Agriculture in the Classroom: A Teacher’s Guide
Bringing agriculture into the classroom is a perfect tool to work a diverse array of subjects into a logical theme throughout a school year or semester. The current attention on childhood obesity and healthy lifestyles is a perfect opportunity to connect discussions about our most important food source and lessons in the classroom. A unit on agriculture can help break down abstract concepts such as biology, chemistry, economics and the social sciences into bite-size lesson plans. This guide can help instructors plan hands-on projects to connect lesson plans and various subjects.
How to Structure an Agriculture Unit
There are a number of ways to bring big ideas into the classroom alongside agricultural-based lesson plans. Guiding students through a unit on economics, for example, can encompass several different concepts.
A lesson on the government’s role in the creation and enforcement of property rights is a fascinating discussion as it relates to farming populations. You could focus this discussion on trends in the U.S. or make comparisons with other countries land and agriculture practices. Students can learn the differences between private, common and collective farming and how these concepts have changed over time. Consider engaging students about the market implications that tariffs and taxes have on farming in the U.S. and around the world. Make a timeline of major historical events related to the economics of farming.
The farming system can be a great vehicle to look at social sciences. You can begin by looking at the farmer’s year and how the growing season differs in different geographical areas. A lesson on food affordadability can combine mathematics and social sciences to look at the costs of growing food around the U.S., and then how those costs differ in other countries. A lesson on advances in technology can shed light on how the cost of food has changed overtime. A lesson on agriculture and geography uncovers a host of topics to dig into. Students can begin by mapping the food sources in their local community or by trying to show where the agricultural resources that make up their favorite foods are cultivated. Older students could look at researching and mapping some of the federal land holdings, discussing what are acceptable uses of public land, and what the benefits of entrusting land to the government are.
Biology and Science
There are hundreds of lesson plans that can be derived from a unit uncovering the science behind plant growth and farming. Instructors can connect how weather and climate alter the farming calendar, and why certain crops are grown at different parts of the year. A unit on the life of a bug is a great way to talk about insect metamorphosis, and the importance of certain kinds of bugs in the farming process. You can also have students research pests or talk about how the death of millions of bees may impact agriculture.
A unit on seeds is a great jumping off point to look at different kinds of stems, leaves and structures for all kinds of plants. You can discuss plant and tree lifecycles, fertilization and how plants provide resources for human life such as air, clothes and food.
Depending on the length of your agriculture unit and the age of your students, you can choose any number of hands-on projects to engage students.
- Bring chemistry into the classroom. This project applies specifically to middle and high school aged students and could be adjusted depending on available classroom space. Run several experiments to determine different conditions that impact the way that fruits and vegetables ripen. Temperature, light, sealed containers and exposure to other ripe produce can all have an impact. Give students a lesson on ethylene gas, and then have them investigate ways that the gas could impact produce in different settings.
For a more in-depth science lesson, consider having students research the impacts of different soil compositions on crops. Consider taking students on a field trip to a local farm where an expert can demonstrate how farmers care for crops, along with what fertilizers and chemical tools they use to deliver certain results.
- Taking students to the farm or bringing the farmers to the students is one of the best ways to turn classroom lessons into a message that sticks. Kids of all ages would enjoy watching or helping with a vegetable harvest, learning how to tend to the crops or asking questions of their local experts.
There are many organizations and resources for starting a school garden plot. Consider partnering with other teachers or seeking outside volunteers to start this project and leave a lasting legacy of agriculture in the classroom. Check out Garden ABC’s, The Edible Schoolyard and the guide to Linking School Gardens to Healthy Schools initiative.
- Consider finding a local farmers market and taking students as a field trip to connect local food and local economies with the people who make the connection possible.
- Consider working with students to talk to local grocery stores to see what local agriculture products they sell, and why they chose to make those economic and financial decisions.
- Talk to school officials about the cafeteria menu to see if lunches are made from any local products or cultivated by local farmers.
Several of these projects will require more money than the average teacher’s budget can allocate. Building a relationship with local non-profits and the business community may provide additional resources. There are many foundations and scholarships for these kinds of projects – here is a short list of a few:
- Captain Planet Foundation provides support and funding for projects that encourage environmental awareness in young people. The grants range from $250 to $2,500 and both school and community groups can apply.
- Fiskars supports a garden initiative through its Project Orange Thumb by providing grants for garden efforts around the country.
- The Lorrie Otto Seeds for Education Grant Program gives small monetary grants to schools, nature centers, and other non-profits in the United States with a site available for a stewardship project.