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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

February 25, 2005

Iowa ag history includes sweet potatoes

Iowa is known for its corn and soybeans, but fewer than 100 years ago, the state was a commercial center for the production of sweet corn, popcorn, grapes, apples, onions and even sweet potatoes.

A report from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture explores how the integration of Iowa's history, ecology and culture has created unique food products that may hold economic opportunities for farmers and rural communities in today's changing markets.

Here's a sample of historical, cultural and ecological information compiled for the report:

  • Iowa once led the world in canned sweet corn production. In 1924, Iowa processed locally grown sweet corn at 58 canning factories in 36 counties.
  • Madison County farmer Jesse Hiatt developed the Delicious apple near Peru, Iowa, in the 1870s. He called the variety Hawkeye, but the name was changed to Delicious when he sold the propagating rights to the Missouri-based Stark Brothers nursery in 1894.
  • Germans who settled in Scott County near the Mississippi River began growing onions after the Civil War, making this one of the two most prolific onion-producing areas in Iowa.
  • Moraine-type soils in Sac and Ida counties produced high-quality popcorn, a crop first grown commercially by an Odebolt farmer in 1888.
  • The acorn squash, once called Table Queen and the Des Moines squash, came to Iowa from Copenhagen, Denmark, thanks to Iowan Robert Fullerton.
  • In the 1930s, southeastern Iowa was one of three primary sweet potato-growing regions in the United States.
Map of Iowa with selected Iowa food
products with historical or geographical significance