What’s Cookin’? – Summer Succotash Saute

20190814_114739a.jpgWe annually do cooking demonstrations in the Elwell Family Food building at the Iowa State Fair. This recipe was adapted from a recipe that was originally submitted as part of the Iowa’s Big Four Cooking competition at the 2018 Iowa State Fair. The original recipe was submitted by Kris Davis of Altoona and won 3rd prize in the savory division of that contest. We’ve made some slight modifications from the original. But first, where do all of the ingredients come from? Here is the farm-to-fork story.

Turkey bacon:  Most bacon is made from pork. But turkey bacon offers a unique alternative. Iowa raises a approximately 8.54 million turkeys each year.

Beef:  Beef is any cut of meat from cattle. Cattle are raised on grass for much of their life and then fed out with corn, soybeans, silage, and other feed components. This high energy feed ration promotes marbling in the muscle of the animal and increases the quality of the meat. Jerky is cured with salt – a preservation method that has been used for thousands of years.

Vegetable Oil: Most vegetable oil is made from soybeans. Iowa and Illinois are the two biggest soybean growers in the U.S. After the soybeans are harvested in the fall they are crushed to extract the oil.

Peppers: Red bell peppers and Jalapeno peppers members of the same family. Bell peppers can be green, red and orange in color. The ripest ones are sweeter, while the less ripe will be a bit tangier. Jalapenos are a chili pepper pod that is round, firm, about 4-6 inches long, and shiny green in color. It will be much hotter (spicier) than the bell pepper.

Onion:  The biggest onion producing states are Washington, Idaho, Oregon and California. Onions are a root crop that grow for 5-6 months before being either mechanically or hand harvested from the soil.

Edamame: Edamame is a green soybean harvested before it has dried. Iowa and Illinois are the two biggest soybean growers in the U.S. But, most of those soybeans are harvested dried and processed into other products like vegetable oil, soymeal, tofu, and more.

Cumin: Cumin is the ground aromatic seed from a plant in the parsley family.

Paprika: Paprika is the dried and crushed red bell pepper fruit.

20190814_113950a.jpgSweet Corn: Although Iowa farmers do raise some of the best-tasting sweet corn in the country, less than 1% of the corn in our state is sweet corn. Although one is considered a vegetable and the other a grain, sweet corn and field corn are close relatives. Sweet corn is a naturally occurring genetic mutation of field corn. The sweet corn plant is shorter, matures faster, and its kernels have a higher sugar content.

Cream Cheese: Cheese is typically made from cows’ milk but can also be made from sheep, goat, and other animal milk. The flavor or cheese comes from the type of milk, the butterfat content, and also the type of bacteria and/or mold used in the aging process. Cheese might have a slight natural yellow color, but the dark yellow color of cheeses like cheddar come from the addition of food coloring.

Salt: Salt isn’t exactly an agricultural product. But, is an important component because it is the only rock that humans seek out and regularly consume. Salt can be harvested from salt pans (dried lakes) or mined from underground.



  • 3 slices turkey bacon
  • 3 oz beef, thinly sliced
  • 1T vegetable oil
  • 1 cup Sweet red pepper, chopped
  • 1 cup onion, chopped
  • 1 cup tomato, seeded/chopped
  • 1-2 jalapeno peppers, sliced
  • 1T ground cumin
  • 1t salt
  • 2t ground smoked paprika
  • 8 oz pkg shelled edamame, frozen
  • 14 oz pkg roasted sweet corn, frozen
  • 2 oz cream cheese


  1. Cut turkey bacon into ¼ inch pieces. Add bacon and thinly sliced beef to a frying pan with the vegetable oil. Cook until browned. Drain, set aside.
  2. Discard all but 2T bacon drippings. In the drippings, saute the red pepper and onion until softened over medium-high heat.
  3. Add Jalapeño slices and cook 1-2 minutes more.
  4. Next add the corn and edamame.
  5. Add in the ground cumin, salt, and paprika. Mix well.
  6. Continue to sauté 8-10 minutes, stirring often.
  7. While sautéing, seed and chop the tomato.
  8. Add tomatoes and cream cheese, melting and mixing well.
  9. Stir in bacon pieces, saving some for garnish.

20190814_113638a.jpgServes six.



Places To Take Your Kids This Summer (And Some Fun Ag-tivities To Do When You Get There)

For me, summer has always brought relief. The schedule is relaxed. There is less pressure to get things done. Our family has more freedom to explore. But after a week or so, as a parent I begin to wonder, “am I letting my kids lose what they have learned?” “Are we beginning the dreaded ‘summer slide’?” “How can I sneak some education into their little Jell-O minds before they set?” Why not fill this summer with these delightful ag-ventures?

• Make it a point to check out your local county fair. These are a great time to get a look at different kinds of farm animals. You can tour building after building of suffolk sheepsheep, cows, goats, rabbits, chickens and more. Many are free to attend, and you can be sure to find one near you.

Introduce your young learners to the livestock they will encounter with the lesson, Animal Life Cycles. The activities include animal flash cards as well as excellent background information. Comparing similarities and differences between groups of animals is one fun way to get kids talking about the animals at the fair. Also in the lesson is a section called “Did you know?”

  • Discovering some interesting Ag Facts could include:
     Looking for animals that don’t have upper teeth in the front of their mouth (incisors). Answer: goats, sheep, and cows
     Finding a breed of chicken called the Aracauna lays eggs that are a light blue or green color.
     Asking what the word “cow” actually means? It is often used to refer to cattle in general, however, cow actually refers to female cattle who have had a calf.

Visit a processing plant or local locker. If you and your family eat meat, this might be a good way to help your children understand where their food comes from. Contact a butcher in your area to see if they would give a tour of their facility. Most processing plants will be able to show you how the meat from each animal is used. Lessons like From Pig to Bacon help kids learn about the many items that come from pigs, not just bacon. Sausage, ham, Canadian bacon, pork chops, cosmetics, gelatin, crayons, and chalk, a well as insulin and even heart valves are produced from pigs.

• Find a farmer willing to give a tour. Farms are busy places and are usually run by people who truly love their jobs. field on curve with two treesFarmers need to be experienced in a variety of things. From fixing fences to caring for sick animals, a farmer needs the skill and know how to do it all. In this activity sheet, Many Hats of an Iowa Farmer, your kids can get an idea of just how many hats an Iowa farmer wears. No matter how busy, I’ve yet to meet a farmer who isn’t willing to take a few minutes of their day to educate someone about the career that is more like a lifestyle. Remember, on your tour to wear chore clothes and sturdy shoes. The farm is no place for flip-flops.

Purchase produce from a farmer’s market. This is an area where cash is welcome, so let your kids do the math. Have them select something new and be responsible for making their purchase. Adding, subtracting, and simple multiplying can all be accomplished with your purchase (plus, you’ll be supporting local farmers). Here’s a fun activity called Eat ‘Em Up. You and your kids can review the plant parts that they eat, including roots, stems, flowers, leaves, fruit, and seeds. You can then choose a favorite fruit or vegetable to feature in a healthy recipe and prepare it with your family.

• If your little one is into big machinery, check out these museums.

It takes a lot of equipment to get a crop in and the history of those machines is really quite amazing. There is a lot of engineering behind some of these agricultural marvels. Kids love to learn how things work, and a tour of a tractor museum could be a great way to spark their interest, perhaps in building something of their own.

tractorsIn the lesson, Terrific Tractors, children will learn vocabulary words like tractor, planter, sprayer, cultivator, combine, and grain wagon as well as discover what each one does. Encourage your family to recognize the simple machines that are behind the farmers most useful tools.

Find a nursery or garden center. Planting a tree is a great way to teach children patience. It can make a lasting impact as a child watches their tree grow year after year. Beginning quite small as a seed and soon, even outgrowing them. You may want to visit a farm that sells evergreens and Discover Christmas Trees.

You might not be thinking of Christmas in the summer, but all-around Iowa, farmers are caring for the trees that may end up in your living room this winter. Here’s a guessing game you can play with your kids before you arrive. Ask your kids if they can name the crop after the clues you provide.

tree-privacy-screen-02o It is harvested one time per year.
o It is not a food crop.
o It is not produced by animals. (If needed, help your kids conclude that it is produced by plants.)
o It takes 6-10 years to grow.
o It has needles instead of leaves.
o It is primarily green and cone-shaped.
o It is most associated with the Christmas holiday.
o What is it? (a Christmas tree!)

Visit the World Food Prize building in Des Moines. I recently had the opportunity to visit and it was one of the most impactful tours I had ever been on. Learning the stories of the men and women who pioneered Iowa agriculture is really quite amazing. While walking through thecorner crops historical building there was something around every corner. The magnificent rotunda actually uses the four corners to tell the story, and origins, of four primary crops involved in feeding the world: wheat, rice, corn, and soy.

When I tell myself, “I can’t wait to make time to take my kids there,” I definitely mean it. I really shouldn’t wait. The importance of this one summer visit could make a huge difference in the way they see the jobs their father and I do. Him as a farmer and me as an agriculture literacy educator. The sense of pride I felt as I looked at the wonderful exhibits is hard to explain. It really made me feel like part of something bigger, something global.globe

Which one of these places will you visit this summer? Leave a comment in the section below to share your favorite Iowa Ag-venture.


How to Keep Farm Animals Cool in the Summer

I didn’t grow up on a typical farm but we lived at the edge of town where we raised registered American Paint Horses. From the tender age of four, my summers were spent working around horses – feeding, riding, cleaning stalls and showing. Those were some hot summers spent outside! While I could go inside and cool off in the house or show trailer, our horses didn’t have that luxury. My dad taught us to work the horses in the early morning or late afternoon and make sure they had access to water. If we saw them start to sweat too much and get overheated while practicing, we’d need to stop and let them cool down.

Thinking back on those days and the work that went into us caring for our small number of horses, I never really appreciated how hard farmers work to care for their livestock. Farmers care deeply for their animals and want to keep them comfortable. Whether they’re raising cattle, pigs or chickens, there are a lot of actions farmers take to keep their animals cool in the hot summer months.

Raising Animals for Local Environments
One of the first ways farmers can keep livestock comfortable is to raise animals that are well suited for local environment conditions. Iowa weather typically changes gradually. Some animals, such as cattle, have the ability to change their coats for the type of weather – shedding leading up to the hot summer months and adding thicker coats as winter approaches. The Angus and Hereford breeds are the most common type of cattle breed in the Midwest due to several factors, including their ability to adapt well to extreme hot and cold conditions.

Indoors or Outside – Housing Matters
Where animals are located also determines their care plan. As you’re driving along the Iowa countryside you’ll likely see cattle in lots of different locations – in an open feed lot with shelter nearby or grazing in the pasture. No matter the location, farmers make sure cattle have access to water through ponds, creeks or watering systems. When no water is around, farmers bring misting tractors to the animals to cool off. If you see a farmer driving a misting tractor out to the field, you’ll likely see the cattle not far behind coming to greet them. When it’s 90+ degrees with high Iowa humidity, we all want to take a dip in cool water and farm animals are no different.Cattle_Stream_Crossing

For animals such as chickens and turkeys, they are likely housed in indoor facilities or have free range access to outside. For indoor housing, it’s important for producers to manage the environment. Chickens pant when they get hot as they don’t have sweat glands. If they’re too hot they won’t want to eat, which will impact their growth rate. Ventilation, lighting, temperature and litter condition all impact the housing environment inside, and the health of the poultry. With hot summers, producers regularly check the thermometer inside the facilities to gauge the temperature and closely follow weather forecasts to make adjustments.IMG_0016

Pigs are an animal that don’t sweat either. While they do have a few sweat glands, it’s not significant enough to keep them cool. Pigs can easily overheat if not kept cool. While most pigs are raised in modern confinement facilities with climate control, they can still overheat during extreme heat. Pork producers with large indoor facilities use fans, air inlets, sprinklers/misting systems and other tools to help manage the heat stress on their animals. For pigs primarily raised outside, farmers keep them cool by offering shade and access to water – both for drinking and laying in it. Pigs love mud and it has practical purposes for them. Mud can help cool pigs down and protect against sunburn.


Daily Check-Ins
Each day – even weekends and on holidays – farmers are focused on making sure animals are comfortable and healthy. Just because it’s a holiday doesn’t mean a farmer can rest. They’re constantly checking on their animals to make sure they’re staying healthy, well fed and have access to water and shelter.

Keeping an Eye on Nutrition
You might be surprised to learn farmers also work with a nutritionist to ensure their animals are getting the right nutrients at the right time for optimum health. This is one way to keep the animals healthy, which will help them in extreme weather conditions. Some animals will decrease their feed intake during periods of high temperatures. Farmers counteract this by feeding them high quality, dense food.

Other Factors
Many factors need to be considered when managing animals during extreme weather conditions. In addition to raising the right breed for the environment, providing shelter and access to water, and watching diets, producers also consider actions such as transportation and handling procedures as well as timing animal reproduction activities.

Extreme heat causes significant stress for all animals. Farmers want to do what’s right for their animals while also ensuring a quality product for their customers.


Hello! My name is Melissa. I’m the new part-time administrative assistant for the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation. While I didn’t grow up on a traditional farm we did raise and show registered American Paint Horses as well as registered purebred elk. Growing up, I was also actively involved in our local 4-H group.

I studied public relations and marketing in college and went on to work for several different companies in marketing communications roles. I always enjoyed opportunities to work in the ag industry the most so I’m glad to be back.



Summer Boredom Busters


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

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

GrassheadbigGrow Something

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


TypingRead & Write

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

ice-creamGet Cooking

2050Play Games

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

IMG_1354Create Something:

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

Grout-Museum-District-362x272Go Somewhere:

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





Sweet Corn Science: What Makes Sweet Corn Sweet? Why Does Corn Have Hair? & Other Questions Answered

sweet corn - close

One of the best things about summer is sweet corn.  We’ve had it almost every night for supper this week.  The two nights we didn’t, my kids whined like I just told them they have to give away their favorite toy.  I don’t blame them though.  What’s not to love about sweet corn?   It’s not only delicious, but it’s fun to eat and fun prepare too.  My kids love helping husk sweet corn.  It’s a mess and takes longer than if I did it myself, but it’s well worth it.  They have a blast, and I love the non-stop questions they ask.  “What makes sweet corn sweet?”  “Why does corn have hair?”  “Is this the same corn that cows eat?”  I usually give them pretty simple answers, but their questions got me thinking about the science behind the whys.   Below are some of their questions, as well as questions about corn that I’ve been asked by students and teachers over the years.

What makes sweet corn sweet?  

It’s all about sugar.  Not cane sugar or beet sugar, but natural sugars that occur in plants.  Sweet corn kernels have a very high sugar content when harvested at right time.  I’ll go into more detail about this later.

 What is the difference between the corn we eat (sweet corn) and animals eat (field corn)?  

Although they are closely related, they look different, taste different and are used for different things.  Sweet corn is a naturally occurring genetic mutation of field corn. The sweet corn plant is shorter, matures faster, and its kernels have a higher sugar content.  Field corn is harvested in the fall, after the plant dies and the seeds are dry and hard.  Field corn has a much higher starch content and is used to make livestock feed, ethanol, corn meal, corn starch, corn syrup and more.   Check out our blog post from last year to learn more about the difference between sweet corn and field corn.

Is Iowa the top sweet corn producing state?  If not, why?

Nope.  Iowa doesn’t even make the top 20 list.  Our growing season is too short and we are not home to any major canned or frozen vegetable companies.  Sweet corn is only harvested in Iowa from July through early September.  The fresh corn we eat the rest of the year comes from warmer states like Florida, California, and Georgia.  Most of the frozen and canned corn we purchase is grown in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the Pacific Northwest states.  These states are home to many major vegetable processors who contact local farmers to grow sweet corn they use.  Iowa’s landscape is covered with corn fields, but nearly all of it is field corn.  Less than 1% of the corn grown in Iowa is sweet corn. 

Why doesn’t sweet corn taste as good a few days after you pick it? 

True sweet corn connoisseurs, including most farmers I know, prefer to eat corn the day it is picked.  That is because it tastes better!   When freshly picked, sweet corn is high in sugar and low in starch.  As sweet corn sits after picking, the sugars in the kernel turn to starch.  This mutes the flavor and affects its texture when cooked.

Having said that, it is completely safe to store in the refrigerator for up to a week.  Be sure to leave the husks on until you are ready to cook it though.  The husks help seal in the moisture and slow the conversion of sugars to starch.

Is sweet corn a fruit or vegetable? 

Both. Botanically speaking, an ear of sweet corn is a fruit (the seed producing part of the plant).  Tomatoes, squash, peppers and other seed-containing vegetables are technically fruits too.  In culinary terms, corn is considered a vegetable because it is a relatively unsweet edible plant part.  If you really want your head spinning with botanical lingo, check-out this fun video from SciShow.   I think it is more entertaining than most prime-time TV, but I am admittedly a plant-loving science geek.

Why doesn’t sweet corn from the grocery store in the winter taste as good?

Corn purchased in the winter, is grown in southern states like Florida.  It can be several days to a few weeks form the time it is picked until you buy it at the store.  During this time, sugar in the corn converts to starch making it less sweet and tender.  Growers and distributors store and transport corn in refrigerated units to slow this process, but there’s no way to stop effects of time completely.

What are the hair-like things between the husks and the kernels?  

corn plant diagramAlthough they are a big nuisance while cleaning and eating sweet corn, those “hairs” are extremely important.  Corn kernels couldn’t develop without silks.   In simple terms, the silk is a tiny tube that pollen travels down to make the kernels of corn.   Corn is monecious, meaning it has both male and female flowers on the same plant. The corn silk is the female flower and the tassel at the top of the corn plant is the male flower.  During pollination, pollen from the tassel is carried by wind to the silks.  Pollen grains attach to the sticky end each silk, and then travel down the silks to fertilize each ovary.  After pollination, the ovary develops into a kernel of corn at the other end of the each strand of silk.   Take a look the next time you husk corn, and you will notice that there is a silk attached to each kernel.

How do farmers know when sweet corn is ready to harvest?

Sweet corn should be harvested at the milk stage.   As the name implies, the kernels are full of a milky-looking juice when ready to pick.  To test, growers will pierce the soft kernels with their thumbnail to look for the milk, or even bite into a raw ear to test for sweetness.  Immature corn will ooze a clear liquid, while over-mature sweet corn kernels are tough and almost doughy inside.

There are also visual cues that you can use at the store without pulling back the husks.  Ready-to-eat ears are plump.  The silks at the end are brown and starting to dry, but the husks are still bright green and supple.  Skinny ears with extra pointy ends and white silks are immature.  These are signs that pollination just occurred and the kernels inside are not fully formed.  Also avoid buying ears with completely dry silks and husks that are pale green, brownish, dry-looking.  This indicates over-mature or not freshly picked corn.

Can you pick field corn early and eat it like sweet corn?

You can eat it, but it won’t taste nearly as good.  Field corn also goes through a milk stage like sweet corn.  As mentioned earlier, field corn has a much higher starch.  This makes the kernels considerably less sweet and much tougher, even when harvested during the milk stage.

What other questions do you have?  Ask away!  I’d love to answer your questions and help simplify the science of sweet corn.


Farmland Takes to Theater at the Iowa State Fair

There are so many new things offered at Iowa State Fair 2015. Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation has been privileged to be able to offer a new activity foIMG_2346r visitors. FARMLAND the movie has been playing at 1 p.m. in the Maytag Family Theater Building every day for all fair goers free of charge and will continue through the duration of the fair.

Most Americans have not had the opportunity to visit a farm or ranch and just as many have never had conversations with farmers or ranchers that make their living growing crops and raising animals to feed our hungry, growing nation. Farmland allows viewers to take a step onto the farm and experience just a small piece of what farmers deal with every day. The movie is a documentary about six young farm families and their personal experiences of farming today. Immediately after the movie, there is a brief Q & A for viewers with Iowa farmers.

I wanted to share some of the photos, comments, questions and most importantly viewpoints of farmers from all over Iowa.

farmer panelAfter a week of offering this venue to fair goers, we have averaged 175 – 200 people at each viewing. Captivated by what was shared in the movie, the audience was quick to ask questions of the farmers immediately following the 44 minute film. Over the course of 15 minutes, viewers asked things about local farms in Iowa like “When we hear about a bad market for soybeans…What does that Audiencereally mean?” “Could one of you explain more about the futures market?”

One of my favorite panel discussion comments was something shared by a farmer panel member. He said “I told my grown sons – If you don’t have a passion and love for farming in your heart (and he pointed to his own heart) – then you won’t make it. You gotta love what you are doing!”

The second was when a farmer who was not a part of our panel sparked a conversation with a couple who did not come from a farm, but were curious about agriculture. As the auditorium cleared, the three stayed for more IMG_2351than 30 minutes talking. The farmer was sharing his personal experiences and the couple was asking lots of questions.

The Farmland movie had some excellent quotes. A few of my favorites were “What does the public want to know, what do they need to know? How can we help you? We’re not hiding anything, but what do you want to know?” from Ryan Veldhuizen.  From Brad Bellah “You can’t just wake up one day and say, ‘okay I’ve got a business degree and I like working in my yard, so I’m going to be a farmer.’ Or, ‘you know what, I’ve got three dogs and I’m really good with animals, I’m going to be a rancher. It doesn’t work that way. It takes a lot of time and experience. I’m only 26 years old, but for 20 years now I’ve been working cattle.” The farmers’ honesty leads to great discussions after the viewing.

FullSizeRenderWatching reactions has always intrigued me. Seeing interests be sparked and questions being asked has been such an amazing piece of my Fair 2015. Teachers are asking about using the movie in their classes to teach STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) concepts. Hearing the laughter and seeing the tears of those watching the real life events of these farm families in Farmland has been a blessing for me. As each day’s viewing of the movie comes to a close I see the newfound interest and the compassion of people whose lives are much like those of the farmers in Farmland.

– Sheri

Ag 101: Oh …the Taste of Sweet Corn

It’s that time of year…fresh vegetables are readily available at farmers markets, grocery stores and even roadside stands or truck beds! My personal Sweet%2BCornfavorite is sweet corn and I love to enjoy it straight out of a pan of boiling water or fresh off the grill.

Here are a few tips and tricks about corn – from buying and husking to storing, freezing and more. What 496388c9c4b30842fe3d99359a9d353fmakes one ear of corn taste better than the next? There are a few tricks to picking the best. Corn sold at reputable roadside stands usually come fresh that day to the stand. Grocery store corn may or may not be as fresh as the corn available from the roadside stand. Ask your grocer when the corn was picked to determine freshness. If you are not eating the corn the day you purchase it, you can put unshucked corn in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to three days and still maintain freshness. I didn’t realize there is that much to be learned about picking and storing corn.

Today we have the speed of microwaves to heat the ear of corn. With microwave cooking comes a fool proof way the remove the husks. If you prefer the grill or boiling water, there are still a few tips to make the job of preparing mouth-watering corn easy.

What are some of the health benefits of sweet corn? Truth is that an ear of corn offers a 3 gram dose of fiber and it has antioxidants and chemicals that promote healthy vision. What are some other myths and truths that you may have been told? You may have heard that some produce is genetically modified. What about sweet corn? All sweet corn has been cover_potselected through intensive breeding programs and selected for its sweetness and nutritional value. Some, but not all, sweet corn being sold has been genetically modified with the Bt gene which makes the growing plant resistant to some insects. That means that more of the sweet corn makes it to the grocery stores and isn’t destroyed by insects. Field corn grill_huskon(different from sweet corn) with Bt gene modification has been grown since 1996 and we have been eating foods with field corn ingredients with no ill effect for nearly 20 years. In fact, there is no proven risk of eating foods that have been genetically modified. The truth is, GMO sweet corn is still very rare. Still concerned? Just ask the farmer if they plant genetically modified seeds.

HE_summer-corn-three-ways.jpg.rend.sni18colThere are many ways to enjoy your summer sweet corn and so many great summer recipes that require corn on or off the cob. How about sweet corn soup with a Thai twist? Never heard of it? Me either…but it sounds wonderful. The Food Network offers a great blog called “Healthy Eats”. Recipes offered here offer many ways to enjoy that fresh sweet corn taste. They offer a recipe of sweet corn soup with a twist of Thai (I’m getting hungry)!

No meal is complete without dessert. Yes, I did say dessert. I am surprised to find out that I can make a sweet corn ice cream. This recipe is much like Conr on cob2most homemade recipes for ice cream, with one exception. One of the ingredients is corn. Sounds like an interesting use of the readily available corn on the cob. I am going to have to try this one.

If you prefer to get your corn already prepared for you, check out some of the festivals offered in Iowa. You will be able to find sweet corn, all kinds of delectable treats, music and fun for the whole family. Iowa is a great place to live!


Aerial Application

It’s nearly that time of summer that brightly colored planes and helicopters can be seen buzzing over Iowa fields, dipping low onto the horizon and rising up over the crops again. These agricultural pilots and their amazing machines are important to helping Iowa crops grow healthy and strong. But what are they spraying, and why is it necessary?

Farmers can choose aerial application of pesticides for their crops, and usually do so when the crop is too tall or the soil is too saturated to apply crop protectants with a tractor or self-propelled sprayer. By this time the crop’s dense leaf canopy has mostly closed, preventing weeds from growing, so the majority of crop protectants that are sprayed aerially are fungicides and insecticides. The farmer or agronomist will walk through fields, looking for pests, pest damage, or disease. Once the pest level reaches economic threshold, or the point at which the cost of controlling the pest will be less than the cost of the damage from the pest, most farmers will choose to spray to get rid of pests. Most farmers are looking for corn rootworm beetles chewing on ear silks when scouting corn fields.

The pilots that man these crop protecting aircrafts are highly trained. The average aerial applicator has more than 20 years of experience. They are required to have their Pesticide Applicator’s Licenses and are regulated under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Federal Aviation Administration all play a role in making sure that crop protectants are applied safely.

The planes that aerial applicators use to apply crop protectants are technologically advanced . The planes are equipped with Global Positioning and Global Information Systems as well as precisely calibrated spray equipment to ensure that crops are being sprayed effectively and safely. Precision application equipment allows for less pesticide application over more acres, and reduced drifting of chemicals, in contrast with older aerial application systems. The typical aerial applicator used to be a by-plane or a plane leftover from World War II that was updated to spray, but now companies like Air Tractor specialize in engineering and manufacturing hi-tech aerial applicators.

It may be scary to see chemicals sprayed through the air, but there are actually a lot of benefits to aerial spraying.   Aerial application reduces compaction and erosion of the soil, because the pesticides are being applied without disturbing or running over the soil. There is no damage to the crop in the field, because it is being treated from above instead of within. And, an aerial applicator can cover more acres in an hour than ground equipment (like self-propelled sprayers) can cover in an entire day. This has great advantages, because timing of application of pesticides is crucial to their success .

It’s not just conventional farmers that reap the benefits of aerial application; organic farmers can apply approved organic pesticides, such as Bt, sulfur, and rotenone, to their crops via air. Some organic farmers have these pesticides applied almost daily to prevent and control insects and weed pressure. Aerial applicators are also capable of seeding rice and wheat, fight forest and grassland fires, and defoliate cotton before harvest.

Aerial application is a valuable tool for farmers all across the country. These highly skilled workers contribute a great deal to the success of crops from corn to tomatoes by protecting yields from insects, disease, fungi and weeds. And, it’s pretty neat sight to see!

Lend Me Your Ear for Ag Idioms

chickenIdioms…we have all heard them at one time or another. For those of you like myself that have been out of school for some time, an idiom is a phrase of words that means something different from the literal meaning of the individual words. I find it amazing that there are so many agriculture related idioms. Here are just a few of the more common agriculture-related idioms to ponder as we move into dog days of summer.

There are countless ones about chickens…like running around “like a chicken with its head cut off” –Realistically chickens do continue to twitch or move a little for a short time after harvest because of their neural network and the spinal cord sending delayed messages to their muscles.

It’s almost the fourth of July and I have heard it said that “The corn is knee high by the Fourth of July.” Decades ago, knee high corn meant it was doing well and a good harvest was in sight. But today, knee high corn in July would signify something is wrong with the crop. As the novice on agriculture….this one always made me laugh because I was already eating sweet corn by the fourth of July! Field corn stays out in the fields a little longer than sweet corn and it is used for things like ethanol or feed for livestock, not for human consumption.

I recall as a teenager to make hay while the sun shines. What was that supposed to mean? My parents meant for me to get busy doing what I was asked to do. This old proverb tells us to do today what we can, because we may not have the opportunity tomorrow. Back in the day, if the hay had been cut and set out to dry and got wet, there was a strong chance the hay would be ruined. No time like the present to do what needs to be done!

I have been known to say that I’m sweating like a pig. Well that’s funny, because pigs don’t sweat. They do not have sweat glands. They cool off by getting into the mud or water. How about this room looks like a pig pen? Pigs are actually clean animals. They leave the area to relieve themselves. I have also heard the saying “you’re eating like a pig.” This statement would infer that someone is overeating. Pigs only eat until they are full. Amazing how these statements are taken literally and yet they aren’t factual.

I hope to be as cool as a cucumber when it’s hot and sticky outside and if all else fails…let’s just grab a glass of ice cold lemonade and shoot the breeze! There are so many humorous idioms about the farm, I can only share a few – I encourage you to find a few of your own.

Have a great July!


Summer Fun – Creating an Ag-ceptional Summer

It’ s the end of May and the kids are out of school. Moms and dads will soon be hearing those age old comments like “I’m bored!” or “There’s nothing to do!” Well, I am about to provide lots of ideas to keep the kids busy and learning new things all summer break. Here are( photo/Lori Duff) your top twelve Ag-ceptional learning experiences!

1. First things first…there is agriculture everywhere you look! It won’t take much time to add a learning experience to a walk in the neighborhood, a trip to the park or a bike ride to a friend’s house. Nature watch from the USDA Forest Service has great things to see and do. Check out their “Critter Cam”. Kids will see nature in action. Then on a family walk or bike ride challenge your kids to take pictures or movies to record what they find.

2. There arthe sites full of different ideas to keep kids learning all summer long. Let the kids pick new day destinations for ag-adventures. Pack a lunch and let the kids create agendas of things to see and accomplish. It is exciting just thinking of the many options like a trip to Living History Farms.

3. The Iowa State Fair has things to keep you busy for the entire ten day event from August 13 through 23rd. There will be presentations, hands on learning, many different animals to see and of course lots of food and rides to try too!

4. Look into visiting a friend’s farm and learning how they run it. Kids can learn directly from families that live on the farm. There is so much to see and learn and so many different types of farms in our communities. Many farmers would love the opportunity to share what farming on their farm requires. Don’t knocornw anyone that lives on a farm? Then check out some of the great farms that specialize in agro tourism (http://www.visitiowafarms.org/find_a_farm/).

5. There are loads of rainy day ideas for the computer. At http://www.agclassroom.org/kids/ there are all kinds of interactive projects and fun learning ideas for kids of all ages. Enter into the Kids Zone for science projects, farm and food fun, virtual tours and so much more.

6. At http://www.neok12.com/Agriculture.htm you will find online videos and lessons as well as games and activities for grade levels 3rd through 12th. Kids can learn in areas of their personal interest. Do they like machinery? There are lessons on that. How about Ag History…They have that, too! How about food for today and visiting 62ce9ad5acda1312f5ec9cc48c583604farms…kids can do that on this site!

7. The USDA has a great link for kids – http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?navid=FOR_KIDS . This link has loads of learning options. They can learn about dairy labs and cows and dairy products by doing fun puzzles, games and activities.

8. Maybe the kids are into animal or plant health. Well they have “beetle buster freeze” where you hunt for the Asian Long horned beetle…An interactive video game and worksheets to go along with this activity.

9. How about food and nutrition? Have the kids do a food-a-pedia activity.

10. Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation continues to grow and add links for teachers, parents and kids to find fun and exciting things.

11. Pinterest has great ideas on how to plant a garden in a Rubbermaid container. Let the kids build a garden of their own in 14737361966a plastic tote.

12. There are programs that give the kids a camp experience to learn agriculture in their local environment. Come see us at the UNI STEM summer camp that offers fun and excitement in science, technology, engineering and math. Camp will be at the UNI campus July 7-10. There are more than a dozen other camp sessions for kids K-12 too.

13. How about the Iowa State Engineering for Kids camp for the child that loves the technology piece of agriculture? There is also a state 4-H camp site to let the kids have an adventure in nature. These sites will direct you to regional and local activities that can keep those kids busier than they could ever imagine. Mom and Dad will be thrilled with the educational contents of any of these camps and the kids will love the interaction with other kids their age and the exciting events that they will be able to participate in.

campers2Parents…learning and fun are at your fingertips. It is time to get that summer calendar full of events and excitement for the entire family. We at Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation would love for you to tell us all about your great summer learning experience. Have a great Ag-summer!