Agriculture in the Classroom, A History

“Throughout much of the history of the United States, agriculture and education have been closely related. During the decades when most Americans lived on farms or in small towns, students often did farm chores before and after school. Indeed, the school year was determined by planting, cultivating, and harvesting schedules. Old school books are full of agricultural references and examples because farming and farm animals were a familiar part of nearly every child’s life.

In the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s, the farm population began to shrink and agricultural emphasis decreased in school books and educational materials. Educators focused on agriculture as an occupational specialty, rather than an integral part of every student’s life. Agriculture education was mainly offered to those few students wanting to make a career of agriculture.

During this period, a small nucleus of educators and others persistently pushed for more agriculture in education. They recognized the interlocking role of farming, food, and fiber production with environmental quality topics like maintaining a clean water supply and preserving and improving forests and wildlife habitat. They kept education in agriculture and the environment alive during a period when interest by the public as a whole was decreasing.

Picture2.pngDuring the 1960s and ’70s, educators began to realize the need for quality materials. Many excellent films, books, and classroom aides were financed and produced by businesses, foundations, nonprofit groups, and associations, as well as state and federal agencies. There was, however, little coordination of effort or exchange of ideas among the groups and no central point for national coordination.

In 1981 the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) under the leadership of then Secretary of Agriculture John Block, invited representatives of agricultural groups and educators to a meeting in Washington, D.C. to discuss agricultural literacy. A national task force was selected from this group. Representation came from agriculture, business, education, and governmental agencies, some of whom were already conducting educational programs in agriculture. Block believed that agriculture should be an integral part of every student’s education experience – not just a subject offered in career and technical programs at the high school level.

This task force recommended that the USDA be the coordinator for national agricultural classroom literacy and that it sponsor regional meetings to help states organize their own programs. They also urged the department to encourage the support of other national groups. Since that time, significant progress has been made through these partnerships of agriculture, business, education, government and dedicated volunteers.

Picture3.pngEach state organization addresses agriculture education in a way best suited to its own needs. In some cases, an all-volunteer network is responsible for teacher education and materials distribution. States have formed educational nonprofit organizations which have the benefit of a tax-deductible status. In some states leadership is provided through the departments of education, agriculture or other government agencies; in other states through agriculture organizations or commodity groups; some through universities or colleges; and in some cases through the dedicated efforts of one or two individuals.”

– from National Agriculture in the Classroom

In Iowa, Agriculture in the Classroom enjoyed the leadership from the Iowa Farm Bureau with many county Farm Bureaus leading engagement activities with local teachers and students. These active county organizations have created robust programs and even pooled resources forming organizations like North Central Iowa Ag in the ClassroomSiouxland Ag in the Classroom, and Central Iowa Ag in the Classroom.

IALF logo - FINAL.jpgAgriculture literacy isn’t only the responsibility of the Farm Bureau. It affects the whole of the agricultural industry. In 2013 and 2014, Iowa Farm Bureau organized meetings of key stakeholders and in May 2014 the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation was born. As the central resource for Agriculture in the Classroom in Iowa we work with educators, volunteers, and students to teach agriculture. As a leading producer of agricultural products, it is important for all Iowans to understand the essential role agriculture has in their lives.

Through the development of lesson plans, organization of teacher professional development, and a variety of other activities, the organization has increased students reached per year from roughly 16,000 to more than 175,800.


This equates to roughly 41% of students in grades K-6 receiving agricultural literacy programming. Teacher engagement too has increased with more than 3100 teachers receiving training to expand their classroom activities and teach science, social studies, and language arts with agriculture. Programs like FarmChat®, student readers like Iowa Ag Today, and books like the My Family’s Farm series have all played a key role in expanding the reach of agriculture literacy in Iowa.

More than 30 Iowa educators will travel to the National Agriculture in the Classroom conference in Kansas City, Missouri this year. The excitement and enthusiasm for agriculture literacy has continued to grow. This is the largest delegation that Iowa has ever had to the national conference. These individuals will bring home curriculum ideas, resources, best practices, and even a national teacher award winner.

One in 5 jobs in Iowa is in agriculture or a related industry. It is vital that our students understand agriculture. Most won’t become farmers. But many will work in this vibrant, growing industry. Food is depended upon three times per day for most people. That food and many other products that we rely on everyday come from agriculture. With advances in technology and the need to continue to increase production while still protecting our natural resources, we need more people interested in agriculture and that means that we need to start them on an educational path with Agriculture in the Classroom!


Where Did They Come From?– Iowa Pioneers

The month of May means the school year is coming to an end and summer is right around the corner. But for some, like myself, it means picking up a few summer classes. I needed one more course to fill my history requirement and after looking through a variety of online classes I found one that seems to capture my interest perfectly—Iowa History.

Now if you enjoy learning about our past and how things came to be then you will understand my excitement when I stumbled upon this course. For the past couple of years now, I have been trying to track my ancestor’s history and how they came to settle in the state of Iowa. My grandmother has told me many stories of my ancestor’s travels, but after the first week of this course I am finally able to envision the journey myself. Each farm family has a story of how they came to this land, and with that here is the story of the Cook Farm and the history of the pioneers that came before us.

My ancestor’s history begins with a heritage farm, known as the Cook Farm, located up in the Northeast corner of Iowa. What is a heritage farm, you may ask? Well, a heritage farm is a farmstead that has been in ownership of the family for more than 150 years. Some of you may be familiar with the ceremony at the Iowa State Fair that recognizes families for century farms—farms that have been in the ownership of the family for 100 years. If you think about it, a lot of life events can happen in 100 years that can test a family’s strength in keeping a farm around for the next generation. Luckily, my family has been able to pass this farm on from generation to generation, but it still amazes me what these pioneers had to go through to leave that legacy behind.

cook farm barn

The Cook Farm barn and the garden that is planted every year by my grandparents. The garden sits where the cattle lot used to be many years ago, making for rich and fertile soil.

My family’s journey begins all the way back to the 1840s when my ancestors came over from Bavaria, Germany. For the first 20 years in America, my Great-Great-Great Grandfather Henry Cook worked as a baker in Cincinnati, OH and later became a citizen of the United States. He later married and started a family and around that time they were calling for settlers to move out West. To start their journey to Iowa, they acquired land through the Homestead Act of 1862. This act stated that an individual could obtain a track of land consisting of 160 acres and own the land after two years of living and working off of it. By the end of the Civil war, 15,000 homestead claims had been established, and more followed in the postwar years. Throughout Henry’s years he acquired more land—either by buying from soldiers who fought in the Civil War and were paid with acres of land for their service or from neighboring pioneer families who decided to continue moving out west.

Now in the first week of this Iowa history course we have been learning about the challenges these pioneers faced when venturing out West. The first that was noted was the environment and the climate. On the East Coast, trees lined the shores for miles inland and were a great source to build houses and start fires. Well, Iowa was not known for dense forests but for the never-ending prairies that stretched across the land. Some settlers noted that the prairie grass was over 7 to 8 feet tall and it was very easy to lose livestock or even children on the journey through the waves of tall grass.

Since there were not many trees around, settlers had to adapt to the resources in their new environment. Sod houses became an iconic image for the New Frontier. These homes were constructed by disassembling the pioneer’s covered wagon and using the wood boards and tarp as a foundation for the house walls and roof and then lay strips of prairie sod on top and around to finish it off. These sod homes made great insulation and warmth for the cold winter months and were cool for the hot summer months—perfect for Iowa’s climate and seasons.

Prairie fires were another challenge to overcome. To fight the fires, pioneers created prairie strips around the boarder of their homes in an act to stop or divert the fires away. They also purposely set the prairie on fire, that way they could control the size of the fire, the direction, and when the fires occurred– this is known as a prescribed fire today. That way it wasn’t a surprise and they weren’t in a rush of time to control the fire. In one of my history books, it claimed pioneers would sleep with one eye open all the time to watch for prairie fires starting up.

The last main challenge pioneers faced was that of disease. There were not doctors, let alone towns for miles. This was partially why you saw such big farm families. Not only were children seen as hands on the farm, but also life expectancy was not the highest. My grandmother stated Henry and Mary Cook had 11 children in 22 years and three of the children died as infants from disease that came through the area.

It wasn’t the best or glorious life one could have out on the open prairie, but the chances these settlers took not only lead to the future of their family farm but to the future of this state. Without them Iowa wouldn’t be what it is today. So, my question for you is, do you have what it takes to be a pioneer and if so where would your journey take you?

For lessons and educational materials on Iowa History check out our lesson, History of Iowa Agriculture or our website for more lessons.

Also check out these videos that explain rural farm life in the early 20th century.


Cook Farm Gang and House

Henry Cook first built a sod house on the Cook Farm land and later built a log cabin. The house in the background was the last farm house built by Henry’s son, Andrew Cook. This farm house was also the first home in Clayton county to have electricity, running water, and a working telephone.


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!


It’s All About the Ag in Christmas

Christmas season is here. I absolutely love this time of year with the beauty of the weather changes and the symbolism with so much meaning. I become mesmerized by so many pieces of the holiday, from the beautifully decorated trees, the lights, the hot cider and so much more. As I really think about all of the decorating, food and beauty, I am amazed at how much of Christmas relates back to agriculture.

Trees are a centerpiece in the Christmas holiday, both for religious reasons and for the tree-privacy-screen-02mere beauty represented. The Christmas tree can represent peace and good cheer worldwide. Back in history firs and evergreens were felt to hold new life because they did not die during harsh, cold weather. In the 1500-1600s many people decorated their homes with sprigs of evergreens. It wasn’t until the 16th century that people began to decorate the actual tree, Martin Luther is thought to have been the first person to add lights (candles) to the tree. The first Christmas tree farm was established in 1901 but have been commercially sold since the 1850s. Today there are more than 17 million Christmas trees harvested from farms annually on more than 309,000 acres.  Iowa harvests more than 27,000 trees annually.

Hanging green mistletoe with a red bowMistletoe also has symbolism for peace and joy. In ancient times, when enemies met beneath the mistletoe in the forest and wooded areas, the had to lay down weapons and call a truce until the following day. It was this ritual that started the custom of hanging clumps of mistletoe and exchanging kisses beneath it as a gesture of goodwill toward each other. Mistletoe is an interesting plant because it is part parasite called a hemiparasite that grows on tree branches or trunks. This parasitic plant then sends out roots that penetrate into the tree and tap into and take up the nutrients from the tree. I, for one, am glad that I see it as a sweet tradition handed down through the generations. If it grows, there is probably a farmer who grows it. Or you can try to grow your own mistletoe!

I get excited to enjoy the holiday and hot wassail…but never really knew any of the history hot-wassailbehind this custom. So what is wassail and wassailing? It is a greeting and a toast used in ritualized drinking – a holiday custom that wishes good fortune and good health. Wassail is the drink that was used for the toast…a spiced wine, of sorts or a mulled punch. The wine is made by adding spices like ginger, cinnamon, cloves, allspice and nutmeg as well as slice oranges or apples. Well, my hot wassail was made from mulled apple cider…nonetheless I enjoy it when the season comes around.

The poinsettia that we buy in pots today is different from its original form. The original poinsettiapoinsettia was a larger plant that grew wild in southern Mexico. It was known for beautiful blooms and was also used for the medicinal properties that helped to treat fevers. America’s first minister to Mexico saw the striking plant and brought it back to the United States and grew them in his personal greenhouses. The original name of the flower was “flor de la Noche Buena” meaning flower of the Christmas eve. The minister was Dr. Joel Poinsett, to which the Poinsettia was named in honor of. Careful cultivation of this plant by agriculturalists over the last century have given us the many different colors of this beautiful plant.

Holly seems to be a traditional decoration for many decorators during the holiday season. It makes Christmas look beautiful. This tradition is pagan in origin. The vibrant plant not only sweetened the air, it remained deep green in color and reminded everyone of the hollyspring to come with new life. The holly plant symbolized eternal life and the red berries added bright and constant color. The plant has also been symbolic of the winter holidays. Ancient Romans used it for decorating during Saturnalia, a festival dedicated to Saturn, a god of agriculture. Today we still use the brightly colored holly in our celebration and decoration of the Christmas season. Holly bushes are typically ornamental landscaping plants that can be found in all 50 states. Nurseries will sell bushes at various stages of growth.

Whatever the reason, whatever the time – I find that everywhere I look, I see agriculture abounding. Christmas is full of agriculture and I for one am very thankful. We here at Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and Happy 2017.

– Sheri


Higher Yields: The Science and Technology of Agriculture

Where do we go from here?

No, I’m not singing a line from the musical Evita. No one would argue there have been drastic changes in the farming industry. When I stop to think about it, I am two generations removed from farming with horses. We’re talking my grandpa farming with horses when he was a boy. Now, some farmers are using machines with GPS receivers, controls that look like joysticks and touchscreen monitors in the cabs.

Winter SunriseI am fortunate to have experienced both types of farming. No, I have not planted or harvested a field with horses, but I have experienced spreading manure with horses. Yes, it was strength building, callus producing work, and I wouldn’t trade a minute for those memories. There are several learning experiences in pitching manure. The two that stand out in my memory are that you only carry so much on your shovel or fork so you don’t slop or drop it as you’re throwing it in to the manure spreader and two, pay attention to which way the wind is blowing as you go to unload the spreader. It can get real messy real fast. It is that minute I wouldn’t trade anything in the world for, which I believe has led to the many advancements we enjoy today. How often have you heard “time is money”, or “time is precious” or thought my time is too limited to add one more thing? It is our desire to be efficient with our time and tasks, technology has helped us advance to where we are today. The world of agriculture is no exception.

Hazy MorningBeing curious, I googled how many farming apps are there. The results, over 700. The topics ranged greatly from the obvious livestock and crop apps, but there were marketing, education, technology and spraying apps. The most interesting app I discovered will assist in identifying any insect, weed, or disease found in the field. It allows for the specific location to be mapped so that the correct treatment can be applied to the specific area instead of the entire field if unnecessary. This tool wasn’t available 10 years ago. Science and technology have changed many things in the world of agriculture. From tractors to hybrid seeds and from power and energy to genetics science and technology has made big advances. These advances have also helped increase yields to feed a growing world population. It will be interesting to see what agriculture looks like for my grandchildren.

nobackgroundlogoThe 115 Partner Sites of the Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area tell a very specific story related to agriculture. Some of those stories are about where we have been and others where we are going in the world of agriculture, all of them excellent in expanding our knowledge. So I guess that is where we go from here. Continue to learn about or seek out opportunities to learn about agriculture. It is one thing that links us all together.

-Laura, Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area

Celebrating the Three Sisters & the Story Behind the Thanksgiving Celebration

I have to be honest. I had no idea who the three sisters were and what their importance was. Or how it was connected to Thanksgiving until just recently when I came across it on social media. My interest was sparked and so here I am researching what this relationship is all about.

I recall growing up and hearing my parents say “back in the day” or “in my generation”. As I read this legend it brought back fond memories of learning things that were passed from generation to generation.  The legend of corn, beans and squash – and these plgarden7-copyants being referred to as the “three sisters” – relates back to Native Americans.  According to Iroquois legend these three plants when planted together thrive in the same way three sisters can be found to be inseparable. The Native Americans chose to plant corn, beans and squash in the same mounds, which created a sustainable system that provided for soil health and fertility. The connection of these three plants gives us a look back to how things were done when the America’s were first being inhabited and agriculture was in view as far as the eye could see.

three-sistersIroquois believed that the corn, beans and squash were gifts from the Great Spirit. The plants were thought to be watched over by the three sister spirits, called the De o-ha-ko or Our Sustainers and translates to “life support”. These three sister spirits protect and inhabit the croplands. Sister Corn stands tall to guard and protect the crops. Sister Bean feeds the roots of Sister corn. Sister Squash, the oldest of the three sisters stays close to earth and encircles the sisters in a protective fashion and uses her large leaves to protect and shade the soil. Planted together the sisters get their water supply from Father sky.

Corn, beans and squash were among the first important crops for early settlers. By the re-telling of the story and this way of planting as well as the legacy was passed down from generation to generation. This process of planting did much for the health of the crop. Corn provided a physical pole for the bean vines to cling to. The beans (as legumes) host bacteria on their roots that help increase the nitrogen levels of the soil around the plants roots and fertility of the soil would then increase. The bean vines would actually ecd77d3400bc54541063494cacf29e8d-copystrengthen and stabilize the tall corn plants. Nearer to the ground the squash vines created natural shading and helped to hold moisture in the soil and also prevented weeds from taking over beneath the corn and beans. I am amazed to see how the early farmers knew the importance of all of the components of planting and not just the end result of a crop. They worked diligently to protect the soil so that a good crop would be maintained for years to come.

These three crops also helped provide Native Americans with a nutritionally balanced diet. The corn provided quick energy in the form of carbohydrates. The beans were rich in protein. And the squash helped supplement the diet with vitamins from the fruit and oils from the seeds.

Corn, squash and beans are all native to the Americas and have been cultivated for ththousands of years. This trio helped keep soils healthy and it helped keep the Native Americans healthy. When early settlers landed and pushed west these three crops were quickly adopted into cultivation practices. The bounty of fall harvest surely included these and now, hundreds of years later, they are still served on the table as part of our Thanksgiving dinner menus.

~ Sheri

Organizing for Agriculture

This title alone does not convey this to be an engaging blog, but let’s see if I can put a unique spin on this topic. What have you done for agriculture? What do you do to help support, promote or advocate for agriculture? Agriculture is connected to so many careers, it is important everyone becomes informed on the issues facing agriculture, food production and the environment. I encourage you to LISTEN (it’s different than hearing) to many different viewpoints, form your own opinions, and stand behind your beliefs. Boy, all those election commercials are rubbing off, sorry.

Iowans have long recognized the importance in having a voice in and about agriculture. It is the backbone of our state economy. Do you know how many Iowans have held the position as Secretary of United States Department of Agriculture? The answer: six! The most of any state! You will likely recognize some of their names: James “Tama Jim” Wilson, Edwin Thomas Meredith, Henry C. Wallace, Henry A. Wallace, Mike Johanns, and Tom Vilsack. All of these men have interesting backgrounds.  One of these gentlemen allowed George Washingon Carver to stay in his office while going to Iowa Agricultural College (ISU). Another founded the Better Homes and Gardens magazine, while another went on to become Vice President of the United States. All these men had a strong voice about the importance of Iowa and agriculture. You, too, can you be a voice. Do you visit with farmers? Do you call your legislators and speak with them to voice your concerns at a local, regional, state and national level?

And did you know at one time the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture was not a member of the President’s Cabinet? An organization rallied in 1889 to make this position a part of the Cabinet. What organization do you think that was? If your answer was the Farm Bureau, you would be incorrect. The American Farm Bureau Federation did not form until 1920. The correct answer would be the National Grange, founded in 1867. To be honest, the first time I heard of the Grange was watching Little House on the Prairie. Pa got dressed up, went to a Grange meeting and wore a yellow ribbon on his lapel. (Yes, I remember the strangest things.) That is all I could tell you before I did a little research.  Did you know the Grange was also involved in the Hatch Act that created experimental stations at state colleges of agriculture. (GO ISU!) they also were involved in legislation in 1906 that promoted ethanol as a motor fuel. See, ethanol is not a new thing. There are other items in the news presented as new which, if one did a little research, would find have been around for decades (i.e. methane, GMOs, soil/water conservation).

Sugar Grove 2

The National Grange will be holding their 150th convention in November. According to the National Grange website, it states they advocate for rural America and agriculture. With a history of grassroots activism, family values and community service, the Grange is a part of 2,100 hometowns in the United States. One of these hometowns is Newton, IA, home to the Silos & Smokestacks Partner Site Sugar Grove Vineyards & Gathering Place, a rejuvenated 1870s Grange Hall. I hope you will make an appointment to visit.

These are just two examples of organizations and people that have had a voice for agriculture. I encourage you to check out FarmHer, WOCAN, Iowa Corn Growers, Iowa Soybean, Iowa Cattlemen, Iowa Pork Producers, American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, and the many others that have a voice for American agriculture. How can you help?

-Laura, Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area

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!


The Changing Farm

The advancement of technology has changed many things. In my life, in terms of entertainment, I listen to a lot of music. First on records, then cassettes, CDs and now I can download whichever individual single I want. In the kitchen, things have also changed. I remember when we got our first microwave. That thing was so big and heavy Mom was worried if the shelf Grandpa made was strong enough to hold it. It sure makes the one I have in my kitchen today look puny.

I also remember changes happening on the farm. The old plow was retired to the back shed because new tillage practices such as soil saving and no-till showed decreases in soil erosion. The cultivator was also retired because new herbicides were created to kill the weeds effectively. I didn’t have to walk the beans anymore!

One of my dad’s favorite hybrids was Cargill’s 4327. But then better producing hybrids were developed. Change is always constant. This spring as I prepped the field for planting, I was guided by GPS. The GPS beeped if I was too close to the ground I had already tilled with the field conditioner. It made my responsibility of making sure I wasn’t overlapping easier and I’m sure we saved fuel. Sitting in the tractor, going back and forth across the field, I had time to think about the changes on our family farm and the neighbor’s farm.

Looking back toward our farm, there is an old windmill. All that remains is the tail. It still tells wind direction very well. At one time, that windmill stood tall capturing the wind energy to pump water from the well to fill the cattle tank. Windmills are disappearing from the northeast Iowa landscape but wind turbines are coming in their place. To produce an alternative energy resource, these wind turbines are producing 31% of the electricity used in Iowa. Several locations in Iowa are producing these turbines, such as the community of Newton. Jasper County Historical Society Museum has a fabulous display on the history and manufacturing of windmills and have expanded the story to include wind turbines!

Speaking of electricity, did you know the first power station to bring electricity to rural residents west of the Mississippi River is in Iowa? To be more specific, the plant is located in Franklin County, west of the community of Hampton. The plant was operational from 1938-1950 becoming a backup system into the 1970s. For you history buffs, the start of this system was right before the beginning of WWII. Not all that long ago when you are talking about this taking place during the lifetime of my grandparents. Electricity greatly impacted how long it took to do certain household chores, for example laundry. Usually one day was dedicated to laundry before electricity. How often do you put a load of laundry in now? Visit the Franklin County Historical Society to arrange a tour of the REA Plant and learn more ways on how life was changed with electricity coming to the farm.


As I’m sitting in this AGCO 9765 tractor, I’m thinking of the changes in the tractor industry. My first tractor was an International 986. The first tractor on the farm was a Farmall M. If you know your tractors, you know there is a great difference between those three tractors. Tractors and Iowa go hand in hand. The very first tractor was made by John Froelich near McGregor. This tractor could move forwards and backwards. It caught so much attention, John Deere bought the tractor and built his empire. You can see a replica of this first tractor by visiting the Froelich 1890 Village Museum. We have several other Partner Sites where you can see the dramatic changes in the tractor industry. Heartland Museum, Clarion, has huge steam engine tractors on display. The Floyd County Museum in Charles City, Home of the Tractor Industry, has several Hart-Parr, Oliver and White models. kinze-innovation-center-474-lghtbxIf you want to see new technology at work visit, the Kinze Innovation Center and see how driverless tractors are underway. You may also contact the John Deere Tractor Cab Assembly in Waterloo and see a tractor built from start to finish.

The neighbor’s farm, which I am at, has an old dairy barn. The barn, in and of itself, has an interesting history. But my thoughts drift to the milkingBrown Swiss cattle that used to be raised here. In the dairy industry, the Brown Swiss is not as common as the black and white Holsteins are today. Here, neighbor Bob milked in tie down stalls by hand twice a day. Now, our partner site the Iowa Dairy Center, is using robots to milk their cows. The cows roam around a free-stall barn deciding for themselves when they want to be milked. This is one of my favorite places to visit. Go today!

Advances in science and technology have made drastic changes in agriculture and the way we all live in general. Very few locations can demonstrate these changes in one location. We are fortunate in Iowa to have Living History Farms in Urbandale. Here, you may see the changes on farms and how things progressed over time as you travel from a 1700 Ioway Farm, 1850 Pioneer Farm, 1900 Farm to 1875 town. What adds to the experience are the presenters are all in period costume and speak as of that era.

I haven’t even had time to mention the people that brought about great change. Norman Borlaug, Henry A. Wallace, Herbert Hoover. We have places to visit about these individuals as well.

The need to produce more with less resources while keeping it affordable for consumers has been a driving force behind many of the changes observed and continuing to take place in agriculture.

-Laura,    Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area

Farmers & Families

This is the second installment of 6 blogs as we discover the many Partner Sites of the Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area and the themes explored by each.

Family may be defined differently among people. For me, families may consist of related individuals or it may not. A family faces life’s celebrations, hardships, and everyday moments together. On a farm, family is one core value that has not changed over generations. That might be one of the reasons farm life or country living is favored and sought. People look to feel connected to the land and each other.

Amana Heritage Society MuseumsThis connectedness may stem from the early days when survival on the harsh plains required everyone working together and pulling their weight. Survival or success was not determined by one, but by many. Perhaps this is where the phrases, “many hands make light work” or “a team is only as strong as its weakest link”, come from.

A Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area Partner Site that demonstrates this connectedness is the Amana Heritage Society Museums, also known as the Amana Colonies in southeast Iowa. Composed of seven villages, the Amana Colonies were settled by a German religious group in the 1850s. They established a communal village-based agricultural system where property and household resources were sAmana Oehlhared. Housing, medical care, meals, schooling and all household necessities were provided. As I visited, what had a lasting impression on me were the communal kitchens run by the women of the village and learning that money wasn’t needed. The villages were self-sufficient, whatever was needed was made in the village. I encourage you to stroll the sidewalks observing the historic brick and stone houses and step into the many stores and museums to learn more about this unique culture and Iowa family.

Speaking of families, have you met the Hansen’s? In my opinion, the Hansen’s have the begirl-feeding-calfHansenTourCenter3st tasting cheese curds and ice cream anywhere! This family owned and operated dairy has been in the family for a 150 years. Hansen’s Dairy in Hudson provides tours so people can learn the process milk goes through from farm to table. Contact Jeanne and set up a tour so you can ride a trolley around the farm, see the calves, milking parlor and creamery.

With all the advancement and technology used on Hansen’s Dairy, it makes me wonder what the first reactions were when electricity and telephones came to the farm. These two advances changed life on the farm dramatically. These questions can be aHarriman-Nielsenanswered with a trip to Franklin County. Here, one can learn about and observe the very first REA plant west of the Mississippi River to generate electricity for rural areas from 1938 to 1950. The Franklin County Historical Society Museum shows some of the first telephones and how the switchboard was operated. Did you know, each farm had their own ring? Kind of like today, if you take time to select a specific ringtone for someone. Another stop in Franklin County is the Harriman-Nielsen Farm. At this site, Iowa’s Danish heritage comes to life. The house is restored and contains many antiques left by the Nielsen family. Over 2,000 letters were preserved telling the Nielsen’s immigration from Denmark, what life was like in Denmark and what life was like in Hampton, Iowa over a span of 100 years. A large festival is held every fall, I encourage you to participate.

Farmers and families are reflected differently at each of these sites and there are several more for you to discover. I encourage you to visit

Until next time, Laura