Students Get First-hand Look at Iowa Agriculture

By Barb McBreen, CALS Communications Services

Here’s a formula for success. Take students who have majors in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, but have never stepped foot on a farm on a trip to visit Iowa’s farmers.

It’s a formula that’s been the basis for the Agriculture Weekend Experience or AWE program for the past 14 years. The purpose is to introduce students who have no experience in agriculture to farmers and professionals in ag related industries.

This year three students took a trip to four farms in central Iowa in early October.

For Claire Cunningham the highlight came when she climbed up into a combine. Cunningham, a freshman in animal science, grew up in Connecticut, but says she should have been born in a rural area.

“We were an hour away from New York City and my friends would go there for the day, but I preferred the country,” Cunningham says.


Nathan Scott, a freshman in ag business from near Los Angeles, had the chance to pick corn on a recent visit to a central Iowa farm. It was the first time he'd ever been near a cornfield.

For Nathan Scott picking corn straight out of an Iowa field was something he’d always wanted to do. He picked three ears of corn and plans to display them on his dorm desk. Scott, a freshman in agricultural business, grew up near Los Angeles and came to Iowa State to get away from the crowded urban areas of California.

While driving down a county road in Boone County, Scott said he was fascinated by the landscape and low-traffic highways. Scott said he’s skilled at weaving through five lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic.

The National Anthem played on the radio while driving down another empty county road just before the Iowa State game. Scott commented that it was symbolic to be traveling in the heart of the United States listening to the National Anthem.


Jacob Handsaker (right) gave students a tour of his shop near Radcliffe, Iowa. From left Alyssa McMichael, Nathan Scott, Beatrice Maule, Claire Cunningham and Handsaker.


Joe Sweeney (left), gave Alyssa McMichael, Claire Cunningham, Nathan Scott and Beatrice Maule a tour of his fish farm near Ellsworth, Iowa.

Beatrice Maule, a freshman in agricultural business, came from Italy to study at Iowa State. She said her family once raised corn, but now focused on grape production for the wine industry. She was familiar with farming overall, but not the large scale farming that occurs in the Midwest.


Kellie and A.J. Blair (front) gave students a tour of their farm and cattle operation near Dayton, Iowa.

"Taking this trip has been a trip down memory lane back to my childhood,” Maule said. “It was very interesting to witness corn production again and especially in such a crucial area that is the Midwest."

All four farm operators emphasized the importance of water quality, energy efficiency and caring for livestock. The first stop was at Jacob Handsaker’s (’04 ag studies) near Radcliffe, Iowa. Handsaker is a fifth generation farmer who farms row crops, finishes pigs and has an excavating business. The second stop was an aquaculture operation owned by Joe Sweeney (’13 ag business) in Ellsworth, Iowa. The third stop was at A.J. (’03 ag business) and Kellie Blair’s (’16 forestry) fifth generation cattle farm in Dayton, Iowa. And the final stop was at Nick Hermanson’s (’06 agronomy) row crop and turkey operation near Story City, Iowa.


Nick Hermanson (left) gave students a tour of his turkey operation near Story City, Iowa.

The original idea for AWE came from the board of trustees of the Iowa State University Agricultural Endowment. The endowment, established in 1937, provides opportunities for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to support the people and infrastructure vital to the future of Iowa agriculture. The endowment provides scholarships to Iowa State students, support for student activities and internships, grants for Iowa State research and demonstration projects and support for other College of Agriculture and Life Science programs that advance agriculture in Iowa.

October 25, 2019