Yogurt Grows on Trees?

Have you ever asked a young child where they think their food comes from? You might be capture-2-e1487971277155.jpgsurprised at the answers. One article said a young 4 year-old didn’t understand what the long orange vegetable was with big green leaves coming out of the top. The father responded that it was a carrot. The youngster thought carrots came in plastic bags.

Many children believe that food comes from the grocery store and if they run out, all they need to do is get more at the store. Many children don’t understand that all of the plants that we eat have to be grown and all of the animal protein has to be raised. Most American families don’t raise their own food, so we rely on farmers to produce crops and livestock.

With modern technology and the internet, students today have many resources at their fingertips, and yet haven’t been given the opportunity to understand some of the most basic things about food, fiber and fuel and where they come from. Very few children have thaccess to fresh fruits and vegetables that have come from a garden. Even fewer children have been able to visit a farm and see the crops growing in the fields or the animals grazing in the pasture. How about the young people in your life? Do they know where food comes from?

Children from other countries are battling this same issue. An article in the Telegraph stated that young adults in the UK don’t know that milk comes from a dairy cow or that eggs come from chickens. The same article also stated that one third of the students surveyed did not know that bacon came from a pig. In Australia, students thought fish fingers came from chicken or pigs and that yogurt grew on trees.

In our rush of the day to day obligations and priorities, have we lost a little understanding of why agriculture literacy is important to our economy? Agriculture is essential to our survival, but what can we do to help educate the next generation? Have you heard the saying “It only takes a spark to get a fire going?” As a mother of three and a grandmother of two, I intend to be certain the young people in my family have the opportunity to understand and experience agriculture up close and personal.

I read books to my grandkids that will help open their minds to where their food comescapture from. I really like “Where Does Our Food Come From”, by Bobbie Kalman. I also love to take them to the local farmer’s market and let them see, taste, and experience fresh fruits and vegetables and the people that grew them. As they reach grade school, I look forward to them experiencing lessons that integrate agriculture into science, social studies, and language arts curricula. Every year we experience the activities at the Iowa State Fair, like the Little Kids on the Farm and all of the educational things happening at the Animal Learning Center.

I encourage you to look for opportunities to share agriculture with your family and friends. Our need is real and there are limitless resources. Your local Agriculture in the Classroom coordinator has information, literature, books, lessons and may even be able to connect you with a local farmer who would be thrilled to share his experiences and expertise with you. Many Iowa communities have agriculture festivals and agriculture days’ year round. Every August the Iowa State Fair celebrates 11 days of awesome agriculture festivities. Let’s all be a spark for agriculture in our communities.


Generate Excitement with Reading

School is starting across the state of Iowa and what a perfect time to get back into the routines of enjoying family reading times together. Reading is a fundamental part of life – truly something we need and will always use and enjoy. We want to help strengthen agriculture literacy in fun and exciting ways like reading. There are many opportunities to unlock the potential and nurture the importance of reading.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, children who are read to at home maintain an advantage over children who are not read to. Children are more likely to also have a higher reading proficiency and stronger reading skills. That can lead to success in other subjects in school and throughout life. We all know children in our circle of life that we can influence in positive ways. We help them to develop reading and language skills just by taking time to read to them and their imagination develops as well.

As parents or role models we play a very important role in the lives of the children around us. We can help them, as well as show them the enjoyment than comes from taking time to read. A few simple changes in our day to day routines can make reading a bigger part of our lives:

  1. Turn off the television
  2. Put aside the computer games and telephones
  3. Teach by your example
  4. Read together
  5. Hit the library as a family

We can unlock potential and get readers excited to read about agriculture. Agriculture teaches by using real life examples and encourages readers to value their local communities and farmers as well as teaches them about where their food, fiber and fuel comes from. Here are a few great reads for the young readers you know

cowsCows by Jules Older is a lighthearted, yet informative look at cows, different breeds, what they eat, how they make milk and lots of other facts on cows. Children will enjoy the humor and fantastic pictures while the learn factual informaindextion.

Food and Farming, Then and Now by Bobbie Kalman is a wonderful book to help children see how farming, selling, preservation and preparation of food has changed over the years. Today most of our food is bought from a grocery store, but many years ago things were grown on the family farm and harvested for family use. This book helps kids see how much things have changed in food production. They learn where our food comes from and about the people that grow i51pQdBKPjnL._SX410_BO1,204,203,200_t.

Before We Eat from Farm to Table by award winning author Pat Brisson helps to show that before we eat, many people work very hard. They plant grain, catch fish, tend to animals and stock shelves to help feed our growing population. Milk doesn’t just appear in the refrigerator nor do apples grow in the bowl on the counter.

Fantastic Farm Machines by Cris Peterson gives superb examples of the monster machinery that work the fields 61jLvr7BNoL._SX431_BO1,204,203,200_across our beautiful country. Vivid color photos provide examples of different machines that do the planting, harvesting, and so much more. The author takes the reader on a journey from one farm to another to show many examples of machines from past and present. It is a great read for those who love tractors and big machines.

We invite you to get excited about reading and making a difference in the lives of the young people around you. Take time to read and read to those you’ve been given the opportunity to influence!


Summer Adventures

It’s summertime and school’s out. What a great opportunity to teach a lovdr suesse for reading to the young people in your circle of influence. Grab a blanket, a book and your favorite young ones and treat them to reading retreat exclusively planned by you. Placing a strong value on literacy in the summer months will benefit all involved.

Research concludes that there is a definite loss for students that have no learning opportunities during the summer months when students are not in school receiving academic instruction. Kids tend to model what they see and what a better gift to give a child – model the love of reading. Make reading a family event by visiting your local library and help grow a love for reading.

Summer can be a time that helps to improve reading and language skills. We can keep kids motivated and learning all summer long, by making reading a part of everyday schedules. Try encouraging readers to have 30 minutes per day devoted to reading. Provide incentives for the reader to want to read, like offering other “wished for” activities if they commit to daily reading. Plan outings that young readers can find books to connect to and add to the learning experience, like visiting a zoo and allowing them to pick an animal to research and read about.

I have some excellent book ideas to share with you that are full of agriculture facts, information and are just plain fun to read. We have loads more book suggestions here too. Or check out the digital version of “My Family’s Beef Farm” by Katie Olthoff  where you can read about a family beef farm through the eyes of a young girl.

My granddaughters love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches so I am looking forwaCapturerd to sharing with them PB & J Hooray by Janet Nolan. This light hearted book is a fun exploration beginning with a finished sandwich and journeys backward to supermarkets, factories and the farmers field.

I love my job because we are honored to share agriculture with kids of all ages and I so often hear that most young children think food comes from the grocery store. Before We Eat from Farm to Fork by Pat Brisson explains what really must happen before the food we eat can get to our table. This book is a great choice to help young people understand what farms are all about and how farmers work diligently to produce healthy food for all of us to eat.A Seed is Sleepy

For the young gardeners and explorers, A Seed is Sleepy by Diane Hutts Aston is a beautiful introduction for children to a variety of seed and plant facts. This poetic book shares so many interesting facts about seeds and how they grow and what they need for proper care. I hope to pass on the love of watching things grow with my family and sharing this book will help them understand a little more about how the plants starts its growth in the soil.

If your family is like my family, I will bet they love pizza in any size and combination of toppings. Extra Cheese Please by Cris Peterson shares the story of turning milk from the family cow into mozzarella cheese. Kids see moments on the farm and a view of the cheese making process. You will even have a great recipe to try on that next pizza creatiothn.

Kids enjoy hearing about real people and real life stories. In the Garden with Dr. Carver by Susan Grigsby is a wonderful story that shares the message of Dr. Carver – hopefully creating a new generation of earth caretakers. This is a great way to share George Washington Carver and his love for the earth.

George Washington was the first president, but do your young readers know there’s much more to President Washington? Farmer George Plants a Nation by Peggy Thomas is a look at George Washington’s life through letters and excerpts from his diary telling of his journey as a leader, inventor, scientist and so much more. And Thomas Jefferson Grows a Nation by Peggy Thomas tells of how Thomas Jefferson another president loved to grow everything – even a nation!popcorn

When it’s really hot outside what better way to spend the afternoon than curled up with your kiddos, a big bowl of popcorn and a book to read. Popcorn by Elaine Landau shares everything that you ever wanted to know about popcorn. They can learn all about this awesome crunchy treat.

My little ones aren’t old enough to read chapter books yet, but I have three great books that tell wonderful stories about life on a farm. There is so much to learn and so much to share and these books are such a great way to open doors to all kinds of possibilities of the adventures of growing up on a farm.

  • The Beef Princess of Practical County by Michelle Houts is a story of growing up on a family farm and the legacy of showing prize winning steer for dad and entering a beauty pageant at the prompting of mom.
  • Little Joe by Sandra Neil Wallace is a story of Eli and the newest calf on the family farm. Dreams of winning a blue ribbon at the county fair and the friendship that grows between the two.
  • Heart of a Shepherd by Rosanne Parry is a beautiful and uplifting story of a boy growing up in the heartland where he calls home.

With Iowa having such a strong agriculture influence, we can mix reading and learning about the great state of Iowa and treat the young people in our lives to a summer full of adventure. Check these great books out at your local library or request to borrow them from our Lending Library. Read just for the fun of it!



7 Ideas to “Beef” Up Reading and Writing Skills

Beef Book Cover  Have you seen our latest project, My Family’s Beef Farm?    It’s a non-fiction book by children’s author, Katie Olthoff that tells the story of raising cattle on a modern beef farm.

The story follows Cecelia, a 10-year-old farm girl in Iowa. She lives with her family on a beef cattle farm. Cecelia takes the readers on a tour of the family farm and discusses how farmers care for livestock and raise safe, nutritious beef.

My Family’s Beef Farm was mailed to every 3rd grade classroom in the state, and available to other teachers on request.   It has been fun to hear how teachers are using the book in classrooms.  While the content of the book ties to science standards, the book is a great tool to use for language arts lessons too.

Below are just a few ideas to “beef” up students’ reading and writing skills using My Family’s Beef Farm.

  1. Build-a-Sentence. Turn demonstrating understanding into a fun group activity by creating word cards for students to put together to create sentences, similar to Magnetic Poetry. Either create pre-printed words on strips, or have students write 100 words from the book on small strips of paper.  Then ask students to use the words to answer questions such as:  What is the main idea of the story?  Describe the main character.  What do farmers do to take care of animals?  Students can also use their word cards to create their own story!   Add another level of engagement and a STEM connection by attaching the words to blocks, so students can literally “build” sentences.
  1. PastureTIP Method (Term, Information, Picture). Ask students to select a word from the book that is new to them.  Then have them write the word (term), write the definition or information they know about the word, and draw a picture that represents the word.  If they are stumped, encourage them to refer back to the book and use context clues in the text and pictures to determine the definition.  As a class, share and discuss the definitions and drawings.  This method of understanding new vocabulary appeals to both visual and auditory learners.
  2.  Echo Reading. Read a paragraph of the text aloud, following the words with a pointer for students to see. After the text is read aloud, the students imitate, or echo  you while reading from their individual copies or the digital version projected on a screen.   Echo reading allows children to practice proper phrasing and expression and develop sight word
  3. Partner ReadingSee-Saw Reading. In pairs, ask students to read the book aloud to each other alternating who reads each paragraph or page. This strategy helps build confidence and reading fluency.
  4.  Say Something. Play relaxing music as students read the book quietly to themselves. When the music stops, ask the students to make a comment to a partner about what they just read.  Repeat every few minutes until all students are done reading their book.   Check out this teacher’s Say Something conversation starters.
  5. Beef BooksConnecting Text to Text. Select another non-fiction book about livestock farming, such as Amazing Grazing by Cris Peterson. After reading the second book, list and discuss connections between the two texts.  Did one book provide background information that helped them better understand the other book?  Connections enable readers to use what they already know to develop meaning about something that is new.
  6. Click Clack mooPoint-of-View letter. After reading My Family’s Beef Farm and Click Clack Moo Cows that Type, ask students to write letters from a cow on Cecilia’s farm to her family.  Ask the students to focus the letter on a particular opinion (of the cow) and provide evidence to support that opinion.  This assignment will be extra fun if you can get your hands on old type-writers!


Do you have other ideas for using My Family’s Beef Farm with students?   We’d love to hear them!


Iowa elementary teachers can request classroom sets of My Family’s Beef Farm by emailing info@iowaagliteracy.org or access the digital version and supplemental lessons hereAmazing Grazing, Click Clack Moo, and other great books are available for teachers to borrow from the IALF Lending Library.

My Family’s Beef Farm is a special project of the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation with financial support from the Iowa Beef Industry Council.

Fascinating Facts about President’s Day and the Agriculture Connection

Did you know the story behind President’s Day? President’s Day is celebrated on the third Monday in February. The holiday was originally Washington’s Birthday and his birthday is February 22nd. Then in 1971 the holiday became President’s Day.  States are free to call the holiday what they choose and can celebrate as they choose.

Another fun fact is that there are four presidents that share February as the month of their birthday, but the holiday is usually celebrated honoring Washington and Lincoln.

So is there a connection to President’s Day and agriculture? Yes, of course! President Washington was called the “Foremost Farmer”. He devoted much of his life to improving our American agriculture. He was an avid record keeper and these detailed records would become valuable journals of agricultural history. Post war improvements to hCaptureis farm led him to support founding the  Philadelphia Society for promoting agriculture . It is also amazing to see the connections and importance of farm animals to George Washington and his farm. He had hogs, cattle, sheep, chickens, turkeys, bees and much more. In many of his personal journals, Washington shared the details of the successes and hardships to raising such a variety of animals on his farm. Our Lending Library has a great book called Farmer George Plants a Nation that tells all about George’s forward thinking and real-life struggles on his Mount Vernon farm.

President Lincoln left quite an amazing legacy in agriculture, as well. He set into law the Department of Agriculture . Lincoln was a pioneer farmer, living much of his foundational homestead actyears on the family farm. That led him to be recognized as a representative for the farmer and frontier, small town life and later to become the sixteenth President of the United States. Lincoln signed into law the Homestead Act in 1862 taking land from public to private ownership, allowing many farms to be created. One quite amazing quote came from Lincoln and is still just as true today: “No other human occupation opens so wide a field for the profitable and agreeable combination of labor with cultivated thought, as agriculture.” Lincoln knew the importance of agriculture to the economy and livelihood of all people. In 1862600px-Agricultural_Hall,_Iowa_State_College_-_History_of_Iowa he passed the Morrill Act which revolutionized higher education and agriculture. States built universities that specialized in agriculture, mechanics and military with land grants to build and maintain them. Iowa was the first state to accept the terms and build Iowa State Agricultural College (now known as Iowa State University).

What else sets this day aside to celebrate Presidents? A lot of the holiday is reflected in the education system and there are lessons organized to help educate students as well as allow them to enjoy the learning process with fun activities. Many states require public schools to focus teaching on the accomplishments of past presidents, especially Washington and Lincoln. GeorgePreschool to high school there are many topics to learn about such as: U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights, histories of all past presidents and lessons about the government. Teachers do a great job of making this celebrated day interesting and educational and there are so many ties to agriculture! Check out IALF’s Pinterest page for more interesting and fun ideas for President’s Day activities. I close by sharing a link with you that quotes a few of the past Presidents heartfelt gratitude to the farmers of our great United States.

– Sheri

A Year in the Making – Ag Across Iowa

We come to the close of 2015. It’s been an awesome year of growing, learning and reaching out for agriculture literacy… we seek to provide every student in Iowa an agricultural based learning experience. The Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation had the privilege to walk alongside and observe Agriculture in the Classroom taking place all over the state of Iowa. There were just too many examples of how this is being done to share them all in this short blog. We wanted to highlight a sampling of the ingenuity and creativity of individuals that share our passion.

January~ IALF launched the first issue of Iowa Ag Today. The student reader helped students explore the connections between agriculture and themselves. You know that “Agriculture is Everywhere!” It’s the business, science and practices of growing and selling plants and animals to be used for food, fiber and fuel. Iowa Ag Today goes out to every school across Iowa reaching students and making learning about agriculture fun!

February~ Linn County Farm Bureau raised awareness about agriculture by doing Pizz-A-Thon throughout the year. Pizza-A-Thon is an easy to implement, multi-day curriculum that engages students in exciting team activities to create and market a pizza business. Students explore, experiment and discover – linking food to careers, farming, soil and conservation. It employs critical thinking skills and presentation skills.

March~ Two Parkersburg second grade classes attended a Dr. Seuss Birthday. The Ag in the Classroom coordinator read the book “Green Eggs and Ham”. Students received books on chicken facts & pig facts to learn more about the two animals that made the cat’s breakfast possible. Students also learned how farmers take good care of the animals. They discovered that corn and soybeans are the main components of the feed the animals eat. Students were treated to a snack of “green eggs” made with pretzels, almond bark, and green M&Ms. After a quiz on the pig facts, students received a pig eraser to help them remember this special visit.  Awesome ag party!

April~ North Central Ag in the Classroom conducts Ag Education weeks in an effort to maintain consistent contact with students in a seven county area.  They provide up to a full week of ag lessons. Lessons are fun, innovative and are offered for preschool through sixth grade. Lessons are taught about Iowa’s agriculture and its importance to Iowa economy and society. Students learn where there food comes from and that we grow corn and soybeans and those plants become other products we eat and use every day.

May~ Eagle Grove, Barnum, Humboldt, Bode, Gilmore City, LuVerne and Algone schools all attended the Davis Dairy Farm Day. The Davis family opens their farm to over 400 students for tours milking barns, many different farm animals, a magician, horse drawn wagon rides and yummy milk, cheese curds and sugar cookies. What a fun day!

June~ A very busy month of learning across the state of Iowa as five 2-day teacher training workshops were held. Fast-paced professional development gave teachers background knowledge, instructional strategies, lessons and hands-on activity ideas to prepare them to immediately incorporate agriculture into classroom lessons! Teacher presentations included: the Family & Consumer Science conference A Journey from Education to Career and at the Iowa Reading Conference Iowa Ag Today: Putting an Iowa Spin on Language Arts Learning.

July~ IALF offered Fun with Drones, Plants and Power a fun STEM Camp at UNI! Students were engaged throughout the four day camp. Students IMG_0963learned corn and soybean plant anatomy at a farm,  about harvest technology at an implement dealership, and how corn is transported and stored at a coop. They made germination seed necklaces, conducted ethanol experiments, and visited with corn growers at the farm and at the elevator. Four days of Ag Fun!

September~ Siouxland Ag in the Classroom taught students about how our food, fuel and fiber all comes from a farm by reading The Cow in Patrick O’Shanahan’s Kitchen and by working on source search lessons. Siouxland Ag in the Classroom also has a program called “Adopt-a-farmer”. Thirty classrooms across a five county region are paired with farmers. The farmers represent different aspects of agriculture including sheep, cattle, hogs and grain. Some classes went on field trips to their farmer’s operation or have plans to in the spring. Several farmers visited classrooms with examples of feedstuffs, cornstalks or soybean plants. In one instance the farmer brought a piglet for the students to see. Teachers and farmers work together to provide examples like how farmers use math on a daily basis.

October~ Jasper County Farm Bureau used Skype and an iPad to help students in Newton chat with a farmer about cover crops and Baxter Ag Day-2conservation. During the virtual fieldtrip, students were able to take a close-up look at cover crops planted near Prairie City and ask the farmer questions about what they saw. The teacher used IALF’s Iowa Ag Today to help her students learn more about conservation methods used by farmers. After the FarmChat students watched short video clips of moldboard plows and the vertical tillage tools of today. The students made “tillage brownies” to demonstrate how farming practices continue to change to protect the soil and for the class to enjoy!

November~ IALF held an Ag in the Classroom workshop for county contacts. There were 60 in attendance. It was a day filled with very positive examples of great things happening around the state. Attendees were thrilled to have the hands on learning to be able to share with their own communities. Great information, lessons plans and resources were shared and great connections were made.

~ Four classes of third grade students from Taft Elementary enjoyed a harvest tour on Nov. 3 at the Coleman farm west of Humboldt. Eighty-six students
visited the farm for a tour as part of their ‘Adopt-a-Farmer’ program. Participants were given several opportunities to learn about soybeans and corn. The students watched one of the farmers harvest corn with a combine and were able to pick their own ear of corn.

December~ IALF honored the 1st recipient of the Excellence in Teaching about Agriculture Award. John Seiser is a fifth and sixth grade teacher from 1797485_653063721425708_665726682248900771_nBlairsburg, Iowa. Seiser competed against other elementary, middle and high school teachers to earn the honor. Seiser regularly integrates agriculture into his classroom curriculum including science, math, social studies, reading and language. He involved the students in raising turkeys, creating compost, and exploring agriculture in Iowa history.

We are excited to see what plans are in the making for 2016. We hope that more individuals recognize the value and importance of agriculture literacy and join us in this journey of learning and sharing agriculture in Iowa. With that we say goodbye to 2015 and await new adventures in 2016.

– Sheri

More Great Books to Gift Kids

All year I’ve been thinking about books to recommend in a holiday gift giving blog to follow up last year’s, 6 Great Books to Gift Kids. That list included most of my all-time favorites including Who Grew my Soup? and the Boy Who Changed the World. I thought it would be hard to come up with a new list of kid-appealing books to rival those. Well, was I wrong! I discover so many great books as I write lessons and look for resources to help connect classroom learning to agriculture. It seems like more and more books are just as entertaining and engaging as they are educational. Many of those in this year’s list weave fiction and non-fiction together to create stories that captivate kids while teaching about science, history, and the importance of agriculture.

Here are my top book picks for the youngsters on your Christmas list this year.  They all have my approval for agriculture accuracy and educational value. More importantly, they received rave reviews from the two young book-critics in my house.

Good night farmGood Night Farm by Adam Grumble is not only a good bedtime story, but also a great first lesson on where their food is grown. This beautifully illustrated board-book takes youngsters on a journey to see what happens on different types of farms throughout the day and in all four seasons. They visit a dairy farm, cranberry bog, wheat field and more.

The Cow in Patrick O'Shanahan's KitchenThe Cow in Patrick O’Shanahan’s Kitchen by Diana Prichard is a humorous tale about a little boy who learns where food comes from as he and his dad make breakfast.   Finding a cow in the kitchen and chickens in the fridge is just the start of this silly story that will have kids laughing from beginning to end. The last page will make parents chuckle too as Patrick learns that the next day’s breakfast is bacon!

I Drive a TractorI Drive a Tractor by Sarah Bridges is perfect for a preschooler who loves wheels and motors! It is filled with rich vocabulary and details not found in most books about tractors for kids this young. The story follows farmer Dylan as he checks his tractor’s fluids and tires, uses mirrors and caution lights to safely drive the tractor on the road, and operates the tractor to do various jobs on the farm.

All in Just One CookieAll in Just One Cookie by Susan E. Goodman will delight kids of any age. The grandkids are coming over and Grandma is in a rush to make cookies! While she bakes, her cat and dog travel the world to explore where the ingredients come from and how they are made. This book is a perfect gift from a grandma – especially one who likes to treat grandkids with cookies.

Apple orchard riddleThe Apple Orchard Riddle by Margaret McNamara and G. Brian Karas tells the story of a class trying to solve a riddle on a field trip to an apple orchard. During the visit they learn about apple varieties, see how apples are picked and sorted, and even watch as they are pressed and peeled by machines. The book also includes an important lesson – it’s okay to be different. The student who solves the riddle is not like her classmates, but she is also smart, inquisitive, and looks at the world differently.

0244_BMP_8460_JT.qxdFarmer George Plants a Nation by Peggy Thomas is a great pick for an older child on your list, especially one who loves history. This book goes beyond the typical account of George Washington’s life and accomplishments. It focuses on how he used innovation and creativity to solve problems and become a better farmer, all while being a great leader of our country. Follow this true story to see the role he played in agriculture then and his innovations that are still seen today.

Little Joe Book

Little Joe by Sandra Neil Wallace is a chapter book that will especially appeal to young boys. The story follows nine year-old Eli as he works to break his first show calf, make his father proud, and hopefully, win the blue ribbon at the fair. Eli learns about the fair treatment of animals, the genetics of his calf and making good decisions. Young readers will learn about life on the farm and some of the most difficult life lessons that have to be learned.

If you do any of your Christmas shopping on Amazon (and who doesn’t), a portion of what you spend can come back to support our agriculture literacy efforts in Iowa. It’s a win-win and no cost to you! Log on to Amazon Smile and select the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation as your charity of choice.   Once you log in and link your account, Amazon will remember so you never have to do it again.

Happy shopping… and Merry Christmas to you and yours.