History of Iowa's Grape Industry
Target Grade Level / Age Range:
Students will learn about the grape industry in Iowa and factors that impacted the industry, including government policies, cultural shifts, and environmental factors.
- Iowa Grape Industry Timeline Cards, printed and cut (a few sets for class groupwork)
- Iowa Grape Industry Line Graph Activity sheet, printed (1 for each student)
- Writing utensils
Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)
- Iowa Grape Industry Timeline Cards
- Iowa Grape Industry Line Graph Activity Sheet
- Iowa Grape Industry Line Graph Activity Sheet sample
- Viticulture: The cultivation of grapevines
- Vineyard: a plantation of grapevines producing grapes
- Vintner: a producer of wine or a wine grower
- Prohibition: the action of forbidding something by law; the law that prevented the manufacture and sale of alcohol in the U.S. between 1920 and 1933
- Tolerant: able to endure specified conditions, as in grapes may be tolerant to cold weather
- Variety: a category of organisms below species; a category of organisms within a species with a set collection of characteristics
- Acre: a unit of land area equal to 4,840 square yards, or approximately the size of a football field
- Table grapes: varieties of grapes that are milder in flavor, have thinner skin, and are better suited to eating fresh
- Juice grapes: varieties of grapes that are more complex in flavor, have thicker skin, and are better suited to juicing
Background – Agricultural Connections
Iowa’s grape-growing history is complex but interesting. Iowa was once a powerhouse grape-producing state, especially in the western part of the state along the Loess Hills, where the first recorded vineyard was planted. By the time Prohibition was passed, Iowa was ranked 6th nationally in grape/wine production.
However, grape production declined significantly in following decades, as wine demand slowed and several other factors piled on.
In the wake of the Great Depression and FDR’s New Deal, the Agricultural Adjustment Act was passed in 1933. The Agricultural Adjustment Act began a program to subsidize farmers for more traditional row crops (like corn – this was before soybeans were popular). This program helped struggling farmers and got necessary grain into the markets to avoid having a lower supply. However, this did disincentivize farmers from going into or rebuilding a fruit production operation.
Around the same time, the herbicide 2,4-D (brand name Dicamba) started becoming popular. This herbicide is still used today, but today it is much better understood. This herbicide can be finicky and can drift to harm crops outside of where it is sprayed. Grapevines are very sensitive to it. The use of this herbicide in the 1930s and 1940s contributed to declining vineyard acres by simply accidentally killing off grapevines.
The Armistice Day Blizzard (11/11/1940) also contributed to the death of vineyards. That fall was uncommonly mild with temperatures in the 50s. That morning, the weather was more of the same and people were not aware of the storm that was coming. In just a few hours, temperatures plummeted, and snow piled high. This resulted in the death of livestock, fruit trees, grapevines, and even some people.
By the mid-1900s, Iowa had started recognizing the staying power of corn production and began to specialize more in that crop. Farmers were afraid of another terrible storm that could hurt their crops. Fruit-bearing plants like grapes and apples also need time to mature. It can be expensive to replant and wait for the crop to finally mature to make money. Farmers had simply transitioned to a more stable income at the time, which was row crops.
In the 1990s, researchers at Minnesota and Cornell started work on cold-hardy grape varieties that could withstand the harsh cold snaps that the Midwest and Northeast might be subject to. This gave grape producers and hopeful grape producers more confidence that a freak storm wouldn’t decimate their crops.
Shortly thereafter, cultural preferences like agritourism and buying locally became more and more popular. A new market emerged of folks wanting a unique, local, artisan experience. Associations and institutes saw this and began organizing to help support this burgeoning new industry.
Today, there are 1,300 acres of vineyards, whereas 20 years ago there were only 30. Iowa’s grape and wine industry was responsible for a $420 million impact in 2012 and has grown since.
Interest Approach – Engagement
Start the lesson with a bell-ringer activity asking students to make a list of plants and animals that farmers and gardeners raise in Iowa. Tell students to list as many as they can think of!
After a couple of minutes, bring the group together and write examples on the board. Things like corn, soybeans, pigs, cattle, chickens, sheep, goats, and some garden vegetables may be common! See if any students thought of grapes. Why or why not may they have thought of this?
- Review the kinds of things students said grew in Iowa. Take some time to discuss why these things are grown in Iowa. What factors impact where food and animals are raised?
- Climate – rainfall, temperature, humidity, etc.
- Markets – are there places to sell lots of potatoes in Iowa? Wool? Barley?
- Business decisions – can this crop get crop insurance? Are there governmental subsidies that could help produce it? Are there tools and equipment that can help me grow it easily?
- There are lots of reasons why farmers grow certain things in certain places! Today in class, we will learn about some factors that have impacted grape production in Iowa.
- Briefly recap some facts about grapes with students to help give them some context for the activity.
- What do grapes grow on? Vines – Vines live for many years so grape farmers don’t plant grapes every year
- How are grapes used? To eat plain, make jams, jellies, and juice (primarily). Most of Iowa’s grapes are juice grapes that can be made into different kinds of juice (or fermented into wine for adults)
- Are grapes a fruit, vegetable, or grain? A fruit
- What unit of measurement do we use for land? Acres – an acre is about the size of a football field.
- Discuss with students that our goal today is to explore grape production in Iowa. Each group of students will get a set of 16 cards. Groups will work together to put the cards in order to form a timeline.
- *Optional modification: for additional challenge, delete the years or cut the years off of the timeline cards.
- Take some time to group students together in workable areas in the classroom. Students will likely need floor space to spread the cards out. Groups of 3-5 would be ideal.
- Walk through each group asking probing questions like:
- Why did your group choose...?
- What evidence do you have to support...?
- When students are close to done with the activity, bring the whole group together for discussion (students can remain seated in their groups if they are able to participate in the full-group discussion). On the whiteboard, take note of the timeline by posting the timeline cards in order or writing notes. Discuss with students what comes next and if there are any that could be rearranged.
- Was anything about this activity challenging? How did you problem-solve?
- Next, as a whole group, discuss what timeline cards could have caused the Iowa grape industry to change. Star, asterisk, or otherwise denote those dates on the whiteboard. Instruct students to do the same with the cards in their group's timeline.
- Prohibition passed, prohibition repealed, 1940 blizzard, Agricultural Adjustment Act, 2,4-D, grape growing associations formed, agritourism, research into cold-hardy grapes
- Which of those cards includes a cause because of a government ruling or policy change?
- Prohibition and Agricultural Adjustment Act
- Next, work with the class to connect the “cause” cards to what they might have affected. Ask students to return to their groups and discuss 2-3 of the causes and brainstorm their affects on the grape industry. Remind students that several causes can point to the same effect!
- Allow students a couple of minutes to discuss, then bring back the whole group to recap ideas.
- Prohibition, blizzard, Agricultural Adjustment Act, and 2,4-D can all point to more Iowans adopting row crops like corn and soybeans.
- Grape research, agritourism, and grape associations can point to higher acreage of vineyards in Iowa.
- Take some time to discuss with students how and why these things can impact each other in different ways.
- When students have an understanding of the timeline, hand each student a line graph activity sheet. Tell students that each date discussed has a point on this chart. For each point, students will need to estimate if they think Iowa had a lot of vineyards, very few vineyards, or somewhere in between. They will need to use their best estimation based on class discussion and the information in the timeline cards.
- Allow students to work either in their groups or by themselves for this activity. Recap with students how a line chart is made (create points and connect the points with a line when finished).
- Walk amongst students and answer questions and help as needed.
- When students are fairly confident in their choices, have students discuss their chart with their group. Have students explain why they charted the way they did and what evidence in the timeline cards supports their claims.
- After a few minutes of sharing, bring the whole group together to discuss how the chart could look based on evidence.
- Discuss with students what clues they looked for. Were there any that were tricky to decide on?
- Have a recap discussion with students.
- What are some major things that impacted Iowa’s grape industry?
- Government policies reduced grape production in the first half of the 1900s.
- Bad weather killed vineyards.
- Herbicides that were not yet well-controlled killed vineyards.
- Local food movements encouraged local vineyards.
- Agritourism movements encouraged people to visit vineyards.
- Support, education, and research helped grape farmers get help to stay in business and get started.
Did you know? (Ag facts)
- There are different varieties of grapes that are better at different things! Iowa grows primarily juice grapes.
- Iowa now has about 1,300 acres of vineyards.
- Iowa’s grape and wine industry is growing.
- Ask a local vintner to visit the class either in-person or virtually to discuss grape production.
- Ask a local vintner if they produce any non-alcoholic grape juices that the students could taste test side-by-side with grocery store table grapes and grape juice.
Suggested Companion Resources
- About Iowa’s Grape and wine industry – History and Impact: https://www.drinkiowawine.com/industry-history-impact#:~:text=Grapes%20were%20grown%20in%20the,region's%20grapes%20and%20other%20produce.
- Iowa’s Grape and wine Industry History: https://iowawinegrowers.org/history-of-the-industry
- Loess Hills – A Grape Growers’ Dream: https://www.thehistoricalsociety.org/h/grapes.html
- Armistice Day Blizzard: https://www.weather.gov/dvn/armistice_day_blizzard
- Grape and Wine Industry Overview and History: https://www.extension.iastate.edu/wine/industry-overview/
- 101 Iowa Grape and Wine Industry Facts: https://www.extension.iastate.edu/wine/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/101_facts_about_ia_grapes_n_wine_aug2015.pdf
- Iowa’s Wine Culture: https://www.iowafarmbureau.com/Article/Iowas-wine-culture
- Iowa Wine Industry: https://wideriverwinery.com/iowa-wine-industry/
- The Wines of Iowa: https://heavytable.com/the-wines-of-iowa/
- Agricultural Adjustment Act: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agricultural_Adjustment_Act
Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation
Agriculture Literacy Outcomes
- Culture, Society, Economy & Geography:
- c. Explain how agricultural events and inventions affect how Americans live today
- f. Understand the agricultural history of an individual’s specific community and/or state
Iowa Core Standards
- Solve problems involving measurement and estimation of intervals of time, liquid volumes, and masses of objects. (3.MD.A)
- Represent and interpret data. (4.MD.B)
- Represent and interpret data. (5.MD.B)
- SS.3.22. Compare and contrast events that happened at the same time
- SS.4.9. Explain how the enforcement of a specific ruling or law changed society.
- SS.4.26. Explain how Iowa’s agriculture has changed over time.
- SS.5.22. Explain how economic, political, and social contexts shaped people's perspectives at a given time in history.
- Describe the relationship between a series of historical events, scientific ideas or concepts, or steps in technical procedures in a text, using language that pertains to time, sequence, and cause/effect. (RI.3.3) (DOK 2,3)
- Explain events, procedures, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text, including what happened and why, based on specific information in the text. (RI.4.3) (DOK 1,2,3)
- Explain the relationships or interactions between two or more individuals, events, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text based on specific information in the text. (RI.5.3) (DOK 1,2,3)