten months at IALF.

Spring –

Teaching North Polk 6th graders about cover crops

I started this internship in the middle of January. Looking back to this season of life, I would tell myself: don’t be so nervous! I was always worried I would mess something up, and I put a lot of pressure on myself. These feelings did not stem from the team at IALF, but something I did to myself. I seemed to forget that I was here to learn! The nerves slowly wore off as my internship continued, and I found my confidence as I learned my way around the organization.

As for my work, most of the spring semester I was just getting the hang of what my job as the education programs intern entailed. I did a lot of behind the scenes work at IALF helping prepare for summer professional development workshops. One of my larger projects was to compile a list of all the teachers in surrounding school districts for the summer professional development workshops. After finding the teachers, I emailed them asking them to register for our workshops. This was a great opportunity for me to talk teachers interested in teaching agriculture for the first time. Many teachers that I emailed I met a few months later that summer!

The IALF team at National Conference

My favorite part of the spring was when I finally was able to meet some of my co-workers in person! Thanks to COVID-19, almost all of my interactions with my co-workers had been via email or Zoom. In May, I had my first in-person event. I had worked with IALF for five months and met my co-worker Chrissy for the first time face-to-face! On this day, I helped with North Polk Middle School’s ag day for sixth graders. This was extra special because this is where I once went to school! I taught students about cover crops and watersheds through hands-on activities. This one event helped me out a ton deciding what I wanted to do after I graduate from Iowa State University.

Summer –

The summer was busy, yet so fun! I transitioned to work with IALF full-time. Most of my summer was spent either planning for teacher professional development workshops or attending them. I traveled with Will all over the state. Some of the places I visited were Oskaloosa, Eldridge, Ames and Peosta. While our touristy moments were limited due to COVID-19, it was a great time getting out of Des Moines and meeting educators all over the state and even the country.

My highlight of the summer would have to be National Agriculture in the Classroom Conference. I saw how much work the IALF team put into executing this conference and it was fun to see it all pan out right in front of my eyes. I was able to meet some amazing people, plus help with the conference. The majority of my week went towards helping with registration, running our virtual booth, leading a traveling workshop, and doing other odd jobs as needed.

Showing students in Marshalltown antique tools

Fall –

Here we are, the fall. I’ve done many projects here and there. I talked to a few schools about antique and modern agriculture equipment, wrote a lesson plan on Christmas trees, wrote articles for our Iowa Ag Today magazine and I’m currently creating an impact report for last year’s teacher’s supplement grant. One last thing I’m excited to participate in is our Agriculture in the Classroom Learning Conference. While I only have a month or so left of my internship, I know that more exciting things are to come.

If you know of a college student needing an internship in the next few years encourage them to check out IALF. I highly recommend it!


Iowa’s Commodities are Sweet and Savory: Iowa’s Big Four Winners

Cool, brisk mornings and a changing landscape of color…fall is clearly upon us. But before we leave summer behind, we’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate our Iowa State Fair – Iowa Big Four Competition winners.

This year the Iowa State Fair was back live and in-person. Annually, the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation honors Iowa’s agriculture industry and its biggest commodities – corn, soybeans, pork, and eggs through our Iowa Big Four Cooking Contest. Before we dive into the winning recipes, here is a quick snapshot of Iowa’s agricultural landscape.

Iowa Agriculture Facts
When it comes to helping feed, fuel, and clothe the world, Iowa has a lot to be proud of.

  • Iowa has some of the richest and most productive soil in the world so it’s no surprise that Iowa is a major contributor to agriculture.
  • Did you know? One in five Iowa jobs is tied to agriculture.
  • Iowa ranks first in the U.S. in corn production and second in soybean production.
  • Iowa leads the nation in pigs, egg, and commercial red meat production.
  • More than 30 percent of the nation’s pigs come from Iowa (24.8 million or 7 hogs per person!).
  • Iowa has 47 million egg laying hens that produced 12.4 billion eggs in 2020.
  • Iowa produces enough eggs to feed every American one egg per day for 52 days.
  • Iowa ranks second in total agricultural exports. Iowa farmers exported $12.6 billion work of agricultural products in 2020.

Iowa’s Big Four Contest is both savory and sweet
At our food competition, aspiring chefs from across Iowa prepare a sweet and/or savory dish using at least two of the big four Iowa commodity ingredients or by-products of corn, soybeans, pork, or eggs. The entries are judged by a panel of experts representing the commodity organizations that are responsible for helping farmers. This year, Anne Rehnstrom (Iowa Pork Producers Association) and Carrie Dodds (Iowa Corn Growers Association) served as our judges.

Iowa’s Big Four Winner – Sweet Category

This year’s winning recipe in the sweet category was Flyover State Doughnuts submitted by Alisa Woods from Des Moines. The recipe uses eggs, corn, and bacon. The second place prize went to Olivia Smith of Winterset with her Iowa Chocolate Orange Cake Pops. Rita Cashman Becker of Fort Madison came in third place with her Candied Bacon Lemon-Lime Strawberry Bars.

Doughnut Ingredients
1 and 1/8 cup Whole Milk, Warm
¼ cup Sugar
2 ¼ tsp (one package) Active Dry Yeast
2 whole large eggs, lightly beaten
1 ¼ sticks unsalted butter, melted
4 cups All-Purpose Flour
½ tsp Salt
Vegetable oil for frying

Doughnut Instructions
Place the milk in the microwave for 45 seconds – 1 minute. Add to the bowl of your stand mixer with the sugar and yeast and stir to combine. Let it set for 5 minutes.

To the stand mixer, add the eggs and butter, then stir.

Using a dough hook, slowly add the flour and salt while the mixer is running and mix for 5 minutes.

Let the dough stand for 10 minutes before turning out into a large, greased bowl. Cover and place in the fridge for 4 hours or overnight.

Once the dough has chilled, roll out on a well floured surface and cut circles with a large biscuit cutter. Don’t cut the middle circle of the doughnut because this is going to be a filled doughnut. Cover and let them rise for an hour. Preheat your oil to 350 and fry until golden brown on both sides, flipping halfway through.

Sweet Corn Pastry Cream Ingredients
2 cups Whole Milk
1 ear of Corn, Kernels cut off and reserved
6 large Egg Yolks
½ cup Sugar
1/3 cup Cornstarch, sifted
3 ½ tbsp Unsalted Butter, softened

Sweet Corn Pastry Instructions
In a saucepan, combine the milk, kernels, and cobs of the corn. The cobs hold a lot of flavor so don’t leave them out. Bring the milk to a slow simmer and set aside for 5 minutes. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine yolks, sugar, and cornstarch. Whisk well. Remove the cobs, leaving the kernels, and slowly pour into the yolk and sugar mixture, whisking constantly. Continue to whisk as you return it to the heat. Let it heat until it starts to thicken, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and pour into a bowl. Place that bowl in an ice bath and stir in the butter as the mixture cools.

Glaze Ingredients/Instructions
½ cup Butter, melted
1 tsp Vanilla
1 tsp Maple Extract
4 cups Powdered Sugar
3 tbsp Heavy Cream

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and whisk until smooth.

Bacon Ingredients
8 slices of Applewood Bacon
Maple Syrup
¼ cup Brown Sugar

Bacon Instructions
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place the bacon on a greased tin foil lined baking sheet. Drizzle with maple and brown sugar. Bake 8-10 minutes, depending on how thick your bacon is. Let it cool and chip into small pieces.

To assemble, fill the doughnuts with pastry cream, making sure to fill the whole doughnut. Dip the top in the maple glaze and sprinkle with bacon bits.

Iowa’s Big Four Winner – Savory Category
This year’s winning recipe in the savory category was Iowa’s Breakfast Burrito submitted by Brooklyn Sedlock of Indianola, Iowa. The recipe uses pork, corn, and eggs. Jacqueline Riekena of West Des Moines placed second with her Summer Corn Salad recipe. And, Larry Mahlstedt of Des Moines came in third place with his Pig Powder Party Iowa Mix recipe.

4 tsp Soy Sauce
1 large Yellow Bell Peppers (1 cup)
1 large Green Bell Pepper (1 cup)
1 small white onion (1/4 cup)
6 small Russet potatoes (4 cups diced)
1 – 12 oz package Ground Breakfast Pork Sausage
3 tbsp Olive oil
2 ears Iowa Sweet Corn
1 tsp Cilantro
4 flour burrito shells
4 tsp Goat Cheese
3 tsp Greek Seasoning
2 tsp Salt
2 tsp Pepper
4 large eggs
¼ cup half and half
¼ tsp salt
1 tbsp unsalted butter
¼ tsp black pepper

In a large skillet add 2 tbsp of soy sauce and the 12 oz package of ground pork sausage. While the pork is cooking, dice up the peppers and onion. In a medium stockpot, boil water and add the 2 ears of sweet corn. Boil about 3 minutes or until cooked. Then cut the corn off the cob and set aside. When the pork is almost done add the peppers, onion, corn, and last 2 tbsp of soy sauce in with the pork. Sauté until everything is cooked. Drain any excess soy sauce from the pan.

In a medium skillet, put the olive oil. Dice up the potatoes. It should be about 4 cups and place in skillet with olive oil. Finely chop up the cilantro and sprinkle over the potatoes. Add 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp pepper to the potatoes. Cook until tender.

Now add the potatoes to the pork and veggies. Stir together and add 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp pepper and the Greek Seasoning. Heat on low if it has started to cool off.

Cook your eggs as directed below to make scramble eggs.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, half and half, and salt. Mix until it is uniform in color and is light and foamy.

Melt the butter in a small non-stick pan over medium heat until the butter coats the pan and begins to foam. Add the eggs to the center of the pan and reduce the heat to medium low. Wait until the edge barely starts to cook. Using a rubber spatula, gently push the eggs from one end of the pan to the other. Continue doing this until the uncooked egg has all settled on the warm pan. Gently push any liquid to form curds. When the eggs are mostly cooked, make big folds but still look wet, fold the eggs into itself just a few times bringing the eggs together. Remove from heat when the eggs shimmer with some moisture. Finish with pepper.

Warm the burrito shell in a small skill about 20-30 seconds then begin to assemble. Put ¼ cup of eggs and ¼ cup of potato veggie mix about ¼ of the way from the bottom of the burrito shell. Dice up about 1 tsp of goat cheese and crumble on top and fold the sides in first then the bottom and continue to roll until in burrito form. Wrap in aluminum foil to keep warm if not eating right away.

Makes 4 burritos.

Fresh Sweet and Spicy Salsa (spicy salsa with a hint of sweet)
3 medium size Early Girl Tomatoes
1 medium Yellow Tomato
1 medium White Onion
1 large Jalapeno Pepper
1 large Yellow Bell Pepper
1 large Green Bell Pepper
3 tbsp Cilantro
1 large Peach (sliced)
1 ½ tsp Salt
1 ½ tsp Pepper

Wash all the fruits and vegetables. Then remove cores of the tomatoes and quarter, cut peppers in 4 pieces and onion as well. Blanch the peach 30 seconds to remove skin then remove pit and slice. (I use my Tupperware quick chef and throw all the ingredients in and it chops them up finely.)

Makes 2 pints.

All the veggies and herbs in the burrito and salsa came from my personal garden.

If you have a great recipe that features corn, soybeans, pork, or eggs you can enter it at the 2022 Iowa State Fair in the Iowa’s Big Four Competition! Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for details next spring.