Representation (in Agriculture) Matters

While we can and should recognize the contributions of people of color all year long, Black History Month gives us a great opportunity to focus on and raise up those contributions people in these communities have made. Black History Month reminds us of the importance of respecting and supporting Black people and minorities here in the United States. Even through teaching agriculture we can teach topics and teach in ways that promote respect, love, empathy and understanding to influence young people who will eventually become doers and leaders in this world.

In including conversations about respect of all people, no matter what their skin color, we are able to point to solutions and methods of action that positively impact our world. These conversations can be challenging, so where do you start? Do you start with the six elements of social justice: self-love and knowledge, respect for others, issues of social injustice, social movements and social change, awareness raising, and social action?

Or do you start with the small step that we can all take by including more books representing black characters or from black authors in our curricula? Some of our favorites books are about George Washington Carver who had a huge role in agricultural research. He can be, in part, credited for things like our modern system of crop rotation with legumes and nutrient intensive crops (soybeans and corn or peanuts and tobacco). Check out some of these great titles:

  • A Picture Book of George Washington Carver by David A. Adler
  • A Pocketful of Goobers: A Story About George Washington Carver by Barbara Mitchell
  • A Weed is a Flower: The Life of George Washington Carver by Aliki
  • George Washington Carver by Tonya Bolden
  • George Washington Carver for Kids; His Life and Discoveries, With 21 Activities by Peggy Thomas
  • George Washington Carver: Agriculture Pioneer: Life Science (Science Readers) by Stephanie Macceca
  • George Washington Carver; Ingenious Inventor (Graphic Library) by Nathan Olson
  • In the Garden with Dr. Carver by Susan Grigsby

Black farmers and agriculturalists have had a lot of other contributions to the agriculture industry. Consider Henry Blair who patented both corn and cotton planters. Consider Booker T. Whatley who researched sustainable farming practices and helped improve farm efficiency. Or consider Frederick McKinley Jones who invented the refrigerated truck and helped develop the refrigerated transportation system. In celebrating this attitude of invention, science, and engineering, some of our favorite books featuring people of color are:

  • George Crum and the Saratoga Chip by Gaylia Taylor
  • No Small Potatoes: Junius G. Groves and His Kingdom in Kansas by Tonya Bolden
  • Seeds for Change: The Lives and Work of Suri and Edda Sehgal by Marly Cornell
  • The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

Black people and other minority groups are an integral part of American history, science, innovation, and agriculture. Black agriculturalists tend to be underrepresented and face unique challenges. Representation of these groups in nature, science, and agriculture can be important to recognize their contributions and to help create STEM identity in our students.

Building this representation in curricula and developing STEM identity in students can even be tied to history lessons and social studies standards. We remember that we are not isolated, but instead connected to the world as things like Iowa corn is used here at home and also shipped all around the globe. Some of our favorite books that feature diverse cultures and people are:

  • Auntie Yang’s Great Soybean Picnic by Ginnie Lo
  • Carlos and the Cornfield by Jan Romero Stevens
  • Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan
  • Harvesting Friends, Cosechando Amigos by Kathleen Contreras and Gary Undercuffler
  • Sweet Corn and Sushi by Lori Erickson
  • The Empty Pot by Demi
  • The Good Garden by Katie Smith Milway and Sylvie Daigneault
  • The Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie dePaola

These resources and thoughtful conversations can help students develop race consciousness and help minimize or eliminate discrimination. At the end of the day we all eat. We are all tied to agriculture. We can all have a role in producing food and understanding the agricultural system that is behind it. We can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with peers of all hues. Representation in agriculture matters.

-Will

How will you be celebrating Black History Month? What titles did we miss? We’d love to hear from you.

Tips for Reading to Students

Whether a book is read in person, over the phone, or even on a virtual platform, reading aloud to students can be a very engaging experience. It is one of my favorite things to do when I visit a classroom. You can almost feel the students’ anticipation if it is a book they have read. And if it’s one they are not familiar with? Then you can see their eyes alight with excitement, eager to experience something new.

Reading books to students may seem like an easy task, but there are several things that you can do to prepare and practice. This will make it the best experience possible for both you and the students.

Things you can do to prepare:

  • Make sure you are comfortable with the book. Go ahead and try a practice read before you are in front of a room full of students. This will help with fluency and will allow you to engage with students and not just be focused on the text.
  • Time how long the book takes to read out loud. A child’s attention span can last approximately two to five minutes per year of their age. For example, a 5-year-old could be expected to listen 10 to 25 minutes at a time. Pick a book that is best suited for the age of the students. Of course every child is different, so while you are reading your book, you will need to be reading your audience. (More tips below on how to engage wandering listeners.)
  • Books can be a great way to introduce students to agriculture and agricultural themes. While a trip to a farm could be overstimulating for some students, sitting in their classroom learning about farm animals could be a safe way to explore tractors, cattle, and crops. Need a few ideas? Check out the IALF lending library for books on beef, corn, dairy, the environment, farms, food, history, plants, pigs, poultry, soy, technology and so much more. Complete kits and teacher guides may also be available to check out.
  • If you are looking for ways to increase your classroom library with accurate agriculture books, why not check out the Agriculture in the Classroom Teacher Supplement Grant Program?

Tips to improve the read-aloud experience:

Now that you have selected and practiced reading an age-appropriate agriculturally accurate book, it’s time to read to students.

  • Always begin by reading the names of both the author and the illustrator. Children as young as three can begin to identify the author as “the one who wrote the story” and the illustrator as “the one who drew the pictures”. Students will become familiar with these words if you consistently use this method during read-alouds.  
  • Be sure to pause after each page, allowing the students to closely observe the illustrations. Taking in the pictures can help a student learn something new about the story each time it is read.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions, or even pause if you think some explanation is needed. Questions like, “have you ever seen a cow?” or “how do you think he feels about flying from farm to farm?” could be good questions to engage your audience. If you are looking to gauge involvement without a lot of discussion, you could always ask students to raise their hands. “By a show of hands, who would like to drive this tractor?”
  • Get moving! Just because you are reading a book does not mean you need to be sitting. Stand up during exciting parts or even move around the room to draw students into the story. Are the characters in the book on a long dirt road? Maybe move to another end of the room. Does a part seem animated? Move the book “bump”, “zoom”, or “swish” depending on what the characters are doing or what action you are trying to portray.
  • Add sound effects when appropriate and don’t forget to give different characters different voices. Don’t worry about sounding silly, that’s the point. Reading is FUN and young learners will enjoy seeing you enjoying reading.
  • Sitting still can be an issue for active learners. Help them contain their wiggles by encouraging them. Have students act out parts with you. Even sitting down, they can use arms to climb up a grain bin or toss the hay with a pitchfork. You might even call on a student to be your book holder or page turner giving them a job, which focuses their attention.

This fall will bring many challenges as we return to school in person, online, or even a hybrid combination of the two. Reading out loud to your class can help to calm those first day of school jitters (theirs and yours). So check out an age appropriate agriculturally accurate book. I wish you good luck! And happy reading!  

-Melanie

8 Great Spring Lessons about Animals, Plants & Seasons

Agriculture is always good topic for teaching science, but spring is probably the most popular time to include topics related to plants, animals, seed, seasons, etc. Why? Because classroom learning becomes more real and relevant when we can make connections to what is happening outside of school. Students can tell the weather is becoming warmer. They see leaves beginning to develop on trees, young calves in pastures, and tractors planting seeds in fields. These changes that happen outdoors in the spring can spark beautiful science conversations in elementary classrooms!

Below are eight of our favorite lessons and books for teaching elementary students about seasons, and plant and animal life cycles in the spring.

  1. Farm by Alishea Cooper. The farmer or farm animals are the main characters of most farm-themed books.  Not this one.  The farm itself takes center stage.  Through lyrical writing and beautiful illustrations, this books takes the reader on a journey to learn about what happens on a farm in the spring and throughout the year.
  2. Eggology. Incubating eggs is a popular spring activity in elementary classrooms. This lesson provides teachers with many ideas and resources for turning an incubating experience into a rich science learning experience. Through three engaging activities, students learn how the basic needs of a growing chick are met during incubation
  3. Hatching Eggs in Room Six. Whether you incubate eggs in your classroom or not, this book is a prefect way to introduce students to the concept of incubation. It highlights the life cycle of chickens, parts of an egg, incubation, and caring for freshly hatched chicks.
  4. From Chicken Little to Chicken Big. Chickens are a perfect animal to learn about when discussing life cycles and physical characteristics. In this lesson students identify different breeds of chickens, examine their physical characteristics and sequence the life cycle of a chicken.
  5. Animal Life Cycles, This lesson goes beyond chickens to help students learn about animal characteristics and life cycles. Students are introduced to six major livestock species, discover that all animals need air, food, water, and shelter to survive, and compare and contrast animal life cycles.
  6. Seed Germination Necklaces. Planting a seed and watching it grow is one of the simplest, but most mesmerizing things you can do with students. Unfortunately, most of the magic of seed germination happens underground where students cannot see the changes that happen as the seed swells and roots and leaves emerge from the seed. This lesson solves that problem by germinating corn and soybean seeds in a clear bag.
  7. Soybean Life Cycle Sequencing. The soybean plant is an excellent plant to use when teaching life cycles, because it has a very typical life cycle and it is grown throughout Iowa and most of the United States!  After reading My Family’s Soybean Farm by Katie Olthoff, students works as a group to sequence pictures of the soybean life cycle stages and complete a worksheet to match vocabulary introduced in the book to the stages of the soybean life cycle.
  8. Growing Plants in Science and Literature, More than Empty Pot. Students will use the story of The Empty Pot to explore literature and science, practicing story mapping and learning about the needs of plants and the importance of soil and water. Like the characters in the story, students will plant and observe the growth of seeds.

 

Now it’s your turn!  What is your favorite way to incorporate agriculture in into lessons in the spring?

-Cindy

 

 

 

I Got a Magazine, Now What? How to Use IALF Publications

The Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation has multiple publications available for teachers to use in their classrooms. One set of publications are the Iowa Ag Today magazines, with a set of six available at a fourth-grade reading level, and a set of two (so far) at a seventh-grade reading level. Another set of publications are the My Family’s Farm books written at a third-grade reading level. These materials are high quality, aligned to standards, and come at little to no cost to the teachers. In this blog, I’ll walk you through some suggestions for how to use these publications in a classroom. I hope you’ll find some good ideas!

Iowa Ag Today

The Iowa Ag Today publications are a great series of fourth grade and middle school non-fiction readers. The fourth-grade series contains six cross-curricular magazines, and the middle school series contains a social studies magazine and has a brand new science magazine in the works. We also recently translated the first three fourth-grade readers to Spanish, and have those available for Spanish teachers and ELL teachers, as well. When a new magazine comes out, it is directly mailed to each fourth-grade teacher, seventh-grade teacher, or ELL teacher to which it corresponds. But what should these teachers do with them when they arrive?

Issue 1

Issue 1 of the fourth grade Iowa Ag Today covers what agriculture is, and how it impacts all of us.

Check out the teacher guide

With each pack of 25 readers, there is a teacher guide that includes discussion questions, vocabulary and definitions, a worksheet, extension ideas, and a pre/post-test. This handy guide, complete with standards alignment, is a great starting point to help you integrate the readers into your classes.

Many of these things can be structured differently depending on your students and the goals of your class. Maybe it would work better for your students to start off with vocabulary words and discussion questions so they are prepared for the reading. Maybe it would work better for your students if those things were brought up as they are reading about them.

Use them for group reading

Help students with the skill of reading aloud by reading articles together as a class or in pairs or small groups. Refer to the discussion questions and vocabulary definitions in the teacher guide to help deepen comprehension with each article.

Analyze extra features

Iowa Ag Todays are full of pictures, charts, graphs, maps, discussion questions, and more. Guide your students through each of these features and help them learn to interpret them.

Issue 6 centerfold

This centerfold is a great example of the types of graphics in Iowa Ag Today magazines. Lots of time can be spent analyzing this map!

Use K/W/L charts for certain topics

Iowa Ag Todays cover lots of different topics. Choose an idea or article you’d like your students to learn more about and create K/W/L charts either individually or as a class. If not all of their questions are answered, the students could continue their learning with research projects!

Mark ‘em up!

One of the great parts about magazines is that they can be written on. Though you can keep these readers from year to year, you can also have your students use pens or fine-point markers to note parts of speech, questions they have, main ideas, or other in-text features!

Many teachers do what’s called “thinking tracks.” With this method, you can have different symbols for different reactions, like questions, predictions, connections, new learning, and main ideas. These symbols can be shapes, letters, squiggles, or even marks with different colored pens!

Think cross-curricular

Each fourth-grade Iowa Ag Today is aligned with standards across curricula, including Iowa Core English Language Arts, science standards, and social studies standards. These magazines could fit into any (or all!) of these class periods, to help students learn about science and social studies while learning how to interpret non-fiction text.

Go with the flow

You may have the opportunity to let some exploration happen organically! After reading articles and answering discussion questions, see what types of things your students find interesting. Maybe they want to learn more about drones or manure used as fertilizer. This can be an opportunity to search out videos, extra information, or allow your students to make presentations and reports.

Remember, IALF has many resources available to you. If your students get interested in a certain topic, check to see if there is a lesson plan covering it on our website. Check our YouTube channel to see if we’ve linked a video about it in a playlist. Search our blog for further background knowledge on the topic. And if you are still stuck, send us an email for more ideas!

My Family’s Farm

My Family’s Farm is a series of books written at a third-grade level about young Iowans’ home farm operations. These books include modern pictures and examples, a vocabulary and definitions section, and have two standards-aligned lesson plans that correspond to them. At this time, there are My Family’s Farm books about a beef, corn, soybean, wind, and pig farm. In the future, this series will also include books on an apple farm and an egg farm!

When a new book is published in this series, one copy of the book is sent to each third-grade teacher in the state of Iowa. How should these teachers use these books?

My Family's Corn Farm

Read aloud

Without requesting any extra materials, a teacher could read this book aloud to their class. There are also digital versions of all these books on the IALF website (www.iowaagliteracy.org/publications) that teachers can project so all students can see the pictures clearly. This can also be a good way to show students the photos of what a modern farm looks like.

Group reading

These books are free to request to use for educational purposes! This means you teachers can request a classroom set and allow each of your students to use a copy in class. This opens up other opportunities, like pair reading and large group reading.

Vocabulary and spelling

The end of these books includes a section with vocabulary and definitions. These words can be used in lessons of their own, and could even be used in spelling tests! These words could be taught before reading the book aloud to prepare students, or students could use context clues and this guide to learn more as the words arise in the story.

IMG_1880

Students use the TIP Method with blocks and dry erase markers

TIP method

The TIP (Term, Information, Picture) Method is a fun way to help students learn new words and explain them. Using this method, you can have students pick a vocabulary word, define it in their own words, and draw a picture of what it is or what it means.

Sort vocabulary words

What parts of speech are these words? How many syllables do they have? Can we alphabetize them? Print large cards with each vocabulary word to allow students to sort them in many different ways!

Use the companion lessons

Each book has two companion lessons aligned to standards. These lessons are aligned with science, social studies, math, and/or English language arts standards. Examples include a lesson using beef examples in math (math, My Family’s Beef Farm), sequencing the life cycle of a soybean plant (science, My Family’s Soybean Farm), and deciphering main ideas and strengthening reading comprehension (English language arts, My Family’s Corn Farm).

As with all lessons from IALF, all content knowledge needed to teach the lesson, extra worksheets, vocabulary definitions, and sources are included in the lesson plans.

 

What not to do

Just a send-home item

When getting a free publication, it can be tempting to just send it home with students without using it in class. Though teachers can get these publications for little to no cost, they were created with great care to be useful resources for your classroom. If you do wish to send these publications home with students to let their parents read them, we encourage you to use them in class first. This way, the student can explain what they learned about in class to their parents!

Toss them

Those of you who have used these publications know they are not just junk mail. They are not sent to teachers like sample Christmas cards hoping to get you to purchase extras from us. They are sent to teachers to help them discover our resources and to help them teach the things they’re already teaching! If you know of a teacher who may be getting these publications, ask them to keep an eye out and to not toss them in the recycling bin along with book order forms and other junk mail.

 

I’m sold! How do I get more?

All of IALF’s publications are available to view online at www.iowaagliteracy.org/publications. At this time, you can order all six issues of the fourth grade Iowa Ag Todays online for $0.50 (to help cover shipping) per pack of 25. Each pack of 25 includes a teacher guide with an attached worksheet and pre/post-test. To request copies of the middle school or Spanish Iowa Ag Todays or My Family’s Farm books, you may email info@iowaagliteracy.org. These materials are currently cost-free, given they will be used in an educational setting. When requesting materials, please clarify the use and give an address you would like them sent to.

We hope you and your students enjoy these publications and get lots of use from them!

Happy reading!

-Chrissy

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.

-Cindy

 

If You Give A Kid A Dairy Show Heifer

When I was growing up I had a favorite children’s book that I loved to hear. And to this day I will still quote the book in conversations to signify a cause and effect that is about to happen, just like the book did. The book I’m thinking of is If You Give A Pig A Pancake by Laura Numeroff. As I grew up, I never thought that this book would come up as much as it did, but in the past year I have been able to see this book come to life with my brother and his dairy heifers. So with that, enjoy the story of what happens if you give a kid a dairy show heifer.moxi and harry

If you give a kid a show heifer, they might ask to give that heifer a name.

It was a year ago when my family was at a dairy sale up in Northeast Iowa. My family hasn’t been in the dairy industry since the 1990s when my grandpa decided to quit milking due to the impact of the  Farm Crisis. I grew up with beef cattle, so the dairy industry is not one that I am the most familiar with. At this sale, my dad had no intentions of going to buy anything, but at the end of the sale my 11-year-old brother walked away with two dairy heifers, one was a Jersey heifer named Sonata and the other was a Holstein heifer named Tribute.

If you give the heifer a name, they might ask for a place on the farm to give them a home.

Well if you buy an animal they need a place to stay. So, my brother and dad cleaned one of the lots on our farm, added in some clean bedding, and fixed up the water machines and the feed bunkers to accommodate for these two animals. Even though these dairy heifers are considered farm animals, they still require daily chores to be done just like any other family pets. My brother learned quickly about the importance of mixing up the right feed amounts for each animal, the necessary care each animal needs between grooming and washing, and the general chores of keeping their pens cleaned out and restocked with fresh bedding.the-whole-gang-is-here.png

If you give the heifers a home, you might get asked to get them out of their pen to lead them around every now and then, so a kid might ask for a halter and lead rope to do so.

It’s not like walking a dog. Breaking farm animals to lead can be a big challenge to overcome. When I say “breaking to lead” what I mean is it is not in the nature of the animal to follow wherever you lead them. It is a process that requires the animal to learn to trust the owner or the leader in order to follow them. This process takes a lot of patience, time, strength, and more patience. The more you are around the animals and work with them the faster the animal will learn to trust and be comfortable around you. Since dairy cattle are bred for milk production they are used to being around humans and having that interaction between them, but it can still be a challenging process.

If you give a kid a halter and lead rope and they break their heifer to lead, they might ask to take their heifer to a dairy show.

Showing animals is a sport that kids dedicate many months in advance to prepare for. Showing animals are judged on different characteristics depending on the type of animal, age of animal, as well as the purpose of that animal. For example, dairy cattle are raised for milk production. In a dairy show, they are judged for their dairy characteristics (dairyness), how their body is structured and built for milk production, and their genetic makeup of the heifer or cow itself. To be more technical, a judge will first look at the overall balance of the dairy cow/heifer. They are looking for no flaws and a complete and balanced animal throughout. When looking at overall balance they look at length in body, stature, and openness of frame (the wider the better). A judge will look at the legs of the animal to make sure the legs are not too stiff or too curved. They also look at the depth of the ribs of a dairy cow to show their condition. It might not seem like it but you do not want a fat or round dairy cow—that signifies they are over conditioned and are not milking efficiently.Harry laying with cows

So, if you let a kid take a dairy heifer to a dairy show, they might ask for white pants to wear.

Now another thing that might surprise you is when you show a dairy animal the standard dress code is white pants. White pants might not seem like the most logical choice when working with animals that relieve themselves at any time of the day, but this is the standard in the dairy industry. There is not a direct reason why you wear white in dairy shows, but one source states that it dates all the way back when showing animals first began in the early 1900s. In the early years of showing, different standards and rules were adopted and one of them was white pants in dairy shows. White is a symbol of cleanliness and it was mentioned that when you show your dairy animal you are wanting to show off your animal and not yourself, so exhibitors would wear all white to show cleanliness and not take away from the animal’s spotlight. White pants were also worn by the milk man and so some would argue that this trend stems from matching the milk man. For more information, here is the link to the source I found about white pants and the dairy industry. Some shows require exhibitors to wear all white, some allow nice button up shirts with white pants. But, for the most part you want to look presentable because the cleanliness of the exhibitor is reflected in the judgement of the cleanliness of the animal.Selfie hunter brad hannah harry cow

Now if you give kids white pants and the required tools to show, they might need a support team behind them.

Just like any good sports team nothing can get done without the people behind the scenes and the fans that travel along for positive support. Showing one animal is more than one person can handle by themselves. It takes a team of family and friends to come together to take on a dairy show from helping break to lead, to the preparation of the show, to clipping and styling the hair for the show, to watching the cattle once they are prepped to make sure they stay clean, to bringing food to the show barn to feed the exhibitors, and to be there for positive support when something doesn’t go the way it was expected. This industry is more than one person can handle all by themselves, it’s a team effort—which in the end provides more learning experiences for everyone involved.harry-and-millie-vanillie.png

This industry is more than just cows, milk, and ice cream. It creates opportunities for the youth to learn about a sector in the agriculture industry and to create relationships amongst family and friends. My brother fell in love with the dairy industry and is now joining the county dairy quiz bowls (dairy trivia competitions) and joining different dairy promotion events. I don’t think anyone in my family knew what would happen when my brother walked away from a sale with two dairy heifers, but I guess you never know what you’ll get unless you give a kid a dairy show heifer.

-Hannah

Summer Boredom Busters

mosaic

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!

-Cindy

 

 

 

Book Club: Understanding Our Modern Food System

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

ggs.jpgUnderstanding the Origins of Agriculture

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

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

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

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

edible.jpgUnderstand Food as a Tool that Shaped our Culture

Read: An Edible History of Humanity – by Tom Standage

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

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

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

kitchen.jpgUnderstand Our Relationship with Food

Read: Kitchen Literacy – by Ann Vileisis

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

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

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

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

-Will 

Three Ways to Help Students Use Text Features

Issue 6Getting students to read from a wide variety of texts is often a challenge in the classroom. Some of the challenges can be time, resources, and ways to help the students access all the different types of texts. Many teachers are using the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation’s student magazine, Iowa Ag Today to offer rich non-fiction text into their learning.

Rich student discussions can occur about the author’s purpose in the nonfiction text of Ag Today. The most common purposes of this type of text are to explain, inform, to teach how to do something, to express an opinion, or to persuade readers to do or believe something. Knowing the differences between nonfiction and fictional text can truly help students understand the meaning better.

Ag Today is aesthetically pleasing to readers as it offers text features to help them understand the text. These text features include and are not limited to print features such as bold print, symbols and icons; graphic aids like maps, charts and timelines; illustrations including photographs, drawings, or cartoons. It is imperative for teachers to explicitly teach students about using these features to help them with their understanding of the information presented.  Here are three ways to do this:

1.  Model through a think aloud. Talk through how you as a reader would tackle the text and how you would use the text features to help understand the text. Look at each page and ask students how an illustration helps them in their reading, or look at a map and ask why the map was added to the text. Students need to have conversations on the importance of text features in their reading to help them use them to better understand their reading. Teachers can also use this time to have students make predictions about what the text may be about after looking at text features.

2. Create a quick reference for to students to access when using text features. Here is an example list students can insert into their working notebooks or turn into posters for the classroom wall:

  • Maps: Help a reader visualize where places are in the state, nation, or world.
  • Captions: Can help understand a picture or photograph.
  • Illustrations or photographs: Help to visualize the text and make it real. They may also help determine what is important within the text.
  • Special print: Look for bold, italics, or underlined words to determine key vocabulary.
  • Graphs: Can help understand important data within the text and assist in interpreting.

Issue 6 centerfold

In this example from Issue 6, text features are used to draw attention, provide additional information, and help students visualize and understand what they read.

3.  Using Ag Today in the classroom not only helps with reading of nonfiction texts, but it also offers opportunities for students to write. Teachers can preview the text with students and then have them write questions they may have about the text features they see. In addition, there are many think and discuss prompts within the text for students to talk with another student and to write their thoughts as well. This truly helps students realize the importance of discussing, reflecting, and writing about what they are reading.

Students reading Ag Today - Issue 2In conclusion, it is imperative for students to have access to multiple types of texts in the classroom. Ag Today is an excellent example to use for not only various content areas but also learning how to use text features for understanding. I would encourage teachers to start with a few strategies such as the ones shared here and slowly add more as you see students becoming more familiar with using text features. Happy reading in your classroom!

-Jody Still Herbold, Education Consultant, Northwest AEA

Yogurt Grows on Trees?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Sheri