Norman, Who?

Norman Borlaug (Source: World Food Prize Foundation)

If I asked you to name a famous Iowan, who would come to mind? TV and movie stars like Johnny Carson, Ashton Kutcher, John Wayne, or Cloris Leachman? Maybe sports greats Dan Gable, Shawn Johnson, or Kurt Warner? Former President Herbert Hoover or astronaut Peggy Whitson?

While these people are certainly famous, there is one very deserving name missing from this list. A person who most Americans have likely never heard of; Norman Borlaug, a scientist whose work is credited with saving over a billion lives. That’s right, the person who saved more lives than any other person in history is unknown by most.

I encourage you to take some time to dive into the life and work of Norman Borlaug by reading Our Daily Bread by Noel Vietmeyer or watching Freedom from Famine: The Norman Borlaug Story. But for now, here’s five things you should know about the life and accomplishments of Norman Borlaug.

  1. Norman Borlaug was an agricultural scientist, specifically a plant breeder. His work focused on improving crop genetics, mainly wheat and rice. In 1944, Borlaug moved to Mexico to fight stem rust, a fungus that infects wheat. At the invitation of the Rockefeller Foundation and Vice President Henry A Wallace, he worked on research stations in Mexico to improve agricultural practices. He and his colleagues spent the next decade crossing thousands of strains of wheat from across the globe, ultimately developing a high-yielding, disease-resistant variety. Borlaug’s breeding techniques were soon expanded to other crops and laid the groundwork for advances in agriculture that helped to alleviate world hunger
  2. Borlaug is recognized as the father of the Green Revolution, a period of advancement of agricultural practices and technology between 1950 and the late 1960s that increased food production worldwide. The work of Borlaug and others to increase the yield of grain crops decreased famine and malnutrition, especially in Mexico, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, and other developing countries. By increasing the amount of grain harvested per acre, Borlaug’s work also preserved natural habitats that would have been cultivated to meet the needs of the growing population.   
  3. Borlaug was raised on a farm near Cresco, Iowa, where his family instilled in him a strong work ethic and the value of education. Norman’s grandfather Nels saw great potential in Norm’s curious mind and encouraged him to pursue more education than was typical for a farm boy at the time. “Think for yourself, Norm Boy” and “Fill your head now to fill your belly later” are two things his grandfather would tell him often.
  4. Dr. Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977, and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007 for his lifetime of work to feed a hungry world. He is one of only seven people in the world to receive all three honors. Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., and Mother Teresa are some of the other honored seven. 
  5. Borlaug founded the World Food Prize, an annual award that recognizes the achievements of individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity, or availability of food in the world.  

I’ll admit, I was well into adulthood by the time I learned about Norman Borlaug. And it wasn’t until recent years that I really began to understand his work and why it had such a huge impact globally. I now feel compelled to share his accomplishments with others, especially students. And I hope you do, too.



Ethics in Agriculture

cow eating grass.JPGRight and wrong. Good and bad. Choices.

Food is essential for our survival as human beings. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations says that society needs to provide its people with the means to obtain food. In our modern society, farmers are responsible for ensuring that enough food is produced to feed all humans. This leads to the enhanced well-being of citizens and that by eliminating hunger and malnutrition we improve human health. But the production of food to feed people cannot be the only consideration. Natural resources and the natural world should also be valued and a balance should be struck. These somewhat opposing forces (agriculture for the betterment of humans and protection of the natural world) necessitate the making of choices.

Farmers make choices everyday about how to produce that food. Government workers make choices everyday about regulating food production. Researchers make choices about the science they conduct to advance agriculture. Industrial workers, lawmakers, technology developers, consumers, and protesters all make choices.

2.jpgChoice Impact Outcomes

It is these choices that determine the ethics of agriculture. Are the choices good or bad? Are they right or wrong? Not every choice has a purely positive outcome. Some choices have negative consequences. But to determine if choice is good or bad sometimes we need to decide if the positives of the choice outweigh the potential negative impacts of the choice. These ethics can be documented through legal codes, religion, literature, and other hallmarks of our recorded history. Ethics are values generally agreed upon by the collective whole. But because we are humans and each view the world a little differently that agreement or consensus isn’t solidified. Ethics can change as society changes.

Fewer People Produce Their Own Food

As early as 16th Century Europe, farming started to transition from ‘a way of life’ to a profitable business. Since then farmers have continued to specialize as a profession. For most of human history, all people of the society had to be involved in raising and producing food. But today, fewer than 2% of the U.S. population is involved in production agriculture. Farmers raise and produce food to feed the other 98% and our global market of trade and exchange has allowed farmers to specialize and raise only one or two crops or livestock species. The trade-off is that this system has led to mono-cultured crops and intensive livestock production systems.

Agriculture and farming was also held in high regard as an underpin of democracy with hard-working, solid citizens. Farming can be viewed as a noble human endeavor – to feed the people of Earth. At the end of World War 2, there was a tremendous need to increase food production. Agriculture and the role of farmers has been to supply abundant, safe, and nutritious food that is affordable to the consumer. New technologies and governmental policies allowed this to happen and today farmers produce enough calories to feed every person on earth. But it isn’t necessarily just producing the right kind of food, it is the logistical problems of food distribution that keep nutritious food supplies from areas that need them. At the current rate of human population growth it is assumed there will be at least 9 billion (2 million more) humans to feed by the year 2050. Farmers still largely view their role as one to produce more food.

field corn 2.JPGSustainability Provides Ethical Guidance

In modern agriculture we can use the idea of sustainability to help determine if a choice is ethical. Sustainability has three parts – economic sustainability, social sustainability, and environmental sustainability.

  1. Economic sustainability – If the farm will be profitable and the farmer will stay in business, it will lead to economic sustainability.
  2. Social sustainability – If the choice is good for individual humans and the community, it will lead to social sustainability.
  3. Environmental sustainability – If the production method doesn’t degrade the natural environment (soil, water, air, and plant and animal communities), then it will lead to environmental sustainability.

Finding a Balance

Ethical conversations teeter on this balance. And different groups of people might prioritize one leg of sustainability over the other. For example, people passionate about nature, wildlife, and wild habitats might say those require top consideration. But if a farmer can’t use the natural resources like soil and water to produce their crops and raise their livestock, then they will not be economically or socially sustainable. As another example, vegans and vegetarians might protest the killing of livestock for human food consumption. But throughout history, humans have been omnivores and eat meat and animal products as a part of their diet along with plants. The meat provides essential amino acids, fats, proteins, vitamins, and minerals that all contribute toward a healthy diet. Without meat as a part of the human diet, humans may not be as healthy and therefore the system wouldn’t be as socially sustainable.

In ethical conversations there are many considerations to weigh and balance. The conversations can include farm structure, animal welfare, food safety, environmental impacts, international trade, food security, biotechnology, research, and more. Where we land on these conversations and choices help determine governmental policies, food safety regulations, research and technology regulation, and other guiding rules and laws.

For example, biotechnology has incredible potential to advance agricultural production. Can the positive results outweigh the risks associated with it? Prudent regulation can help mitigate the risks but still allow for the advances.

Raising crops in monoculture has an incredibly high level of efficiency and productivity, but can lead to soil degredation and increased disease pressure. Can the positive results outweigh the risks associated with it? New practices like no-till farming and cover crops can reduce the negative effects of soil erosion and improve soil micro-organisms, but can cost more money to implement.

Raising animals indoors can significantly improve the efficiency of the production system. Can the positive results outweigh the negative aspects of confined quarters? Health monitoring, access to fresh food and water, and manure management keep livestock healthy with a high level of care and welfare.

These are just a few examples of the pros and cons in agriculture and why the choices made are thought to be ethical.

Farmers and others in agricultural industry make choices every day. No situation is perfect and farmers can continue to improve their practices. And ethics of farming may evolve and shift and change, but I would submit that they make these choices with the best of intentions and the hope that they are making the right, good, and ethical choice.


Tips for Writing a Great Grant

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

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

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

Be clear and concise

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

How will the money help you reach educational goals?

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

Describe the materials specifically

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

Consider choosing materials with a good “shelf life”

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

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

Follow up the field trip

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

Tie history to modern day

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

Explain all connections

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

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

Be creative!

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

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

Good luck!


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.



Iowa’s Beef Breed

In previous blogs, we have talked some about the differences in breeds of cattle. Over time, cattle were bred for different traits in different parts of the world, which resulted in many of the breeds we know today. For instance, Holsteins are large dairy cattle with superior milk production. Angus cattle are a popular beef breed with superior marbling and meat quality.

But if you think back to old westerns, it’s rarely a Holstein or an Angus that was represented on a cattle drive. More often than not, the herds are a mass of red and white with curly hair on their faces, and those animals are called Herefords.


Screen capture from The Rare Breed, starring Jimmy Stewart

The Hereford breed of cattle was founded in Herefordshire England in the 1700s. Herefords are known for being docile, and were bred for high meat production and quality. Traditionally, they are a horned breed, meaning that all animals (both male and female) of this breed naturally grow horns. Since early cattle breeders actually preferred horns, this trait became more or less fixed in the breed, with polled animals being only a rarity. However, once the trait was fixed, producers noticed it was a problem.

When cattle have horns, it’s very easy for them to hurt things. Horns can be long and sharp, and with a quick toss of the head, an animal can push, cut, or skewer other animals or their owner. This not only becomes a liability for the other members of the herd, which are the farmer’s livelihood, but they also become a danger to the farmer themselves.

Because of this, cattle owners began the practice of dehorning cattle. It’s not a fun, easy, or nice task. Over the years, producers have gotten better at it, using local anesthetics and more humane techniques, but even now it is simply a necessary task that producers grit their teeth to accomplish to the best of their ability.

Let’s rewind back to 1898 to Warren Gammon, an Iowa lawyer and cattle breeder.


Warren Gammon was a Hereford breeder that hailed from Des Moines, but his farm was near St. Mary’s in Warren County. He first saw naturally hornless (polled) cattle at an exhibition at the Trans-Mississippi Fair in Omaha in 1898. From there, he ran with this idea: can we develop a modern beef breed without horns?

In Gammon’s mind, dehorning was an unnecessary practice. He felt that he could better the treatment of cattle by selecting for naturally polled animals. He once wrote an essay titled “Is It Morally Right to Use a Horned Bull?” In this essay, he said:

“When we consider all of her [a cow’s] merits, we are forced to conclude that there is no species of animal on earth that is more entitled to sympathetic and kind treatment or that has greater claims on our admiration than the American cow and her progeny.”

On his quest, Gammon searched the country for other naturally hornless Hereford cattle. According to Birth of a Breed by Orville K. Sweet, Gammon wrote letters to 2,500 members of the American Hereford Association searching out these odd, naturally hornless animals. He purchased four bulls and ten cows from these inquiries. Three of those animals were eliminated from his breeding stock, and the remaining 11 were the first of the Polled Hereford breed registered in 1901.

Just a few years later in 1907, the American Polled Hereford Breeders Association was founded and headquartered in Des Moines. Both Warren and his son, Bert, were instrumental in the growth and development of this breed. By the 1950s, Polled Herefords had proven to be a popular, versatile, hardy, and adaptive breed. In 1995, the American Polled Hereford Association merged with the American Hereford Association, both of which are now housed in Kansas City, Missouri.

From an Iowa standpoint, we can claim not only this breed, but also these two influential Iowans. Warren and Bert Gammon were able to use their knowledge of heredity to create a breed of cattle that is safer to handle while eliminating an imperfect practice.


You can even pay homage to the birthplace of the Polled Hereford breed! There isn’t much left of the original site (now on the National Register of Historic Places), but there is a boulder with a plaque explaining the significance.

What’s more, you can even visit the Gammons’ barn at the Iowa State Fairgrounds! The barn was moved from the origin site to the fairgrounds in 1991, where it now serves as a museum. This lesser-known beauty is tucked in between the Livestock Pavilion and the Cattle Barn. Inside, you can see bronzed hats of American Polled Hereford Association Hall of Famers, books, documents, pictures, and other historical pieces relating to the Polled Hereford breed. (And as a bonus, when you’re there you might meet my dad, Ray!)

I hope you had fun learning about one of my favorite pieces of Iowa history!



Ps. If you’re interested in modern efforts to genetically dehorn cattle, check out this really cool video!

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

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

Great Teachers Create Great Students

Research shows that an inspiring and informed teacher is the most important school-related factor influencing student achievement. It is increasingly critical for new and experienced educators to be trained so they can relay those experiences to their students.

Teachers can take advantage of a number of different professional development opportunities to learn from each other and learn from other experts in the field. This ongoing learning keeps teachers up-to-date on new research on how children learn, emerging technology tools, new curriculum resources, and much more. The best professional development is experiential and collaborative. It should be connected to working with students, understanding their culture, and making learning real and relevant.

IMG_2063Through a series of workshops this summer, teachers across Iowa get the chance to participate in experiential and student focused professional development. These workshops use agriculture as the context to teach science, social studies, language arts, and other subject.

Each two-day workshop is set up with one field day and one classroom day. The field days take teachers to see firsthand farms, feedlots, dairies, co-ops, ethanol production plants, and other agribusinesses. Many of these businesses are hallmarks for the community yet we don’t understand what they do. The classroom day helps teachers break down what they saw on the tours into manageable lessons and activities that they can take back and implement in their classrooms.

Integrating Science

IMG_2052One of the stops of the workshop hosted in Tabor, Iowa was to a beef cattle feedlot that recently installed a monoslope barn. Monoslope barns might not be much to look at, but they utilize a number of different scientific concepts to provide a comfortable environment for the cattle. The building is built with an east-west alignment. This alignment keeps the cattle cool and shaded during the summer months and allows for maximum sunlight during the winter months. The pitch of the roof allows for heat to rise and be siphoned off very efficiently. Even though it is open air, there can be as much as a 15-degree temperature difference between the inside of the building and the outside of the building. The narrow opening on the north side of the building also takes advantage of the Venturi effect and promotes a lot of air flow through the building.

Integrating Social Studies

Journey 2050 Final Logo Illustrated_HIGH_RGBOne of the new resources that teachers are learning about is Journey 2050. This online gaming platform explores what sustainable agriculture really means. It looks at farmers in Kenya, India, and Canada. By understanding how farmers in different parts of the world are different and how they are the same we can begin to apply different social studies concepts. We can discuss the geography of those regions that create limiting factors. We can discuss the economics of those regions that might lead to the success or failure of those farmers. And we can discuss all of the factors that contribute to sustainability including profits, jobs, community, food, education, health, infrastructure, soil, water, and greenhouse gases.

Integrating Language Arts

IMG_2186Teachers who attended the workshops were introduced to a variety of resources to help supplement language arts lessons including Iowa Ag Today and My Family’s Beef Farm. Using these resources, students can practice contextual reading and begin to understand farming. Using teaching strategies like close reading, context clues, visualization, fluency, self-questioning, and making tracks, teachers can teach language arts to their students. This can boost reading, writing, and speaking skills easily aligning to standards.

Learn more about these workshop and other upcoming workshops. Great teachers make great students! With ongoing education, we can ensure that our students have the best possible chance for future success. The workshops were made possible with support from the Iowa Energy Center, the CHS Foundation, and the Monsanto Fund.


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