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TN History for Kids

Basic Seven: Crops

A farm in Giles County

The next time you ride across Tennessee, look out the window at the farms you pass. Can you tell what kind of cultivated plants, or crops, you are looking at in those fields?

Cotton is one of the most common crops in West Tennessee. In fact, cotton is so common in West Tennessee that you sometimes see leftover pieces of cotton on the side of the road that have fallen out of passing cotton trucks!

The flat land in West Tennessee is wonderfully suited for big cotton farms.

A cotton field in Chester County

This is what a field of cotton looks like in September, right before they pick it. You can see the little white bolls of cotton.

Cotton is used to make clothes. Socks and underwear are made of cotton. Blue jeans and t-shirts are made of cotton. Chances are, you have worn something cotton every day of your life.

Here is something you might not have realized: Paper money in the U.S. is mostly made of cotton! That's the reason that a dollar bill doesn't fall apart if you accidentally run it through the washing machine.

To learn more about cotton, take the VIRTUAL TOUR of the Cotton Museum at the Memphis Cotton Exchange. Also check out "Cotton Cash In," a video where History Bill picks and sells cotton.

A soybean field in White County

There are soybean fields all over Tennessee, especially the flatter sections of the state.  A lot of things you eat (such as french fries and potato chips) are fried with vegetable oil, and a lot of that oil comes from soybeans. Some people prefer soy milk, made from soybeans, to the milk that is produced by cows. Soybeans can even be used to make crayons and candles.

Many of the uses for soybeans have only recently been discovered, which is why the amount of soybeans being produced in Tennessee has gone up over the years. In West Tennessee there is now more land growing soybeans than there is land growing cotton.

This is new; it used to be that cotton was the number one crop in West Tennessee.

A cornfield in Maury County

We all know what you do with corn, right? You EAT IT -- not only as corn on the cob and canned corn, but corn is used to make cereal, cornbread, popcorn and animal feed.

Here is something you probably didn't know about corn: Corn starch is used to make the absorbent part of diapers! (Best not think about that the next time you eat corn!)

You'll find corn fields all over Tennessee.

One thing about corn: it needs a lot of rain. If it gets too hot and too dry, corn doesn't grow well. Farmers who plant corn hope for wet weather.

Tobacco grows in Cumberland County

Some adults smoke or chew tobacco (in spite of the fact that it is very bad for their health). The climate and terrain in East Tennessee, and the northern parts of Middle Tennessee, are well-suited to tobacco.

Because of this, tobacco remains one of Tennessee's main crops.

For more information:

  • The Tennessee Department of Agriculture has a lot of information for students on its web page.
  • The Tennessee Farm Bureau has workshops and lesson plans that help teachers use agriculture to learn other subjects like math, science and social studies.
  • And of course there is the Tennessee 4-H, which has programs and activities that teach kids about agriculture.

Old MacDonald had more than just crops on his farm. He had animals as well. In the next section (click here) we'll talk about some of them.