Lesson number six, the final lesson I had planned to teach to my fall classes, was all about where food comes from. It’s challenging to explain complex concepts to elementary students about why it’s important to choose local. And to cover those concepts in 45 minutes. Fortunately, I work with some pretty creative coworkers who helped come up with really meaningful and visual activities.
I was still a little apprehensive walking into my 4th grade classroom, nervous about how much students would comprehend from my lesson. 45 minutes later, I was blown away by their engagement in the lesson, their focus on our activities, and their creative comics, finished by the end of the lesson. My 3rd grade class followed the same suit.
I started the lesson with a question, “Where does food come from?” Students shared answers: the grocery store, gardens, restaurants, farms! Yes indeed, I tell them almost all of our food comes from farms. I challenge them though, “I’ve never seen a pizza tree!” And what about chicken nuggets, chocolate, ice cream? We trace back each of the ingredients in these foods to…you guessed it, FARMS!
We all agreed that farms and farmers are really important. If we ate today, we should thank a farmer. What about farmers right here in our community though? Why is it important to choose foods that grow in Oregon instead of somewhere else in the world? Can you name three reasons why?
My students can tell you three great reasons why in their creative comics:
As I was reading the comics I realized, these elementary students understand economics and vitamins—awesome! How did we get there?
We acted out the food system!
STEP 1: Choose a group of student volunteers to give name tag roles to: a shopper, a store manager, a truck driver, a ship captain, processor, and a farmer. Have them line up in the order of the way food travels.
STEP 2: Give the farmer a poster apple filled with Vitamin C’s (post-it notes). And give the shopper 5 fake dimes.
STEP 3: Narrate the story of how the dimes and the apple travel a long distance. We pretend our apple was grown in New Zealand. The shopper passes the dime to the store manager, who keeps one dime, then gives the rest to the truck driver…this pattern continues until the dimes reach the farmer. In our example, the farmer ended up with two dimes. Then the apple gets passed from farmer to shopper, and with each pass a Vitamin C sticky note is removed. We talk about what we ended up with: less Vitamin C’s in the apple and the farmer has two dimes, 20 cents.
STEP 4: Then we pretend the apple was grown right here in Eugene. The shopper gets to pass all five dimes to the famer, maybe at the farmer’s market, and it loses no Vitamin C’s. Wow!
STEP 5: We talk about how we just acted out two great reasons for choosing local food:
1. Choosing local food is better for the farmers because they get more money. And they can support themselves with more of that money or buy more seeds, land, or equipment.
2. Choosing local food is healthier because more of those vitamins and nutrients stay inside the food.
So the final reason? I ask them, what happens when we have to drive trucks, airplanes, ships? Students quickly understand that they use gas. And eventually we conclude that all those transportation trips add pollution to the air. So the final reason:
3. Choosing local food is better for the environment because less gas is used and less pollution.
Last, students create their own comics to practice what they learned. I usually do an example with the class to get them started, but this time I didn’t have an example comic up; students came up with these responses on their own. And I’ve never been more proud of their hard work!
It’s after lessons like this that I’m inspired. Not because my students can simply recall information, but because this lesson made them think, understand, and connect with where their food comes from. And it’s those lessons that have the longest impact.