March 15, 2021 at 4:18 p.m.

Dairy farming at story time

Iowa author writes nine ag-related children’s books
Katie Olthoff, Book author
Katie Olthoff, Book author

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    STANHOPE, Iowa – Katie Olthoff always knew she wanted to be an author.
    “When I was a girl, I read all of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books,” Olthoff said. “I admired Laura so much that I even dressed up as her for Halloween.”
    Olthoff’s dream of becoming a published author has been realized through a series of children’s books that focus on sectors of agriculture. Her most recent book is titled, “My Family’s Dairy Farm.”
    “I grew up in central Iowa but not on a farm,” Olthoff said. “I ended up marrying a turkey farmer. Up until I got married, I didn’t know a lot about farming.”
    Olthoff and her husband, Bart, have been married for 15 years. The couple have three children, Adam, 12, Isaac, 10, and Edie, 4.
    After graduating from Iowa State University with a degree in elementary education and teaching, Olthoff taught fourth grade for several years.
    “As a young mom, I came to realize that there is so much information out there about food, especially information that can make consumers scared of their food,” Olthoff said. “I made it my mission to correct those misperceptions by becoming an advocate for our farmers. I wanted to inform our consumers by sharing the real story of agriculture.”
    As Olthoff’s ambition to become a writer came to the fore, she began to submit articles to local newspapers and magazines. She started a pro-agriculture blog, participated in broadcast media events and became a public speaker. With encouragement from friends, Olthoff decided to write her first children’s book called, “My Family’s Turkey Farm.” The success of this book led to similar tomes about soybeans, corn, pork, poultry and beef farms. “My Family’s Dairy Farm” is the ninth book in Olthoff’s series of children’s books.
    “My Family’s Dairy Farm” is set at Jones Dairy, a 1,100-head Jersey operation located near Spencer, Iowa. Using a mixture of photos and text, Lucas, 8, the grandson of Patrick and Nancy Jones, guides the reader through various facets of the Jones Dairy operation. Lucas is a member of the fifth generation of his family to operate their dairy farm.
    All of Olthoff’s books are non-fiction and are geared toward an audience of elementary schoolchildren.
    The book explains that cows give birth to a baby calf once a year and that dairy cows are fed a ration that contains all of the nutrients they need. The book also shows some of the things the Jones family does to protect the environment and ensure their farm remains sustainable. It tells how they use manure to fertilize the corn and alfalfa crops they feed to their cows.  
    The book uses an illustration to show the reader how much milk is produced by each cow at Jones Dairy. It also explains the steps taken to make sure the milk remains safe for consumers. Most of the high fat, high protein milk produced at Jones Dairy finds its way into a variety of cheeses.
    While Olthoff wrote the text of the book, its accompanying photos were taken by photographer Jenn Hindman. Supplemental information about dairy farming is located at the bottom of each page, which can be useful for teachers and older students.
    “My Family’s Dairy Farm” was published as a special project of the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation with financial support from Midwest Dairy. And while the book’s main goal was to educate students who live in urban areas, Olthoff discovered the need for agricultural information is much larger than she expected.
    “A few years ago, I read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book, ‘Farmer Boy’, to my son, Adam,” Olthoff said. “Afterwards, Adam asked why we don’t have a farm similar to the one depicted in Wilder’s book, with two pigs, one cow, a horse and so on. It made me realize that the need for agricultural education isn’t limited to just urban areas. There is also a huge need to educate our students from rural settings.”
    Jenna Finch, of Midwest Dairy, appreciates the book and its impact.
    “Understanding where milk and dairy products come from is important,” Finch said. “This book will help students connect the dots between the high-quality care the cows receive and the tasty dairy product that they get to enjoy.”    
    Copies of the book are being made available to all Iowa elementary schools and additional copies are available on request.
    The book also has two lesson plan companion resources to help teachers integrate the book into a science or social studies lesson. The lesson plans are aligned with Iowa core standards and easily fit into an approved course of study.


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