Clover & Agriculture

Every year many people around the world celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on March 17th. When thinking about St. Patrick’s Day, images of leprechauns, pots of gold, green, or Ireland might swarm your head. Did agriculture come to mind? One of the symbols of St. Patrick’s Day, the clover, is a valuable plant to farmers.

I’m not sure about you guys, but I spent a good chunk of my childhood outside intensely staring at the grass, searching for the lucky four-leaf clover. Sadly, after spending hours on the lookout, I never found one on my own.

Photo by Sudipta Mondal on

Clover or Shamrock?

It turns out I wasn’t even looking for a shamrock since a four-leaf clover is just a genetic mutation.

Shamrocks fall under the broad term of clover. Clover is the common name for the species in the Trifolium family, which translates to “having three leaves.” It’s kind of like how dogs, foxes, and wolves all fall under the canine family.

If you ask a botanist or the Irish what kind of Trifolium a shamrock is, most likely, you are going to get at least two different answers. Most botanists believe that the white clover is the same thing as a shamrock. In contrast, those staying true to the Irish tradition believe that the three leaves symbolize the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit as taught by St. Patrick.

So, how do farmers use it?

While many probably recognize clover growing in their lawns, some farmers will grow it in their fields as a cover crop. Cover crops are planted to reduce erosion between growing seasons and add organic matter to the soil. To learn more about cover crops, check out the blog post “Cover Cropping. Why Do They Do That?”

According to Practical Farmers of Iowa, it is one of the best possible cover crop options. They describe it as the “Cadillac of cover crops.” Clover has many, many benefits as a cover crop. As a legume, it helps contribute nitrogen to the soil, it reduces soil erosion, and it helps limit the number of weeds in the field. Clover also helps a lot with the soil’s moisture hold capacity and water retention, which is great for those dry summers like we had last year.

Photo by Zhanna Fort on

Clover and livestock

Not only do farmers use clover as cover crops, but some feed their livestock with it as well. Integrating clover in pastures through a process called overseeding has its benefits: increase of yield, improve animal performance, Nitrogen fixation and grazing season extension, to name a few. Adding clover to a pasture will help the soil, the livestock and other grasses, but it does come with a warning.

Farmers need to be careful because too much clover could cause bloating. An abundance of clover consumption may cause cattle or other livestock species to have a gas buildup and can be very dangerous if this leads to pressure on the internal organs.

There are ways to prevent this bloating. Farmers can mix the clover with other grass species in the pasture, wait to feed livestock clover until it is drier or rotate their grazing.

Despite these risks, few farmers cut out clover feeding entirely due to its significant protein and fiber amount.


Other than the shamrock around St. Patrick’s Day, another famous clover is the clover emblem of 4-H. 4-H is a youth development organization for 4th-12th graders where members can create projects in health, science, or agriculture fields. The four-leaf clover emblem representing the 4-H organization has an “H” on each leaf, meaning head, heart, hands and health.

As you are celebrating St. Patrick’s Day this year, don’t just think about all of the green you’re going to wear, but think about how much agriculture is tied into this holiday!


Play dough – Not Just for Playtime

One of my favorite things about the holidays is the extended opportunity to spend time with family. During this holiday break, I decided to do a few hands-on projects with little ones. One of their favorite things to do is to make and play with play dough. I have always let my granddaughters help me make a home-made version of play dough. It’s fun, safe for youngsters, and they can play for quite a long time with cookie cutters and childproof utensils.

This version of play dough came with a little “agriculture” lesson. My granddaughters are Tessa, age 5 and Izzie, age 4. They are very curious about all sorts of things, so I decided while we made the play dough, we could learn not only how it is made, but also where the ingredients come from. Farmers help to make almost all of the ingredients in home-made play dough.

wheat1Flour: Most flour is made from wheat that has been finely ground into a powder. The 1.jpgprocess of making flour from the grain has been around since prehistoric times using a stone club and a stone bowl to grind the grain into a fine powder. Wheat is now grown in just about every state in the United States. The United States in ranks 3rd in the production of wheat and is the #1 wheat exporting country. The top wheat-producing states are Kansas, North Dakota and Montana.

Cream of Tartar: Cream of tartar is a byproduct of wine making. It is made from sediment left in the barrel after grape juice is fermented. This acidic salt acts as a stabilizer. For example, cream of tartar helps meringue retain its shape and texture on top of a pie after it is browned in a hot oven.

soybeans1Vegetable Oil: Most vegetable oils are made from soybeans. Iowa ranks number one in the production of soybeans. Extraction of oil happens when seeds are pressed, then the liquid is sent through a filtration system to sift out remaining seed residue.

OD-BA499_SALTS_OZ_20140108171619Salt: Salt is not an agriculture product. It is a mineral collected by evaporating salt water or mining rock salt.

Food Coloring; artificial and natural food dyes are added to food and beverages to make them more desirable to consumers. Artificial colors are made from petroleum. Natural colors are extracted from fruits, vegetable, and even insects.


  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1 tablespoon cream of tartar
  • Food coloring
  • Saucepan
  • 1 cup flour


  1. Combine water, oil, salt, cream of tartar, and food coloring in a saucepan and heat until warm.
  2. Remove from heat and add flour.
  3. Stir, then knead until smooth. The cream of tartar makes this dough last 6 months or longer, so resist the temptation to omit this ingredient if you don’t have it on hand.
  4. Store this dough in an airtight container or a Ziploc freezer bag.

When it comes time to play, I get out the cookie cutters, plastic utensils, rolling pins,biscuit cutters and anything else they can use with their play dough. We have contests to see who can make the most different things with our “tools”. Eventually some of the green gets mixed with some of the red and the original pretty play dough looks a bit messy, but I can always be assured that we thoroughly enjoy make home-made play dough and playing with it! Take time this week and mix up a batch for the young ones in your home!

– Sheri

Holiday Favorite Full of Rich, Creamy Flavor & Agriculture

I love this time of year. There’s a crispness in the air. People seem just a little bit lighter and joy-filled. We all seem to have traditions that we do every year. In my house, it’s the time spent laughing while decorating cookies or making personal gifts with the grand kids to give to family. We enjoy special kinds of foods like cranberries, pumpkins, and eggnog.

I only get to enjoy eggnog at Christmas time. It is a special treat that is sweet and reminds me of the holiday. My dad and I would drink eggnog every Christmas. It was the store-bought kind…but still very special because it was shared with dad. Now it’s my turn to share it with my children and grandchildren. This year I decided to make it at home. I liked the idea of being able to make it and share it with themeggnog.

Eggnog is not a difficult beverage to make and the ingredients are easy to find in the grocery store. Just a few items that when blended together make a rich and creamy treat. It contains the same ingredients as ice cream. Maybe that’s why I like it so much!

Before I share the recipe, I will share a little agricultural close-up-of-brown-eggs-in-crate-597185291-593ad8085f9b58d58a2d0ef2information about the ingredients.

The main ingredient in eggnog is the eggs. Iowa is the number one egg producing state. Eggs are full of vitamins, and protein.

Sugar comes from two agricultural crops, sugar beets and sugar cane. Masugar-cane-and-sugar-beet1ny people associate sugar cane with Hawaii. It is a tropical crop because it grows best with lots of sun and water. It is harvested by chopping down the cane, but leaving the roots for the next crop of sugar cane. Sugar can also be made from sugar beets. Grown in soils of the upper Midwest, the sugar beet plant’s root is harvested to produce the sugar.

Salt: Not really an agriculture product, but it is a product that people use every day. The great source of salt is in our seas and oceans, but salt can also be mined from underground beds.

Milk: Milk or heavy cream provides a perfect source of calcium and vitamins. Iowa ranks 12th in the United States in production of milk. What’s the difference between milk and heavy cream? Both are made from cow’s milk, consisting of water milk and butterfat.  Cream has a much higher butterfat content. Remove butterfat and you have lower fat milk products like low-fat milk and skim milk.

Vanilla extract is made from the seed pod, or bean, of the flat leaved vanilla orchid. They are picked unripe, submerged into hot water and then laid out to dry. Vanilla extract is made by macerating the vanilla beans and mixing them with water and alcohol.

Nutmeg: Nutmeg is the seed of a dark leaved evergreen tree – myristica fragrans. It is cultivated for the two spices made from its fruit  – nutmeg and mace. Nutmeg is made from the seed and mace is made from the dried shell of the seed. Nutmeg is a sweeter spice full of vitamins and essential oils.

Eggnog Recipe:

6 eggs

¾ cup sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

4 cups whole milk

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon nutmeg

1 cup heavy whipping cream


In a heavy saucepan, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and salt. Gradually add 2 cups of milk and cook over low heat until thermometer reads 160 degrees – 170 degrees. (This will take 30+ minutes. – Do not let the mixture boil.)

Transfer to a bowl when temperature is reached.

Stir in vanilla, nutmeg and remaining milk. Place bowl in shallow ice water bath and stir until the mixture is cool. If the mixture separates, it can be processed in a blender until mixture is smooth. Refrigerate 3 or more hours.

To serve the eggnog: Beat the heavy cream until peaks form and gently whisk into cooled mixture. Sprinkle with extra nutmeg just to make it look festive. Enjoy!



Christmas Tree Farming

When we think of the word ‘agriculture’ what usually pops into mind are rows of corn and soybeans or maybe a barnyard of cattle and pigs. But by definition, agriculture is the science or practice of farming, including cultivation of the soil for the growing of crops and the rearing of animals to provide food, fiber, and other products. This time of year the growing crop soon to be harvested to produce other products is Christmas trees!

2a.jpgYes, real Christmas trees (not the plastic, store-bought ones) are an agricultural crop! Christmas trees have been commercially sold in the United States since about 1850, when most were cut from forests. Midway through the last century, tree farms began to appear, and now most Christmas trees are grown on farms.

Nearly 2,700 operations sold 12.9 million Christmas trees valued at $249.8 million in 2009. That is a decrease from 2007 when the Census of Agriculture reported 13,374 farms growing cut Christmas trees and short-rotation woody crops with sales of $384 million.

Iowa Christmas tree farms devote over 1,500 acres to Christmas tree production in Iowa and as a result harvest approximately 39,500 Christmas trees each year. The result is a $1 million dollar industry contributing to Iowa’s economy.

3a.jpgIt takes 6 to 12 years to grow a Christmas tree before it is ready to be sold. Most tree farms in Iowa are 3 to 8 acres in size and sell trees by the choose-and-harvest method, where customers come to the farm and cut their own trees.

There isn’t just one type of Christmas tree grown. Tree species commonly available at tree farms and commercial lots in Iowa include Scotch pine, white pine, red pine, Fraser fir, balsam fir, Canaan fir, Douglas fir, white spruce and Colorado spruce.  Which tree is right for your home depends on a lot of factors. Be sure to consider look, shape, needle length, smell, number of branches for hanging ornaments, and stiffness of branches for hanging heavier ornaments. Here are a couple of the Christmas trees we found at Walnut Ridge Farm and the differences between them.

15a.jpgBlue spruce have needles that are 3/4 to 1 inch long. The needles are stiff and sharp tipped. Branches are dense and strong to hold ornaments well. The color ranges is from green to blue/green depending on the seed origin.

14a.jpgWhite pine have needles that are 2 to 3 inches long and very soft. The branches are not as strong as some other species. White pine is the only conifer species native to Iowa.

13a.jpgScotch pine have needles that are 1 to 3 inches long and semi-soft. Branches are strong and hold ornaments well. Because Scotch pine grow in many parts of the world there is a wide variance in appearance and needle length.

12a.jpgConcolor fir have needles that are 2 inches long and softer than other fir species. The color is light green to blue/green and has a unique citrus fragrance. Branches are strong and hold ornaments well.

11a.jpgFraser fir and Canaan fir have needles that are 1 inch long and a silver/blue on the underneath side. They have a pleasant fir fragrance. Branches are strong and hold ornaments well. They are native in the mountains from West Virginia to North Carolina.

23915910_10155686669991125_7350921809862992924_n.jpgMy favorite trees are the Douglas fir for their rich smell. But, we ended up selecting a Fraser fir (a close second) because it was the right size and shape that we were looking for. It has a lot of branches – and good sturdy branches – for all of our heavy ornaments. We cut the tree as close to the ground as possible and then shaved off a few of the bottom branches to ensure it would fit in the stand at home. We loaded it onto the wagon and hauled it up to the headhouse. The folks at Walnut Ridge shook the tree for us to get all of the dead needles off (and any spiders that may have been lurking) and then wrapped it in netting for easy transport. We set it up at home and then spent a couple of hours stringing lights and hanging ornaments…and voila!

If kept in water, trees will stay fresh and hold its needles well for 4 to 6 weeks. Visit the Iowa Christmas Tree Growers Association to find a Christmas tree farm near you and take advantage of this unique agricultural crop!


Beggar’s Night Favorites

Usually when we think about agriculture, we think about all of the healthy fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy, and grains that we eat. But nearly all food comes from agriculture – even our indulgences like candy!

According to, Iowa’s most favorite Halloween Candy is Reese’s Cups. Second and third place contenders are M&Ms and Butterfingers.



Let’s break these down and look at the agriculture that helped make these sweet treats.

Reese’s Cups
It is no surprise that the three most popular candies are chocolate. Chocolate is a mixture of cocoa powder, milk, cocoa butter, milk fat, soy lecithin, sugar, and maybe a little salt. We discussed chocolate and how it comes from the cacao bean before. Milk and milk fats come from dairy cows. Chocolate comes in a wide variety. Different types of chocolates have different amounts of these core ingredients. Dark chocolate will have a higher ratio of cocoa powder than milk chocolate. White chocolate doesn’t have any cocoa powder – only the cocoa butter. Milk chocolate is somewhere in the middle.

Soy lecithin you may not be familiar with. Lecithin are fatty compounds that can come from plant or animal sources (eggs, cotton seeds, etc.). Soy is abundantly produced in Iowa, throughout the Midwest, and throughout the world which is why soy lecithin is found in so many of our foods. It acts as a great emulsifier that helps oils and water stay mixed in our food products. Just a small amount goes a long way to helping improve the texture, appearance, and shelf life of food.

Peanuts are the second main ingredient in Reese’s Cups. Despite the name, they are not nuts at all. They don’t grow on trees like almonds, walnuts, or pistachios. They are grown underground! They are legumes and related to beans and peas. What we know as peanuts are produced as part of the root structure of the peanut plant. Legumes are important in agriculture because they host bacteria in the soil that help turn nitrogen into nitrates. Plants use nitrates in soil to stay healthy. Peanuts and other legumes are used in crop rotation to help keep soils healthy. Peanuts can be roasted, boiled, and also ground into peanut butter.

The term “sugar” can be used to either refer specifically to sucrose or it can be used generally to refer to all simple sugars (lactose, glucose, fructose, galactose, sucrose, etc.). chocolatiers may use any of these sugars to sweeten their chocolate. Most commonly, sugar comes from sugar beets grown in the upper Midwest (Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana) or sugar cane grown in more tropical climates (like Florida).

Reese’s Cups also use another sweetener called dextrose. Dextrose is a simple sugar obtained most often from corn (field corn,  not sweet corn), but can be obtained from other sources as well, such as wheat, sorghum, and tapioca.


The primary ingredient is of course chocolate. It is a slightly different ratio of cocoa powder, milk, and sugar, etc. but it has all of the same component parts. What makes M&Ms fun and unique is their colorful candy shells. To get the right appearance and to not let the candy shell mix with chocolate center, the chocolate is sprinkled with a little bit of cornstarch. Cornstarch (from field corn) acts as a moisture barrier to keep the candy shell crunchy and not mix with the chocolate. The shells are then made from a little corn syrup, dextrin, food colorings, and gum acacia.


The flakey buttery center of Butterfinger candy is a mix of corn syrup, sugar, ground roasted peanuts, hydrogenated palm kernel oil, molasses, confectioner’s corn flakes, salt, soybean oil, and cornstarch. You can see a common theme in these candies (chocolate, sugar, etc.). The molasses, corn syrup, and peanut butter are all mixed together. Molasses comes from sugar beet or sugar cane juice that is boiled down until it yields a thick, dark syrup. It can also be made from sorghum, dates, or pomegranate.

The sticky rich mixture is poured over confectioner’s corn flakes. These are not like the breakfast cereal. They are small pieces of field corn that have been rolled flat and dried. The corn flakes provide the candy the crispity-crunchity texture. Finally chocolate is poured over the center filling. Check out the video on how Butterfingers are made.

As you can see, a lot of the ingredients used in these candies come from Iowa and Midwest agriculture. Corn syrup, corn starch, and corn flakes from field corn. Sugar and molasses from sugar beets. Soy lecithin and soy oil from soybeans. And milk! No wonder Iowans like these sweet treats.

Of course these candies probably can be considered a part of a healthy diet. So don’t overindulge. But we hope you enjoy Beggar’s Night and have a Happy Halloween!


What’s Cookin’: Holiday Cheeseball


close up

In my mind, a holiday gathering isn’t complete without a cheese ball. Creamy cheese spread on crackers – what’s not to love?

Here’s my favorite cheese ball recipe along with the agriculture story behind its ingredients.


Cheddar Cheese – This popular cow’s milk cheese originated in the village of Cheddar, England. Today it is made around the world and available in a wide range of flavors and colors. Cheddars vary in flavor depending on the length of aging and their origin. As the cheese ages, the whey in the milk evaporates. This results in a sharper flavor and drier texture. Mild Cheddars are aged about three months, while extra sharp cheddar is aged for about 18 months. The flavor of cheddar can also vary by location. The cows that produce the milk for cheese eat different things depending on where they are raised and the season. What they eat can affect the acidity and flavor of the milk. A cow’s diet can affect the color of cheese too, but only subtly. Cheddar cheese is naturally off-white to yellowish in color. The orange color of most cheddars is enhanced by a natural dye derived from seeds of a tropical tree. Annatto has been used to dye cheddar cheese for more than 200 years.


blue cheeseBlue Cheese – Blue vein cheese, or blue cheese, is a generic term for cheese ripened with a strain of penicillium, resulting in blue, gray or green veins of mold throughout the finished product. Blue cheese can be made from the milk of cows, sheep or goats, but cow’s milk blue cheese is the most common.   The moldy veins are created during the production stage when the cheese is ‘spiked’ with stainless steel rods to let oxygen circulate and encourage the growth of the mold. This process also softens the texture and develops the distinctive blue flavor. Iowa is home to one of the most well-known blue cheese companies, Maytag Dairy Farms.

Cream Cheese – Cream Cheese is an American invention developed in New York State – not Philadelphia. It is similar to French Neufchâtel in that it is a soft, spreadable cheese made from cow’s milk. But unlike, Neufchâtel, it is unripen and often contains emulsifiers to make it more firm and extend the shelf-life.

Butter – Fresh whole milk from dairy farms is collected and brought to the creamery. The cream is separated from the milk and rapidly heated to a high temperature. Pasteurization removes any disease causing bacteria and helps the butter stay fresh longer.   The cream is then churned by shaking or beating it vigorously until it thickens. The remaining liquid, appropriately called buttermilk, is removed. The clumps of butter are then washed and formed into sticks or blocks. Check out this video to see exactly how butter is made today.

garlic in field

Garlic – A close relative of the onion, garlic is an herbaceous perennial that is often grown as an annual crop.  Garlic has been grown for more than 5000 years and is thought to have originated in central Asia. Today, China is the largest garlic producer – growing over 80% of the world’s supply.

Onion –  Onions are a root vegetable grown primarily for the flavor they add to other foods. In areas where freezing temperatures are rare, they are grown as a winter crop. In cooler climates, they can be planted in early spring. Onions are photoperiodic, which means they grow in response to day-length. Each onion variety will form a bulb only after it has received a certain number of hours of daylight for so many days. Onions are categorized into long-day (northern), intermediate-day (central), and short-day (southern) varieties. While onions are found in back yard gardens and on small farms across the U.S., they are only grown commercially in 20 states.


on treePecans – The pecan tree is a species of hickory native to Mexico and the southern United States. Today they are grown on orchards across the southern United States, from California to North Carolina. Check out this video to see how pecans are harvested commercially. Once harvested, they are transported to a shelling plant where they are cleaned, sized, sterilized, cracked and finally, shelled.



Holiday Cheese Ball

8 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

4 ounces blue cheese, crumbled

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

4 tablespoons butter, softened

2 tablespoons minced onion

1 garlic clove, minced

1/3 cup finely chopped pecans


Note: This recipe works well with 12 ounces of almost any cheese – Swiss, Gouda, pepper jack etc.



  1. Using a food processor, combine all of the intendents except nuts until smooth.
  2. Place mixture in the middle of a large piece of plastic wrap. Gather corners and twist top close to cheese to form a ball.
  3. Refrigerate about 3 hours until firm.
  4. Reshape plastic wrapped cheese into a ball to correct any flat spots. Remove plastic wrap.
  5. Roll the cheese ball in pecans. Transfer to a serving plate and serve with crackers.



– Cindy

More Great Books to Gift Kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Little Joe Book

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

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

Happy shopping… and Merry Christmas to you and yours.




6 Great Books to Gift Kids

Christmas shopping for kids can be hard, especially nieces and nephews. I have no trouble picking a mix of fun and practical gifts for my own kids. Kids who do not live in my house are a different story. I know my nieces and nephews well, so it shouldn’t be hard. Charlotte loves Frozen. Ginny is obsessed with Mini Mouse. Jack likes anything with wheels and an engine. Daphne and Bristol are young enough that a box and shiny paper is mesmerizing! I could easily pick a toy reflective of their current favorite, but how many Mini Mouse toys does one kid need?

Books are my go-to gift when I am at a loss for ideas. Books are fun, do not take up much space, and have a longer shelf-life than plastic toys with batteries. My nieces and nephews know that a book from Aunt Cindy will teach them about agriculture too!

Stumped on a gift for a child in your life? Here are a few top picks that got rave reviews from the young book critics in my life.

Grandpas Tractor

Grandpa’s Tractor by Michael Garland is a beautiful story of a young boy who discovers an old rusty tractor while on a walk with his grandfather. The tractor brings back fond memories that Grandpa Joe shares with Timmy. Through the grandfather’s story, Timmy learns about his great-grandfather’s farm and the important role the once shiny red tractor had.

Who-Grew-My-SoupWho Grew My Soup by Tom Derbyshire is one of my favorite fiction books about farms because of its strong educational value. My kids love it because it’s fun. Through rhythmic text it tells the story of a boy who doesn’t like vegetables. Phineas Quinn travels the United States in a soup pot hot air balloon to meet the farmers who grew the ingredients in his soup. Along the way he discovers he likes vegetables! It is a perfect choice for picky eaters on your Christmas list.

farm-elisha-cooperFarm by Elisha Cooper takes kids on a journey to learn about what happens on a farm throughout the year. The lyrical writing and beautiful illustrations appeal to children of all ages.

Jack and the cornstalkJack and the Cornstalk by Aaron Burakoff is a corn-y spin on a classic tale. After Jack’s mother threw magic corn kernels out the window a giant cornstalk grew. The cornstalk led Jack to a giant’s house where he found corn muffins to share with is family.

The Boy who changed the WorldThe Boy Who Changed the World by Andy Andrews is an inspiring story about a boy that loved playing on his family’s farm in Iowa and grew up to save the lives of two-billion people.   It describes how the lives of three famous Iowans (Norman Borlaug, Henry Wallace, and George Washington Carver) were connected and made a diference.

Busy BarnyardBusy Barnyard by John Schindel is perfect for toddlers. This fast-paced board book is full of vibrant pictures and two-word phrases that describe the busy lives of animals on the farm.   My kids are also fans of Busy Chickens and Busy Pigs by the same author.

I hope the young people in your life enjoy these books as much as mine!

– Cindy