A Day in the Life of a Farmer (Winter Edition)

Spring and fall seem to be the season that most people associate with farming. In the spring, farmers are busy in their tractors, planting crops. In the fall, farmers are out in their combines and grain cart tractors, harvesting the crop and bringing it in. However, in today’s blog post, we’re going to take an in-depth look at what a farmer does during the winter when there are no crops in the ground. In order to do that, I made a phone call to one of my favorite farmers, my brother, Levi. I had a good idea of what he does during the winter but decided to let him describe his average winter day to me in detail to answer the question, “What do farmers do during the winter?”

Levi and bailsLevi graduated from Iowa State in 2016 with a degree in Agricultural Business. Upon graduation, he came back to our family’s row crop and hog farm and diversified the operation by adding a cattle barn. He also works for Granular, which is a company that uses technology to help farmers run their business.

A typical winter day for Levi starts at 8 a.m. at the cattle barn. He has a maximum of 499 head of cattle to feed every morning, but depending on the schedule of selling and getting new cattle in, that number can be lower. While 499 cows may seem like a random number, there’s a specific reason – operators with 500 or more animal units must have a commercial livestock manure management plan – you can read more about animal units here. His barn gets cattle in at about 800 lbs, and the cattle are sold at around 1500 lbs.

Every morning, at 8 a.m., Levi feeds the cattle a mixed ration of cracked corn, hay, and gluten. Cattle eat corn for energy, hay for protein and fiber, and gluten as a supplement that provides energy and protein. The gluten that cattle eat is different than the gluten that some people are allergic to, which prevents them from eating bread. Gluten as a supplement for cattle is a coproduct that is produced by wet milling plants. A cow’s digestive needs change as they grow, so calculating the ration that they need is very important to maximize growth. Feeding his animals is a very technical process, and keeping track of the feeding is a vital part of raising cattle. To do that, Levi uses Performance Livestock Analytics, which uses technology to feed the appropriate amount every day and to track every feeding.


These cattle are fed using a feed wagon. The wagon is loaded every morning with the appropriate rations for the size of the cattle.

After he finishes feeding, which takes about an hour, Levi goes to what we call “lunch break” on the farm. Lunch break serves a simple purpose. It is to discuss what needs to be done on the farm that day. Three generations of farmers, Levi, my dad, and my grandpa, talk about what needs to get done that day on the farm, and then they get to it. Lunch break is an all-year daily meeting but is especially important during the winter, as many jobs need to get done.

Levi’s morning consists of doing mechanical work in the shop. On this particular morning, he’s working on the planter. Spring planting is just around the corner, so he is performing preventative maintenance on the machine. Instead of waiting to begin planting before finding problems, it is in the best interest of farmers to check their implements very carefully when the conditions aren’t yet suitable for planting. Levi spends his morning checking for loose parts and ensuring the ground engaging equipment is ready to use. He also inspects the technology on the planter, making sure the row-by-row monitors and shut-offs are in good shape.

The machinery used by farmers can be highly technical and doing preventative maintenance on that technology, like Levi does, is incredibly important. The row-by-row


The rows on the right shut off to avoid double planting. Picture from Elliot Seed Solutions, LLC

monitors show farmers that the planter is getting the seed to the location they want it. The shut-offs allow for small sections of the planter (3 rows per section on a 24-row planter) to be shut off if needed. As the planter may be driven over areas that have already been planted, it uses the shut-off sections to avoid double planting. Double planting could cause two seeds to compete for the same space, nutrients, and water. This could lead to farmers getting a lower yield out of that field. 

Levi’s afternoon consists of hauling corn. He uses a semi to take the corn in our grain bins to our local co-op. When farmers harvest corn, it often works best for them to put their grain directly into personal storage, for three reasons. First, it allows for harvest efficiency. Waiting in line at the co-op can slow down how fast farmers can get their crops out of the field. Second, personal storage allows for cheaper drying. Corn and soybeans often need to be dried before being put into storage, to prevent mold and crop loss. You can read about the grain drying process here. By performing that process before taking it to the co-op, farmers can save some money. The third reason is that farmers can get a better price for their crop closer to the next harvest season. Commodities, like corn and soybeans, raise in price after harvest is over.

After that, Levi finishes his day by watching an informational webinar about financial and business software. Farming is a business, and continued education allows for informed financial decisions. Continued education is essential in many aspects of farming, and it is often during the winter months when farmers participate in training and certifications. For example, Levi has certifications in Pork Quality Assurance and Beef Quality Assurance and is a certified Confinement Site Manure Applicator and a Commercial Pesticide Applicator. Farmers get certifications like this to manage their farm safely and knowledgeably. They care about the welfare of their animals and their land, and it shows in the way they spend their time and in the continued education they get.


Favorite Books & Kits for Agriculture Literacy

We know that teachers are always looking for new ways to engage students, but funding for classroom resources is limited. To help, we offer the Agriculture in the Classroom Teacher Supplement Grant Program.

With funding from the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, the program offers $250 grants to support the integration of agriculture into preschool-12th grade in-school and after-school programs. Grants can be used to fund innovative lessons, activities, classroom resources, field trips and other projects.

Throughout the year, we come across many new agriculture literacy resources that would be perfect for a teacher supplement grant project.  Here’s a highlight of some of our favorites!

Kits from the National Agriculture in the Classroom Online Store   

The National Agriculture in the Classroom Organization makes it easy for teachers to introduce students to agriculture while meeting core standards in science, social studies, math, English language arts, and more.  The Curriculum Matrix includes more than 450 standards-aligned lessons with step-by-step instructions, background information, and supplemental files to teach each lesson. To make it even easier, their online store includes many kits that include everything needed to teach lessons on the matrix. These kits include science equipment, seeds, laminated pictures, and other items needed to teach a lesson.

Some of our favorite elementary (grades PK-5) kits include:

Some of our favorite secondary (grades 7-12) kits include:


Books are a perfect way for students to learn about agriculture! Incorporate books with an agricultural theme into a language arts or social studies lesson described in the grant application. Then add them to your classroom library to be enjoyed by students for years to come. In addition to the newer books listed below, check out this blog post for reviews of some of our other tried-and-true books.

Some of our favorite books for elementary classrooms include:

Some of our favorite books for secondary classrooms include:

Now, it’s your turn! What are your favorite resources for teaching students about agriculture?


Five Ways to Celebrate Agriculture During Iowa History Month


New this year, March will be recognized as Iowa History Month. This works great with new Iowa Core Social Studies standards, as each grade has Iowa history standards to meet. Since agriculture plays a huge role in Iowa history, here are a few ways to incorporate agriculture in your Iowa History Month celebrations.

Read a book


The Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation has a host of historical, biographical, and Iowa-focused books, all great for learning more about Iowa’s agricultural history. Any resource available in IALF’s Lending Library is free to request and use for a standard two week period, after which time we ask you to return the item. These books all help tell the story of agriculture and agriculture in Iowa.

If you’re looking for a read-aloud book for elementary-aged kids, consider In the Garden with Dr. Carver by Susan Grigsby, The Kid Who Changed the World by Andy Andrews, or Sweet Corn and Sushi by Lori Erickson. These books talk about famous Iowans like George Washington Carver, Henry A. Wallace, and Norman Borlaug, as well as the Iowa Hog Lift, which brought livestock to disaster victims in Japan in 1960.

For books for older students and adults, consider titles like The Man Who Fed the World by Leon Hesser, Industrializing the Corn Belt by J.L. Anderson, How Iowa Conquered the World by Michael Rank, Iowa History Reader by Marvin Bergman, or Iowans Who Made a Difference by Don Muhm and Virginia Wadsley.


Research a famous Iowan


Iowa is home to so many famous and influential people. Many of these people have roots in agriculture and environmental science!

Our most famous Iowa agriculturalists are George Washington Carver, Henry A. Wallace, and Norman Borlaug, but have you heard of Jessie Field Shambaugh, Ada Hayden, Jesse Hiatt, Warren and B.O. Gammon, Aldo Leopold, John Froelich, or Mary Garst? These amazing Iowans have all left a legacy of learning and scientific advancement in agriculture.

For a more extensive list of famous Iowans (including John Wayne, Elijah Wood, Jason Momoa, and Ashton Kutcher) click here.

Visit a historic site


Because of Iowa’s rich history in agriculture, there are many places you can visit to help you learn more about our state’s advancements. Many communities have local museums with agricultural exhibits. There are also statewide treasures you can take a trip to go visit!

In the Metro area, you can visit Living History Farms, Wallace Centers of Iowa, The World Food Prize, or the State Historical Museum. In the Northeast quarter of the state, you can visit any Silos and Smokestacks partner site, including the Froelich General Store and Tractor Museum, Herbert Hoover Presidential Museum, or the Norman Borlaug Boyhood Home and Birthplace Farms!

If you can’t physically visit a historical location or a farm, consider holding a FarmChat® program in your classroom with a modern farm to talk with the farmer about how their operation has changed over time.

Surf the Web


If you want to do some reading and learning on your own, there are lots of good resources online. Some include Iowa Pathways with IPTV, the State Historical Museum online catalog, State Historical Society of Iowa’s Primary Source Sets, National Agriculture in the Classroom’s Growing a Nation, Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area’s CampSilos, or Living History Farms’ Learning Fields.

You can also research specific points in Iowa’s agricultural history, like the founding of the Polled Hereford breed of cattle, The Farm Crisis, the floods of 1993 and 2011, the drought of 1977, the invention of the gas-powered tractor, the Homestead Act, or the establishment of Iowa’s land grant university or Extension system. What other major events impacted Iowa and Iowa’s agriculture?



IALF has a wealth of resources, ideas, and connections. Let us help you pick a lesson plan, book, educator guide, or even an applicable blog post to supplement your Iowa history lessons.

Using just a few resources, you can celebrate Iowa History Month in true fashion! Be creative and share your Iowa History Month celebrations using the hashtag #IowaHistory.


Tips for Writing a Great Grant

Applying for grants is a great way to get extra funds for a big project, program, or set of helpful materials. The Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation has two grant programs; one specifically for classroom teachers, and one for groups or organizations that are looking to educate others.

The former, the Agriculture in the Classroom Teacher Supplement Grant, is now open and accepting applications. Pre-k through 12th grade teachers are eligible to apply for this grant before January 9, 2019. Grants will be awarded for up to $200 to help teachers include agriculture in science, social studies, language arts, and math lessons. Funds can be used for many things, including books, kits, seeds, field trips, guest speakers, and more!

Though this application is a relatively simple one, there are some ways you can make your application go from good to great. Let’s go through a couple tips to help you fund your class’s next great experience.

Be clear and concise

If you’re starting a new program, it may be difficult to pin down exactly how everything will go. There are so many ways a program can happen that choosing a direction early on can be hard. However, when applying for grant funding, having this direction helps funders get an idea what program will be, and also lets them know you are well organized and will follow up with these goals.

How will the money help you reach educational goals?

This piece can be tricky. There are many educational programs that sound great. However, if the item being asked for seems unrelated, the grant proposal may get a low score. If you’re asking for a material that is not clearly related, be sure to outline its purpose in your proposal. How does the item directly relate to the lesson or educational outcome? How will this help your students learn? Items like T-shirts, snacks, or other things may not impact educational goals, and will likely not get high scores.

Describe the materials specifically

At the end of the day, grants help purchase materials. Your grant funders will be more likely to fund your project if the items you’re asking for are outlined specifically. Let them know you’ve done research on impactful, high quality materials, and that this grant will really benefit many students.

Consider choosing materials with a good “shelf life”

Many great programs include different consumable products that grant funding is great for. However, grants that can help fund materials that will impact multiple years’ worth of students may get a higher score. Consider funding materials like books, lab equipment, maps, or other goods that can impact many students for years to come!

If your program is contingent on consumable goods, don’t worry! Just make sure you highlight the program’s impact, and how these consumable goods (paper plates, seeds, row markers, tape, etc.) are important.

Follow up the field trip

Field trips are great fun. However, students will get more from the experience if there are pre and post-trip lessons related to the site. If you would like to send your students on a field trip, include your plans for those follow up lessons so your grant funders know your students will get the most from the experience.

Tie history to modern day

Many great field trip locations are historical, but when talking about agriculture, it’s important to connect that historical aspect to modern agriculture. Many people, including many children’s resources, have an antiquated view of agriculture, with one cow, two chickens, a pig, and a horse in a barnyard. But few of those resources talk about how things have changed over time and into modern day. Connect that historical learning to modern agriculture by virtually visiting a modern farmer with FarmChat®, or by watching a YouTube video. This can also help the overall program connect to more social studies standards.

Explain all connections

The Agriculture in the Classroom Teacher Supplement Grant is specifically for helping teachers integrate agriculture into science, social studies, language arts, and/or math. When applying for this grant, it’s important that you not only explain the agriculture connection, but also which Iowa Core standard it relates to. If, for instance, you’d like to include Iowa crops in your germination lesson, describe how you will explore corn and soybean germination. Explain the specific unit and how they relate, instead of using broad terms, like that you will teach about agriculture in science class.

Those reviewing and funding your grant may be able to infer how your science lesson could be related to agriculture, but it is important that you explain how you will connect your lesson to agriculture. Depth of learning in both core standards and agriculture will bode well for your application!

Be creative!

Trying something new can be fun. Take this opportunity to explore new topics and ideas, and make a great program for your students. They will love it!

Whatever it is that you’re excited about implementing, we hope you let us help by applying for an Agriculture in the Classroom Teacher Supplement Grant. You can start your application here: https://app.wizehive.com/appform/login/IALF_TSG_2019.

Good luck!


Growing Future Farmers

Does playing in the dirt make a better farmer? Does planting a garden create a future agronomist? Or raising a brood of backyard chickens develop a veterinarian? Could these things develop an interest in children regarding how agriculture affects their everyday life? If you have kids, or have spent time with kids, then you know when they are getting messy it is more than just a lesson in getting stains out of laundry. They are working.  They are learning. They are figuring things out in a way that is comfortable for them. Trying new ideas, gaining small successes (and even small failures) that are all stepping stones to the skills they will need as adults.

As I watch my 10 year old create a “dirt village” under a maple tree in our backyard, I see the wheels turning in his young mind (and on the tractors and wagons that have been gifts from family throughout the years). While playing he has to decide how and where to turn, the degree of turn he can make hooked up to a wagon, and how full he can make his wagon and still drive up hills. These activities will be the building blocks for when he is given the go ahead to operate life-sized machinery.  When he is grown and solely responsible for the decisions made on his own farm, I hope he will think back on these early days spent “playing” tractors under the shade of a tree.

Playing in the dirt no longer holds the attention of my oldest son.  At 14, he has discovered that work on the farm pays and has created a business buying hens and selling eggs. He has daily chores and responsibilities. The food and water that his animals need to survive come solely from his hands. He has had unexpected gains, when a neighbor was giving away four laying hens that produced his first “paycheck.” And he has had setbacks, like when a great horned owl decided that chicken was on the menu.

He keeps records of  his earnings and is responsible for all purchases. Good bookkeeping is invaluable to a prosperous farming operation and I am happy he is starting good financial habits early.

This school year, I am taking the lessons my children have learned on our family farm and I am headed out to schools. With each classroom presentation, I have a chance to reach students on their level. Finding out how much experience they have with agriculture. Who has a garden? Who has helped mom or dad, grandma or grandpa harvest produce? Has anyone been to a farm? Do you know where your favorite foods come from? And, then I get to do my favorite part. I get to listen, hear their stories and thank them for sharing. Kids want to know you are interested.

Part of presenting to children includes finding that spark, that bit of interest that makes them light up and say, “Hey, that’s cool” and maybe even, “I’d like to learn a little more about that.”

Why? Why is it important to reach children with agriculture?

  • New jobs are being created everyday in farming.  The technology farmers use changes constantly. Drones, once a thing of science fiction, now have a role in precision agriculture.
  • Iowa needs future farmers.  As we face a growing elderly population we will need a workforce that is trained and able to take over when the time comes. 
  • It’s relatable. Instead of telling your student what makes a plant grow or what an animal needs to survive, you can show them, day by day in real life applications.
  • And lastly, agriculture is fun!  And it makes an impression.  Lessons are messy and fairly inexpensive. It has been my experience that the more hands-on a lesson is, the more a student remembers.   

So when my future farmer asks me, “Mom, you wanna come watch me move dirt on my farm?” I sigh as I walk past the piles of paperwork, cringe as I notice the undone dishes (what else are counters for), and I happily tell him “Yes, at least till supper is ready.” He shows me his new improvements and we talk about some things that didn’t work like he thought and what he had to do differently.

After supper my teenager, my new entrepreneur, asks if I’d help him wash what he collected that day. As we delicately scrub the multicolored eggs and place them in cartons, we debate on what his next investments will be. Later in the evening he’ll use the family computer to research pros and cons of automatic egg washers.

Do these things guarantee my sons will farm, or have careers in livestock, or even be interested in agriculture? The answer is… I don’t know. But I do know a seed has been planted. You can’t grow anything you don’t plant.


Hello, my name is Melanie. I am the Education Program Coordinator for Loess Hills Agriculture in the Classroom.  In my role, I bring agriculture-related classroom programs to schools in an effort to improve agriculture literacy.   The school districts that I serve are in Carroll, Crawford, Harrison, Shelby, and West Pottawattamie counties.  My family and I raise cattle, corn, soybeans, and hay on a farm that has been in my husband’s family for three generations.  I grew up in an urban setting and am more comfortable in classrooms than in tractors, but I am fascinated by agriculture!  You’ll often hear me say, “I love the people who love to farm.”


8 Ways to Spark Students’ Interest in Agriculture Careers

Those working in agriculture know that it’s a good career choice. The work is fulfilling, usually pays well, and the types of jobs available are plentiful and diverse. However, careers in agriculture are often overlooked. Aside from a farmer or veterinarian, when was the last time you heard a kid name an agriculture career when asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

We held six professional development workshops in June where teachers spent one day visiting farms and agribusinesses in their communities. At every workshop we heard teachers say something like, “I had no idea there were so many good jobs in agriculture.” or “Wow, agriculture is so high-tech! My students would love these jobs.”

Teaching students about agriculture is the first step to sparking interest in agriculture careers. But how do you showcase the wide variety of jobs available? We are often asked for recommendations for good lesson plans, displays, handouts, and engaging activities about careers in agriculture. There are tons of resources available, but finding the best through a Google search can be daunting.

Below are my top picks of career resources that are suitable for both classroom teachers and those working in agriculture to take into schools. The list includes choices for elementary, middle and high school students and things well-suited to a variety of settings and time constraints.

  1. My American Farm – Little Ag Me. This simple online game is a perfect way to help elementary students discover the job of a farmer isn’t the only career in agriculture. Students earn points by correctly picking clothes, tools, work places, and tasks for a produce buyer, diesel mechanic, agricultural journalist, plant scientist, and more. The game’s accompanying educational resources include ideas for classroom presentations and hands-on activities, printable student readers, and even an augmented reality experience.littleAgMe
  2. Career Ag Mag. Read-all-about it! This newspaper-like student reader is a great way to have students learn more about agriculture careers at their own pace.AE-AGMAGCR-001-030
  3. When I Grow Up: Discovering Careers. Developed by the American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture, this free online curriculum includes all you need to explore nine different agriculture career areas with middle school students. The educator guide includes a lesson plan, three interdisciplinary supplemental activities, and an activity sheet for each career area. Pick and choose what resources fit best for your time, setting, and the students’ interests. A card game and poster set are also available to purchase through the AFB Store or borrow from the IALF lending library.When I grow up
  4. Agriculture Career Pictionary. Who doesn’t like Pictionary? This is a fun way to introduce older students to the variety of jobs in agriculture or have younger students review what they learned learned from the Careers Ag Mag or When I Grow Up curriculum.
  5. Career Trek. In this lesson students complete the Holland’s Interest Assessment and do online research to learn more about the agriculture careers best suited to their interest, talents, and aptitude. The lesson also includes a fun board game to assess student knowledge about agriculture and natural resources careers. Career Trek game boards available to purchase through the National Agriculture in the Classroom Store or borrow form the IALF lending library.   
  6. Careers in Agriculture Videos. This collection of 40 short videos highlights a wide variety of careers in agriculture and natural resources. Each video is one to four minutes long and features an interview with a professional working in an agricultural field. Give students time to explore these videos on their own or select a few to show in class.
  7. Careers for 2050 & Beyond/Journey 2050. This lesson and app-based game is a quick and easy way to introduce middle and high school students to careers in agriculture.  The entire lesson only takes 30 minutes!  A ready-to-go PowerPoint is provided to engage students in discussion about the careers needed to produce, process and market the food we eat and introduce a career game in the Journey2050 app. The game takes less than 10 minutes to play and can use used as a stand-alone activity at school and community events! 
  8. AgExplorer is the most robust and comprehensive career resource on this list! Developed by National FFA and Discover Education, the website includes more than 235 unique career profiles, virtual fieldtrip videos and an interactive career assessment to help high school students explore the broad range of careers within the agriculture industry.


The most important thing we can do to spark students’ interest in agriculture careers is share our passion for agriculture with them.  Tell them about new the many ways technology is used in agriculture. Create opportunities for them to experience the science and business of agriculture. Take them a farm or agribusinesses, or visit one virtually.  Introduce them to someone in an agriculture career that interests them.  The possibilities are endless.



Family Farming: A Legacy to the Next Generation

It’s the time of year that people reflect on what’s important, and what tops the list is family. It is also a time to be reflective and thankful for the abundance that we have. Did you know that family farms are the pillar of the agriculture industry? What is a family farm?

A “family farm” by definition is any farm where the majority of the business is owned Edit -- Farmsteadby the operator and individuals related to the operator, including through blood, marriage, or adoption.

Family farms produce food and fiber for people all over the world. There are five facts to know about U.S. family farms:

  1. Food equals family – 97% of the 2.1 million farms in the United States are family owned.
  2. Eighty-eight percent of all U.S. farms are small family farms.
  3. Fifty-eight percent of all direct farm sales to consumers come from small family farms.
  4. Sixty-four percent of all vegetable sales and 66% of all dairy sales come from the three percent of farms that are large or very large family farms.
  5. Eighteen percent of the principal operators on family farms in the U.S. started within the last 10 years.

I was surprised to learn that 97% of all U.S. farms are family farms. The size of the farm is not classified the physical size, but is classified by the annual sales. The reasoning behind this calculation is that not all acreage is fertile, well-watered land. In Iowa, we iowafarmare fortunate to have very fertile soil.

According to the USDA Census of Agriculture, the following states have the highest concentration of family farms are West Virginia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Alabama. Approximately 95% of the farms in Iowa are family farms.

There may be larger farms and fewer of them than 50 or 100 years ago, but this information tells us that most farms are still family owned. With so much change in technology, it becomes even more important to be educated in all aspects of farming. Machinery on the farm is changing and becoming better every year. Because farmers can do so much more with better machinery, their yields are higher too. This knowledge of the land also allows farmers to spraying corntake better care of the soil and water sources on their land. The average size of an Iowa farm is about 345 acres. Family farms need to be larger to generate income to support the number of families present at a farm. If there are four families in the business, there needs to profit enough to support four households. Farm work is really demanding work. There is no such thing as weekends off or sleeping in or taking time off to travel with friends. Farmers need to be present to take care of the animals and crops. Because the work on a farm is hard – there are a lot of young people deciding not to work on the farm. Those that do work on the farm have their heart in the business. With fewer people interested in farming – the work needs to be streamlined and efficient so that it can be completed by fewer hands. Lastly, farming is expensive. The farmland and machinery alone are costly, farmers must be totally invested physically and financially.

Farmers pay close attention to their land and often see it as a legacy to the next FullSizeRendergeneration. The movie FARMLAND shared such insights and stated that family succession planning is vital to be able to transition farmland to the next generation. We are fortunate to have many Iowan farmers that see this legacy of farming and desire to share it with generations to come.

It’s amazing to think that Iowa ranks first in the United States in production of soybeans, corn, pork, and eggs. With the average 345 acre Iowa farm, this means that farmers care about the land and work hard to keep the land healthy and the legacy farming going. When you are out driving around, take time to see and enjoy the beautiful fields that Iowa has, as well as the family farms that care for farm animals across Iowa. In a time of Thanksgiving…it’s important for us to remember that Iowa is blessed and we are thankful!

– Sheri

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Workshop Experience – Gets an A+

It’s the time of year when school lets out for kids and teachers are looking for opportunities for professional development classes. To keep up to date with licensure, teachers need to get continuing education time by attending professional development classes every year. Teachers look for ways to bring new and interesting information into the classroom. Teachers are seeking ways to engage students, peak interests and promote retention of information learned.

Our best motivation is to see the interest ignite as students learn how integral agriculture is to Iowa and to our everyday living. We take very seriously the opportunity to bring agriculture into every classroom across Iowa. Every summer, we and partner organizations promote and hold two-day summer workshops where teachers earn credits for attending. The two-day workshops are packed with learning and help teachers apply Iowa Core standards including science and language arts in the context of agriculture. The workshops also use agriculture to teach other core concepts and skills like social studies and math. The workshops are hands on and interactive with one day of site visits and tours and one day of practical classroom application. Many STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) concepts are integrated throughout.

I attended one of the first workshops held in Moville in cooperation with Siouxland Ag in the Classroom. I was amazed at the amount of information learned on the tours. I cannot3 tell you enough about how interesting they were. Our first stop was at the family farm of Taylor Nelson. Taylor shared information about their farm operation and toured us through the journey of how his family plants, harvests, and sells corn for use in local production of ethanol. We saw many types of machines used in his farm business. We saw the process go full circle. We had ethanol fuellunch at a wonderful gas, food, and fuel stop, that Taylor and his wife own and manage. The station buys ethanol (which started out as corn on his farm), to be mixed with gasoline and supplied as fuel sold to customers on a daily basis. IMG_3262Touring the entire production made the “farm-to-you” come to life right before our eyes. Teachers were very excited to see how they could use this in a classroom by doing a FarmChat® or an actual visit to these sites. Many of the teachers were looking for new ways to ignite a passion for learning and because using agriculture to teach science, social studies, engineering and math is new to them, their excitement for new ideas was visible.

Our second stop was at Siouxland Ethanol. Our tour guides, Pam and Casey, from theddgs plant shared the process of accepting corn via trucks and then through several steps to turn the corn into ethanol for vehicles. The corn delivered has to meet special requirements. The process is amazing to see in action. The sights and sounds of the machines in action and the different smells from the plant were amazing to experience. The actual scent was hard for me to compare to anythingethanol tour else…it had a sweet, yet lingering smell and everyone seemed to like the scent. Seeing the action of milling and mashing to cooking and cooling, I learned so much about turning corn into ethanol from start to finish. It makes me value the ease and ability to just go to a pump and fill up my tank. There is a lot of work behind the gas pump.

Our final tour was at the Purina Plant in Sioux City, Iowa. Purina takes great pride in the way they produce quality feed. They test the product as it goes through the process of 5.jpgbeing made. They use computer programs to be certain everything is done precisely to order and has the correct proportions of ingredients. We were able to see the chemistry 4behind the scenes as well as the care that was taken. To Purina, they believe that what they are doing is not just producing feed – it’s food for very important animals. I was amazed to see all of the different animal foods that are prepared on sight. They had things for guinea pigs all the way up to horses and cattle. They have a solid quality standard in place and seeing the pride that is taken in meeting those standards was truly a testament to the quality of the product.

I still have a lot to learn in regards to agriculture. I am grateful that Agriculture in the Classroom takes very seriously the importance of educating everyone about agriculture and the part it plays in our lives. I am also proud to be part of the IALF team and value the part we play in aligning with AITC across Iowa to make a difference. Teachers, if you haven’t signed up for a workshop you still have time. Check it out on our website.



Summer Boredom Busters


We’re only a few weeks into summer break, but I know many kids are already saying, “I’m bored.  There’s nothing to do.”

Whether you’re trying to keep your own kids busy or want to teach a group of kids about agriculture, we have many ideas for you!  Below are some great ways to help kids explore the world of agriculture, have fun, and learn about science or history too!  Some will work well for one or two kids to do at home, while others can easily be done with larger groups at a county fair, summer camp, etc.

GrassheadbigGrow Something

  • Create a Cover Crop Monster with grass seed, soil, stockings or old tights, a few art supplies. The grass grows into a funky hairdo your kiddos will love!
  • Plant a seed necklace. Add a corn kernel and a soybean seed to a jewelry-size zip top bag filled with moisture beads or a moistened cotton ball. Punch a hole in the top, add a piece of yarn, and viola… you have a living necklace featuring Iowa’s two main crops.
  • Get gardening. Remember, you don’t need to a big garden to get started.  Plunk a seedling or two into an existing flower bed, or create a container garden with something you already have around such as an old flower pot, bucket, barrel or even a shoe.  Just make sure it has holes in the bottom, to allow excels water to drain.
  • Plant soybeans in plaster of Paris. Say, what???  Just do it.  I promise you won’t be disappointed!


TypingRead & Write

  • Read the digital version or request your own copy of My Family’s Beef Farm or My Family’s Corn Farm. For farm kids, have them to write and illustrate a simple story about their farm.  This would be a great family project!
  • Explore the list of books in our Lending Library with your children and pick out a few of their favorites to read together. See if your local library has these titles, or check them out through us for two weeks.  A few of my favs for younger children are Who Grew My Soup, and So you want to Grow a Taco, and All in Just one Cookie.  Great picks for older kids include The Kid Who Changed the World, Farmer George Plants a Nation. A Hog Ate my Homework, and The Beef Princess of Practical County.
  • Click Clack Moo, Cows that Type is one of my kids’ favorite books. In this super silly book, the cows write letters to the farmer demanding extra amenities in the barn or they will go on strike. After reading this book and “My Family’s Beef Farm,” ask kids to write a letter to Cecelia’s family from the perspective of one of the calves.  Their letters can be silly or more serious and consider the needs of the calves and what Cecilia’s family provides for them.  Instead of a “demand” letter, maybe they’ll choose to write a “thank you” letter.  To make this extra fun, ask around to see if you can find an old typewriter so the kids can type the letter just like the cows in Click Clack Moo.  The digital version can be found at PBS and it’s in our Lending Library too.

ice-creamGet Cooking

2050Play Games

  • Farmers 2050 is perfect for the middle and high school videogame-loving kids. This online and app-based game allows players to grow crops, raise livestock, and support their local community, and engage with local and global partners as they level up.
  • My American Farm’s interactive games are perfect for elementary-age kids. Players learn where food comes from and how those products get from the farm to their dinner plate.

IMG_1354Create Something:

  • Paint with Soil! Yes, dirt can be beautiful. The color of soil in Iowa varies quite a bit, but for a more colorful work of art ask out of state friends and relatives to send you soil too!
  • Make corn mosaics. Explore the difference between Indian corn, popcorn, and field corn while creating a beautiful work of art. Gather seeds of each type, craft glue, and cardboard squares and let your little artist create a masterpiece worthy of display in the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD.
  • Forget rubber stamps, an ear of corn is all you need to create a beautiful work of art with ink pads or washable tempera paint. Rolling the whole ear in paint will create a beautiful pattern, but also try printing with the husks, cob, or a cross section of an ear. Other veggies like broccoli, potatoes, carrots, and even lettuce leaves make great prints too!

Grout-Museum-District-362x272Go Somewhere:

  • Visit a farm. Ask a relative, neighbor, or friend if your family can come visit their farm – or even better put the kiddos to work for a few hours help.  In person is best, but don’t forget about virtual visits too!  Check out our FarmChat® tips to learn how.
  • Have fun at a local farmer’s market. Encourage kids to help you pick out vegetables or ask the farmers questions.  This farmer’s market scavenger hunt will make the visit extra fun too!
  • Plan a family road trip to visit one of the many agricultural historical sites in Iowa. Check out Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area‘s eight Ag Adventure loop guides to make your planning easy! Even better, let the kids explore the website and help decide where to go!