Book Club: Understanding Our Modern Food System

I aspire to be an avid reader. I like everything from autobiographies and spy novels to science fiction and fantasy. But lately I find myself reading a lot of historical nonfiction. I seem to gravitate to big thinking authors like Mark Kurlansky, Bill Bryson, and Andrew Lawler. These and other authors have helped shape my understanding of our modern food system. But more importantly, they have helped give me ideas of how we can continue to improve on our modern food system. So here are my top recommendations to (begin to) understand 10,000 years of agriculture.

ggs.jpgUnderstanding the Origins of Agriculture

Read: Guns, Germs, and Steel – by Jared Diamond

Diamond sets the stage for an immense conversation. He hypothesized that the arc of human history was dramatically shifted by geographic, environmental, biological, and other factors, resulting in the worldwide dominance of the leading industrial powers during the past 500 years. The book won a 1997 Pulitzer Prize and quickly became a New York Times bestseller.

The book covers a lot of topics, but with regards to our modern food system we can start to understand that the spread of humans followed the spread of agriculture. Agriculture crops have typically only been spread around the globe at similar latitudes as where they were first domesticated. Wheat, barley, oats, sheep, and goats were first domesticated in the Fertile Crescent. Europe’s proximity to the Fertile Crescent and similar climate allowed those crops and livestock to be easily adapted. As farmers produced more food, human populations exploded. This set the stage for Europeans to cross the Atlantic and explore the world. It was then these same staple crops that were introduced in North America to help feed and fuel the growing populations that would become the United States.

The United States had a similar climate to Europe in that crops and livestock were easily adapted. The United State’s geography was also more horizontal than vertical. Crops and livestock could spread across the same latitudes easily and did not have to adapt to the colder climates of the north (Canada) or the hotter climates of the south (Mexico and Central America). The geography of the globe helped (for good or evil) predetermine some of the winners and losers in food production and later uneven economic development around the world.

edible.jpgUnderstand Food as a Tool that Shaped our Culture

Read: An Edible History of Humanity – by Tom Standage

Food is more than just sustenance. Food has been a kind of technology, changing the course of human progress by helping to build empires, promote industrialization, and decide the outcomes of wars. Standage weaves an epic timeline that encompasses kings and queens and how food helped craft our empires. Food was the driver for many technological inventions. For modern examples we look at the refrigerator or microwave but historically we look at the wheat mill or even something as simple as the fork.

Once civilizations were founded on the back of agriculture, complex societies emerged. Food storage systems evolved and food distribution systems were put into place. This allowed farmers to specialize and then trade. But whoever controlled the food controlled the wealth and power, so history has shown countless struggles. Food has even been used as a weapon. For example, the scorched earth policy as Russians retreated from the Napoleonic invasion left no food available for the invading army. The invasion ultimately failed. Food is a powerful weapon.

Much of the technology in the 20th century has revolved around the food system. The farm labor force has shrunk to all time lows with less that 2% of Americans actually involved in food production. Large scale machinery like combine harvesters have allowed labor to be minimized. The converse of that has been the increase in energy consumption. Farm work is more mechanized, but it requires a lot of energy. In addition to this, biotechnology and plant genetics have led to higher and higher yields. Technologies like the Haber Bosch process have allowed for increased yields from better nutrients.

kitchen.jpgUnderstand Our Relationship with Food

Read: Kitchen Literacy – by Ann Vileisis

Our modern relationship with food is defined by our not being involved in food production, but being intimately connected to to food. After all, we still eat three times a day. Vileisis‘ book tells of how we became disconnected from the sources of our food. Many of the issues discussed today are the same issues that were talked about a century ago.

People want to feel good about where their food comes from so they often allow a picture on the side of the packaging to dictate their knowledge of what the food is and how it was produced. Largely, our image of food and our understanding of food is created by marketers who use words like all natural, organic, cage-free, etc. to makes us feel good about our purchases. But few people understand what those terms mean and fewer people still understand how the food was produced.

The book inspires hope in becoming more connected to food. It isn’t really practical for all Americans to become wheat farmers so that we can harvest wheat, mill our own flour, and then bake our own bread. But we can all become closer to food by understanding how it was produced. We can visit farms and farmers markets. We can cook more. We have our own backyard gardens. By maintaining this connection to the land we can have a say in what our food system should look like in years to come.

What books have you read on agriculture or the food system? Leave us a comment with what book or books we should read next!

-Will 

My Family’s Corn Farm and 8 Other Ways to Teach About Corn

When most people think of Iowa, they think of corn.   It’s the number one agriculture commodity in Iowa, and Iowa farmers grow more corn than any other state.  In fact, only three countries (U.S., China, and Brazil) produce more corn than is grown in our little state.

Because corn is big here, it makes sense that Iowans are excited to get their hands on a children’s book all about corn farming!  My Family’s Corn Farm is a non-fiction book by Katie Olthoff.

The story follows Presley, a young Iowa farm girl.  She lives with her family on a corn and swine farm in southeast Iowa. Presley a takes the readers on a tour of the family farm and discusses how corn is grown for livestock feed, human food, industrial uses, and to produce fuel like ethanol.

The story is written at a 3rd grade reading level, but it is great for all elementary classrooms.  Lower elementary teachers are using it as a read aloud book, and it offers supplemental text on more advanced topics science and social studies topics for older students.

More than 1000 copies of the book were requested by teachers during the first month!   Along with those requests, came requests for corn-themed lessons, activities, and books from our lending library to use with My Family’s Corn Farm.

Here’s eight of my favorite lessons and resources for teaching about corn!

  1. Corny Charades. How fun does that sound? Students will hone language arts skills and learn new science vocabulary while playing this corn-y version of charades.
  2. The Diversity of Corn. Many kids think that most of the corn grown in Iowa is sweet corn.  In this lesson, they’ll explore different characteristics and uses of field corn, sweet corn, popcorn, and ornamental corn, and learn a little about traits and heredity too!
  3. Seed Germination Necklaces. This is a fun twist on germinating seeds, a common science experiment in elementary classroom.
  4. Make Corn Plastic! Forget DIY Slime, when you can make corn plastic!  In this science and social studies lesson, students learn about renewable and non-renewable resources and make bioplastics with just corn cornstarch and corn oil.
  5. Seed to Cereal. In this lesson, students sequence photographs while discovering the journey corn takes from seed to cereal, ethanol, and even cheeseburgers!
  6. Collaborative Corn Stock. The name says it all. Students work together to create a paper cornstalk while learning about plant parts and function.  As an added bonus, you’ll have a great work of art to jazz up the classroom walls!
  7. The Life and Times of Corn by Charles Micucci is a great complement to My Family’s Corn Farm. It’s not a great read-aloud book, but it is a great source for student to flip through to learn more about corn growth & development, history, and uses.
  8. Corn Volumes. This math lesson is a fun way to practice math concepts like measuring and estimating volumes — all using corn!

– Cindy

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.

-Sheri

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!

-Sheri

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!

 

-Sheri

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!

-Cindy

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