Monday, February 28, 2011

Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick: Kiwis Can't Fly; Neither Can Kiwis

Twig Walkingstick lives in and around the Wooster campus of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. His alter ego is Kurt Knebusch, one of our super-talented writers and editors on campus. Each month, look for Twig to answer a reader questions and some additional interesting facts below. After Twig's post, we will be providing some ideas and suggestions on how to incorporate the info in Twig's column into fun science learning for your students and children.

Q. Dear Twig: Where do kiwis come from? The fruit, not the bird.

A. The grocery store, right? Right? Kidding. First they have to grow somewhere. And where they grow is on woody vines that farmers grow in orchards. The farmers grow them on sturdy poles or trellises. Reason: Kiwi vines grow like crazy.

Most of the kiwis sold in stores come from Italy, Chile, New Zealand, California and a half dozen or so other places.

People call kiwi fruit "kiwifruit," too. Reason: to not mix it up with the kiwi bird. The kiwi bird lives in New Zealand. Neither kiwi can fly. They have that in common. They're both also brownish and fuzzy. But inside they're different. The kiwi bird isn't bright green. Nor sweet nor juicy nor good for breakfast nor rich in vitamin C.

Next: If you give a Twig a kiwi – the fruit, not the bird – he'll tell you how to grow your own kiwis – the fruit, not the bird.

Kiwi me,


P.S. "Kiwi" can also mean a person from New Zealand. Note: Also not bright green inside.

  • Notes from Twig:
  • Kiwifruit's other names include Chinese gooseberry (though it's not a real gooseberry), melonette and yang tao (in China) plus the fun to say but rarely used goat peach, sheep peach, monkey peach and hairy pear.
  • Sources included two fact sheets, both called "Kiwifruit," one from where I call my home, Ohio State University, and one from our neighbor to the west, Purdue University.
  • Cool: The kiwi bird is the national symbol of New Zealand.
  • Not cool: All five kiwi bird species are endangered. Why? Imported predators, habitat loss, even cars.
  • Cool site:
Using this information for education:

Interested in learning more about the kiwi bird?

Here are some cool cross-curriculum lesson plans about the kiwi bird that cover social studies, phyisical geography, reading graphs, science, art, web-quests, history, volcanoes, culture, language arts, music, physical education, gender roles, economics, math, money and banking and much more.

Monday, February 21, 2011

AgBC's: G is for Grains

Last week we talked about the important role farmers play in our lives each and every day. And though you may imagine a picturesque little farm with a few animals here and there, a vegetable garden and a few acres of crops, that's not the reality of today's agriculture. Today's farmers, whether large or small in scale, tend to specialize their production operation.

Many of today's farmers specialize in crop and grain production. In fact, over 41 percent of Ohio's farmland is used for crop production. The most popular grain crops grown in Ohio include corn, oats, soybeans and winter wheat. And despite its relatively small size in area, Ohio ranks 8th in corn production, 9th in oar production, 6th in soybean production, and 7th in winter wheat production. That's pretty impressive!

Let's take a closer look at corn, the most popular grain crop grown in Ohio.

Did you know that the corn plant is native to North and South America? Native Americans grew many varieties of corn, including sweet corn, popcorn and corn for grining into meal thousands of years before the first European explorers arrived in the Americans. It wasn't until the 17th century that corn was introduced to European farmers.

Did you know that the grain crop farmers grow is different from the sweet corn you may grow in your garden or buy at the grocery store?

 Yep! The field corn most farmers grow is not the same kind you eat fresh off the's harder and used primarily for animal well as for the production of biofuels like ethanol and processed into other products...even plastic!

Here's how you can do a simple experiment in your own classroom...or even your home...making ethanol from simple household items:

Supplies needed:
  • empty 2-liter bottle
  • balloon
  • 2 cups warm water
  • 1 package of yeast
  • funnel
  • 1/4 cup corn syrup
  1. Pour 2 cups of water and one package of yeast into an empty 2-liter bottle. Swish the bottle to mix the ingredients. Observe and record your observations.
  2. Put funnel into the mouth of the bottle. Add 1/4 cup corn syrup & mix again. Stretch deflated balloon over top of the bottle and set bottle to the side.
  3. Label the time and date on your bottle. Observe over the next 2-3 days.
 During ethanol production, the feedstock (in this case corn) is ground so it can be processed more quickly. Then, the starch (or cellulose) is converted to sugar. In our experiment, that process was already done when the corn was converted to sugary corn syrup.

Then, the sugar is fed to microbes that use it for food, producing ethanol and carbon dioxide. In our experiment, the sugar is fed to the yeast microbes. Over 24-26 hours, the production of ethanol...and the carbon dioxide...will inflate the balloon over the top of the bottle.

The ethanol is then purified to the desired concentration. In our experiment, it will yield a very low concentration that can safely be poured down your sink once the experiment is complete.

For more information about Ohio's corn production, visit the Ohio Corn Marketing Program.

This series is inspired by the book The ABC's of Fruits and Vegetables and Beyond.

Monday, February 14, 2011

AgBC's: F is for Farmers

We can't live without them. Farmers grow the food and fiber products we need and use every single day. Some say (myself included!) that farming is some of the most important work on earth!

Big or small, organic of conventional, farmers are vital to our livelihoods! But no matter what their size or production method, did you know 99% of American's farms are family-owned? Even the really big farms?

Farmers account for less than 2 percent of the world's population...but they feed the entire world population each and every day. In fact, modern agricultural methods have improved production so much that each American farmer feeds 155 1940, each American farmer only fed 19 people. Wow, that's a big responsibility!

Keep those farmers and producers in mind the next time you go to the grocery store. They work hard year round to keep those shelves stocked with safe, affordable and abundant food supplies. We are so lucky to enjoy the safest most affordable food supply in the world right here in America!

And today, the corn and soybeans farmers grow can even be turned into biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel that can be used to fuel the vehicles on our roadways.

While you're thinking about thanking farmers for your food (and even some of our fuel!), take some time to learn more about their very important jobs, too! Here are some ideas:
  • Learn more about agriculture in your classroom! Use the resources of Ag in the Classroom online!
  • Many farmers and ranchers are now active online and in social media like Facebook, Twitter and blogs. Here are some of our favorite dairy farmers that we featured last June during National Dairy Month.
  • Visit a local farm and learn about how they produce the food you eat!
  • Find out what farm life is really like...check out the lives of the Real Farmwives of America as they share stories of life on the farm, the struggles and challenges they face as parents, crafts, recipes and more.
This series is inspired by the book The ABC's of Fruits and Vegetables and Beyond.

Monday, February 7, 2011

AgBC's: E is for Eggplant

Fruit or vegetable? Most people think an eggplant is a vegetable, but it's's a fruit!
Eggplants were first grown in India, but today many countries grow eggplants and they are used in many popular dishes. Although purple eggplants are the most common kind, they come in white or with lavender and green stripes.Some are even long and skinny. Always choose firm, smooth-skinned eggplants from the supermarket and keep in mind that they spoil quickly. In fact, some of the small, white varieties look like eggs...which is how they got their name!

The should be stored in a cool, dry place and eaten within a day or two of purchase.

Now for some hands-on fun:

Pick up a copy of Still-Life Stew by Jelena Clare Pittman.

The fun and colorful book of colors, sizes and shapes inspires a girl's painting and includes a recipe for vegetable stew. After reading the book, put some soup on to simmer and break out the art supplies to make your own vegetable still-life artwork using clays, acrylic paints, or even real vegetables.

This series is inspired by The ABC's of Fruits and Vegetables and Beyond.
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