Back to School with Agriculture

How Pencils are Made

 Pork By-products

Wood for Kleenex products

  Beef By-products

Soybean By-products

Paper usage

ACCO  Paper

Shea Tree

Cotton and Currency facts

And of course check out our Illinois Ag Mag and Terra Nova readers as you head back to school!


                As Illinois students head back to school, it might be a perfect time to thank U.S. farmers!  Farmers provide more than just the soy biodiesel in the school bus and the ethanol blend in the parent drop off line.  Illinois wheat is used for chocolate chip cookies; Illinois specialty growers provide apples, and Prairie Farms Dairy and Illinois dairy farmers, provide thousands of ½ pint milk cartons filled with milk!  But what about the rest of the back to school supplies?  How are they linked to agriculture?

                California cedar trees are most commonly used in pencils due to the non-warping features, and a classroom of 32 students, each carrying 5 new 100 page notebooks use the wood from roughly one tree.  The Mead Company (makers of many of those notebooks and the infamous Trapper Keeper) is a part of ACCO (formerly the American Clipper Company, a paperclip company) based in Lake Zurich, Illinois.  So even if the trees to make the paper come from the great north woods, an Illinois company still has a hand in providing paper products!

                Spruce, Fir, Aspen and Maple trees are typically harvested for use in facial tissues because of the thin wood fiber system that provide both softness and durability.

                Of course you can find soybean oil in some crayons, but you’ll also find hair from cattle in paintbrushes, and more soy by-products in the cleaning materials to help clean up the art room!

                Teachers will find lanolin from sheep in the lotion they use after grading all the papers and fatty acids from beef cattle are also used in cleaners and sanitizers!

                Corn starch is used in the formation of plastic items to help coat molds to help in the efficiency of plastic production.

                You will find beef by-products in the new bottles of glue, as well as the erasers from those brand new pencils!

                And those PE uniforms and back to school clothes? Those are made from cotton of course.  1 bale of cotton makes 1,217 T-shirts, 215 pairs of jeans and 4,321 socks.  The extra sock is the one that gets lost in the laundry anyway!

                And those school fees and school lunches can be paid for in cold hard cash.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing that cash is printed on 75% cotton and 25% linen fiber.

                So, as back to school time starts, slow-down in school zones, thank a hardworking teacher and remember to thank a farmer!


Kevin Daugherty

Education Director

Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom


As the Education Director for Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom (IAITC), Kevin leads state-wide efforts to educate Illinois students about agriculture.  For more information on how your school can incorporate agriculture into classrooms, visit

 IAITC is a partnership which relies on contributions from those who care about the future of agriculture.  For more information about current partners, or to learn how you can give, got to

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