Target Grade Level / Age Range:

3 rd Grade

Estimated Time:

45 minutes plus additional time for student research


Students will identify what specialty crops are grown in Iowa and understand how eating fruits like apples can be a part of a healthy and balanced diet.


  • Red Delicious apples, sliced – one slice per student
  • My Family’s Apple Farm book by Katie Olthoff – one per student
  • Iowa Ag Today, Issue 4 – one per student
  • Outline map of Iowa – one per student
  • Computer or tablet with internet connection – one for every two students

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

Vocabulary (with definitions)

  • Specialty crop – fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture.
  • Commercial crop – a cultivated plant that is grown commercially on a large scale.
  • Cultivar – a plant variety that has been produced in cultivation by selective breeding

Background – Agricultural Connections (what would a teacher need to know to be able to teach this content)

Several species of fruits can be grown successfully in Iowa for home use or commercial sales. However, because of our winter temperatures and local soil conditions, not all fruits or fruit cultivars (cultivated varieties) are adapted to all areas of the state.

Apples are the most winter hardy fruit tree, and therefore can be planted throughout Iowa, given the correct cultivars are used and they are planted on well-drained soils (loam soils are best). To grow regular or commercial crops, fertilizers, irrigation, and disease and pest control will likely be necessary in fruit production.

Some common diseases in apple trees are apple scab, cedar-apple rust, powdery mildew, and fire blight. However, there are some cultivars that have a resistance to certain diseases, which can help the producer by avoiding extra chemical applications. Apples are also susceptible to insect pests, like moths, apple maggot, and “cat-facing” insects. Extension notes that apple trees may need to be sprayed 10-12 times per year to reliably produce good fruit. For the casual producer, this may simply not be feasible.

Apples are considered self-unfruitful, meaning they usually need another tree to cross-pollinate with in order to produce fruit. For this reason, apple trees are usually grown in orchards with multiple trees that bloom at similar times to aid in cross-pollination.

How soon an apple tree begins to bear fruit depends on how large the root system will grow. For example, in the past, apple trees were propagated on rootstocks of trees that grew 25 feet tall and up to 30 feet wide. These trees took six to eight years to bear fruit. Today, dwarf varieties are commonly used as rootstocks. Though the roots only grow 8-15 feet deep, they will begin to produce fruit sooner than the full-sized cultivars.

Read more on growing fruit in Iowa here:

Teachers can familiarize themselves with other vegetable specialty crops grown in Iowa with publications produced by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

Jesse Hiatt and Red Delicious apples (full article under Interest Approach section)

Red Delicious apples may be one of the most famous cultivars of apples. This cultivar was produced by Jesse Hiatt (on accident) in Madison County, Iowa in the 1800s.

Hiatt was originally from Pennsylvania but moved to Madison County in 1856 to be near his brother. Hiatt had developed an orchard including Bellflower and Winesap trees, and had developed two other cultivars; the Hiatt Sweet and Hiatt Black. The first Red Delicious tree began growing in between two rows of apple trees (believed to be the Bellflower and Winesap trees). Ten years after it began growing, it produced its first fruit. Hiatt loved the taste of the apple so much, he marketed it under the name Hawkeye. The name was later changed by the nursery that acquired marketing rights to it.

Interest Approach – Engagement (what will you do to engage students at the beginning of the lesson)

As students enter the classroom offer them a sliced Red Delicious apple. Ask students if they have ever heard of a man named Jesse Hiatt. Most have probably not. Share the story of famous Iowan, Jesse Hiatt, from the Des Moines Register . Display images of Hiatt if possible.

Patience led pioneer Jesse Hiatt to a tasty reward. He is credited with the discovery of the Delicious apple, one of the world's finest.

Hiatt, a devout Quaker, was raised in Randolph County, Pa., and farmed for his parents. After their deaths, he moved to Iowa in 1856 to be near a brother and settled in Madison County. He and his wife, Rebecca Jane, built a two-room log cabin and raised a family of 10 children. Hiatt was proud of the orchard he planted on his farm in the 1860s, and in 1872 planted apple seedlings in two rows.

A mutation grew between the rows, and he chopped it down, only to have it grow back the second year. Again, he chopped it down. The third year, when the sprout grew back, he said: "If thee must grow, thee may."

The farmer nurtured the tree for 10 years before it produced a single apple. Hiatt, who had already developed the Hiatt Sweet and Hiatt Black apples, loved its aroma, texture and red-and-yellow streaks. He loved the taste even more, telling his wife that "this is the best-tasting apple in the whole world."

He named it the Hawkeye in honor of his adopted state and began another 10 years of promoting his discovery. Clarence Stark of the Stark Bros. Nursery of Louisiana, Mo., listened, choosing the apple as best in the nation from entries submitted for a contest. The nursery acquired the marketing rights to the apple in 1893 and renamed it the Delicious. The nursery believed the aberrant apple tree had been an accidental cross of Bellflower and Winesap seeds. The result was a tree that produced strong branches and abundant crops.

The original tree died in the early 1940s because of an early frost, but sprouts grew near the original stump. In 1922, a marker was placed in Winterset City Park to honor Hiatt.


  1. Ask students if they knew apples grew in Iowa. Explain that corn and soybeans are the primary crops that are grow in Iowa. But many other crops can be grown in Iowa because of its rich soil and mild climate.
  2. Provide each student with a copy of My Family’s Apple Farm or display the digital version on a large screen in the front of the class. Have the students read the book silently to themselves. Then re-read the book together as a class assigning a different student to read each page. Help the students with pronunciation of words they may struggle with.
  3. From the book and the Jesse Hiatt story, we now know apples can be grown in Iowa. But what other crops are grown commercially in Iowa? Ask students to brainstorm a list of fruits and vegetables they think are commercially grown in Iowa or they think can be commercially grown in Iowa. Explain that commercially grown crops are grown on a large scale and can then be sold to consumers. Capture their responses on the board or a large writing surface. Student responses might include things like lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, strawberries, watermelons, peaches, oranges, etc.
  4. Explain to students that while many of these crops could grow in Iowa, it doesn’t make sense to grow all of them commercially because they grow better somewhere else.
  5. Display the centerfold map of the United States from Iowa Ag Today, Issue 4 on a large screen or provide each student with a copy of the publication. Review the map. While apples can be grown in Iowa, most apples and other fruit are commercially grown elsewhere like Washington because of the different climate that is better suited for apples. Discuss how these natural resources (sun, rain, weather, soil) determine where crops grow best. The small-scale production of apples in Iowa makes apples a specialty crop for Iowa.
  6. Assign students a partner who they can work with. Ask students to pick a specialty crop that is grown in Iowa and conduct research online. You can display a list on the board and have students pick or you can assign to ensure there is a variety of crops covered. (apples, pears, raspberries, figs, squash, pumpkins, tomatoes, blackberries, grapes, strawberries, cherries, gooseberries, cantaloupe, watermelon, string beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chard, cucumber, eggplant, garlic, lettuce, peppers, onions, potatoes, peas)
  7. Have students create a map of Iowa and mark where those farms are located. Provide some examples of how to look up addresses of businesses on a program like Google Maps or other mapping software. Start with any crops located in your county or in surrounding counties. You may need to review county names and geography. Some suggested starting websites for finding specialty crops are below, but there are many more than just these.
    1. Outline Map of Iowa
    2. Pick-Your-Own
    3. Iowa Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association
    4. United Crops of America:
  8. When students have completed their mapping project, ask them to write a short story about their specialty crop on the back of the map.
  9. Next, ask students to draw a plate of food with their favorite meal. Ask them to include their specialty crop on that plate. According to the USDA MyPlate guidelines, fruits and vegetables should account for half of the plate. Instruct that the student’s pictures should reflect this.

Did You Know? (Ag facts)

  • Most horticulture farms in Iowa are two acres in size (the median farm size), unchanged in the past 15 years.
  • The top five horticulture crops in Iowa in 2015 based on the number of (responding) farms producing them were tomatoes, pumpkins, cucumbers, green beans, and winter squash. In 2000, sweet corn was the top crop, followed by tomatoes, green beans, cucumbers, and sweet peppers.
  • Grape production in Iowa is up significantly from 2000 to 2015, a change attributed to the rise in wine grape production.
  • Total edible horticulture sales of Iowa Commercial Horticulture food Crop Survey respondents was $20 million in 2015.

Extension Activities (how students can carry this beyond the classroom)

Suggested Companion Resources (books and websites)


  • This project was supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service through grant AM180100XXXG051. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the USDA.


Will Fett

Organization Affiliation

Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation

Agriculture Literacy Outcomes

  • T3.3-5.a. Describe the necessary food components of a healthy diet using the current dietary guidelines.
  • T3.3-5.g. Identify food sources of required food nutrients.
  • T5.3-5.c. Explain how agricultural events and inventions affect how Americans live today (e.g., Eli Whitney - cotton gin; Cyrus McCormick - reaper; Virtanen - silo; Pasteur - pasteurization; John Deere - moldboard plow).
  • T5.3-5.f. Understand the agricultural history of an individual’s specific community and/or state.

Iowa Core Standards

  • 21 st Century Skills:
    • 21.3–5.HL.1. Obtain, interpret, understand and use basic health concepts to enhance personal, family, and community health.
    • 21.3–5.HL.2. Use interactive literacy and social skills to establish personal family, and community health goals.
    • 21.3–5.HL.5. Demonstrate behaviors that foster healthy, active lifestyles for individuals and the benefit of society.
  • Social studies:
    • SS.3.13. Identify how people use natural resources, human resources, and physical capital to produce goods and services.
  • English Language Arts:
    • W.3.3: Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences
    • W.3.7: Conduct short research projects that build knowledge about a topic

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.