Target Grade Level / Age Range:


Estimated Time:

30-45 minutes depending on depth


Students compare Iowa to California and investigate viticulture (growing of grapes) by finding patterns as they compare grapes and make connections to climate, harvest, and taste.


  • 3-5 sets of the Base Elem Grape Cards or Advanced Elem Grape Cards printed front & back and cut out.
  • 3-5 copies of the Lower Elem State Handouts printed

Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)


  • Viticulture - the growing or cultivation of grape vines.
  • Harvest - the process and period of gathering crops
  • Perennial – a plant that lives for more than two years
  • Climate – the average weather patterns within an area including temperature and precipitation

Background – Agricultural Connections

There are two types of grapes; table grapes and juice grapes. Table grapes are the grapes that are purchased in grocery stores and meant to be eaten “as is”. These grapes grow well in warm climates with lots of sun. Juice grapes tend to be smaller and have thicker skin than table grapes. These grapes are used to make jams, jellies, and juice. In Iowa, most farmers cultivate juice grapes that are often used to produce juice, which is later fermented into wine. Grape types are broken down into three main categories, green, red, and black, defined by the grape’s skin color.

Iowa grapes are unique and some of the varieties grown here are not grown anywhere else. With a winter that sees temperatures nearing the -20s, grape vines grown in Iowa must be cold-hardy. This adaptation allows for vines to over-winter without dying. Flavor also sets Iowa’s grapes apart. Flavors range from light (citrus, fruity) to complex (pepper, plum, leather). Viticulture is a growing industry in Iowa, growing from 30 acres (2000) to over 1,300 acres (2021). Growing grapes is a year-round job that includes pruning, pest management, harvesting (August-November), processing, marketing, and selling. Some grape farmers in Iowa also partake in agritourism, making their farm a destination. During winter, viticulturalists will plan events such as weddings, music, harvest festivals, art shows, and more to encourage people to travel to their farm.

California is the top producer of table grapes. Coachella Valley and San Joaquin Valley are known for table grape production (the Lower Elem Handout- Basic depicts the general areas where the pictured crops are grown for both states). California provides the best climate for these grapes because of the mild winters and small range of temperatures throughout the year. Table grapes also rely on a lot of sunshine to produce the best fruit. Just like in Iowa, grape production is a year-round job in California. Unlike in Iowa, California growers might harvest in late spring to mid-July. After the grapes are harvested, the clusters are inspected and trimmed, packed into shipping boxes, and transported to cold storage facilities to quickly cool the grapes. Table grapes are a good source of vitamin K and provide 7% of the recommended daily intake of potassium. You can try grapes fresh or even frozen! (See this handout developed by California AITC for more information on table grapes).

Interest Approach – Engagement

  • Ask students what they know about grapes. Keep track of their answers on the board.
  • Place students in groups of 2-3. Then pass out the grape cards to each group. Give groups time to look at the cards. Ask the students what they notice about the cards.
    • Students might notice that the cards have: grapes on them, color differences, images on the back of the card
  • Let groups know that today we are going to investigate grapes and viticulture, the growing of grapes. Ask the group to organize the grape cards into 2 categories.
    • Optional modification: prior to giving each group their cards, discuss with them ways that they have organized items in the past to help them make connections.



  1. Students work with their partners to explore patterns between the grape cards and place them into categories. While students do this walk around and ask students prompting questions about their categories.
    • Question Prompt Examples: Why did you choose this grouping? What do you notice about the front side of the grape card? What do you notice about the back side of the grape card? What similarities can you find between the grapes?
  2. Have each group choose a spokesperson. Let the groups know that they will share out how they grouped their grapes. Give each group time to prepare their spokesperson. Then have each group share how they grouped their grapes.
  3. Ask students to set their grape cards off to the side. Let them know that they’ll be coming back to them.
  4. Let the students know that all these grapes can be found in two different locations, and now that they’ve investigated the grapes, they’ll be investigating two locations in the United States.
  5. Hand out the California Environment Sheet and the Iowa Environment Sheet. Give students time to look at the two states. Encourage students to look for things that are similar.
    • Optional modification: have students focus on one portion of the sheet at a time. For example, have groups focus on the seasons and compare those before moving onto the next topic (i.e., crops and weather). Another modification is to omit the seasons section.
  6. Discuss with students what they noticed. Keep track of these on the board to reference later.
  7. After students have looked at similarities have them look for differences. Then have students share what they saw that was different, keep track of their answers on the board.


  1. Review with students what they know about the two states by referencing the words on the board. Then remind students about the grapes they looked at earlier.
  2. Bring students’ attention back to the main goal for the day: investigate grapes and viticulture.
  3. Ask students what questions they could ask to help them with their investigation. Work with the class to come up with a focus question.
    • Questions will vary, but guiding students toward questions like these is helpful:
      1. How does the environment affect where grapes grow?
      2. What grapes grow best in Iowa?
      3. What grapes grow best in California?
      4. Where do the grapes grow?
  4. Ask students how they might answer this question using the materials they’ve looked at so far.
  5. Give time for students to organize their grapes based on the states.  


  1. Have students share out where they placed each grape. Discuss each one with students and the evidence they have for where they were placed.
    • California: Autumn seedless, Pristine seedless, Scarlet Royal
    • Iowa: Marquette, Catawba, Brianna
  2. Revisit the students' “What we know about grapes” from the Engage portion. Ask students what they would like to add to this.

Did you know? (Ag facts)

  • Iowa used to be ranked 11th in the USA for grape production.
  • In 2021, Iowa sold 1.1% of its juice outside the state!
  • Multiple grape juices can be mixed to create new complex flavors.

Extension Activities

  1. Have students explore the flavors of grapes using a taste test. Choose 1-3 different table grapes (can be bought in the produce aisle at the grocery store) and/or 1-3 different Iowa grapes. Iowa grapes are not sold in stores since they are used for juice, however, you can find local vineyards using the Iowa Wine Growers Association website. *Note: Iowa grapes tend to have seeds, make sure students are aware of this.
  2. Engineer grape juice or jelly with students.
  3. Explore the structures of grapes and their functions through a grape dissection. Use California AITC’s resource to help.
  4. Have students learn about the history of Iowa grapes and how the viticulture industry has changed over time.
  5. Show students a topographic or interstate map of the US. Ask them what the best route would be to get grapes from California to Iowa or from Iowa to California.

Suggested Companion Resources



               Cathryn Carney

Organization Affiliation

  • Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation

Agriculture Literacy Outcomes

  • T1.K-2.d Provide examples of how weather patterns affect plant and animal growth for food.
  • T5.K-2.d Identify plants and animals grown or raised locally that are used for food, clothing, shelter, and landscapes.

Iowa Core Standards

  • Science
    1. K-LS1-1 Use observations to describe patterns of what plants and animals (including humans) need to survive.
    2. K-ESS3-1 Use a model to represent the relationship between the needs of different plants or animals (including humans) and the places they live. 
    3. 2-LS4-1 Make observations of plants and animals to compare the diversity of life in different habitats.
  • Social Studies
    1. SS.K.14 Compare environmental characteristics in Iowa with other places.
    2. SS.1.17 Describe how environmental characteristics and cultural characteristics impact each other in different regions of the U.S.
    3. SS.2.17 Explain how environmental characteristics impact the location of particular places. (If extension activity 5 is completed)