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Food for Thought Lesson Plans

Minnesota Agriculture Regions

Grade Level

Grades 3-5


Students learn about the different agriculture growing regions in Minnesota. Minnesota's vegetation regions offer distinct soils, and growing patterns for different types of crops. These regions have influenced the development of cities and transportation systems throughout the state.


Three, 40-minute class periods

  • Agricultural Regions: A region based on shared agricultural activities
  • Commodity: an agricultural product that can be bought and sold
  • Choropleth: thematic maps colored in proportions based on statistical value
  • Crop: a plant grown for food
  • Cash Crop: a plant grown for commercial value (to be sold) rather than for use by the grower
  • Nursery: a place where young plants or trees are grown to be planted elsewhere
  • Resource: needed materials - natural resources are substances occurring in nature (water, soil, forests).
Background—Agricultural Connections

A commodity is a raw agricultural product that someone grows or raises in order to sell it, not to use it themselves. Farmers are providers of necessary commodities like different kinds of food, materials to make things like clothes, paper, furniture, and feed for animals.

Minnesota is a major provider of commodities. We have farmers growing and developing commodities that are sold to people not just in Minnesota, but across the U.S. and even many countries around the world.

How did Minnesota become such a key source of commodities? It is due in part to the variety of soil types, terrain, and growing seasons that are good for farming. Different parts of the state are good for growing different things (commodities can be seen growing throughout the state, not only in specific regions):

  • Northwest: This area has flat land with fertile prairie soils. It gets the moisture it needs to grow several commodities, including wheat, oats, soybeans, sugarbeets, and potatoes.
  • Northeast: This area is rough and rocky and has a short growing season. That means not many food crops are grown here. But it is home to many pine and hardwood forests, which can be harvested to make things like paper, furniture, plywood, toothpicks, even popsicle sticks!
  • Central/ Southeast: This area is hilly and full of pasturelands. Here you will find many dairy, cattle, and turkey farms.
  • Southwest: This area in the southern part of the state has a longer growing season. Corn and soybeans grow well here. There are also many cattle and hog farms.
Interest Approach - Engagement
  1. To begin the lesson share Minnesota is known for more than sports teams and the Great Minnesota Get Together (Minnesota State Fair).
    1. In 2019, Minnesota was also the:
      #1 producer of turkeys, sugarbeets, red kidney beans
      #2 producer of hogs, green peas, sweet corn
      #3 producer of soybeans, oats, spring wheat
  2. Ask students if they have ever planted a garden, helped someone take care of a garden or been on a farm.
    1. Discuss with students what they remember about their experiences gardening, what plants they grew, tended to and/or ate from their garden. Did they grow/produce any of the commodities listed above?
    2. Continue to discuss by explaining just like there are different types of gardens (vegetable, flower, pollinators, etc.) there are also different types of farms.
      1. Each farm uses the resources available to them to decide the best crops or animals to raise. Farmers use a variety of different factors (soil type, rainfall, temperature, frost free days, etc.) in their decision. For example: oranges are not grown in Minnesota because of the cold temperature while certain crops thrive in the cold.
    3. Begin a discussion to have students begin to think about what crops and animals would grow well in Minnesota and more specifically the different areas of Minnesota based on observations from students' lives.
Day 1

*Set-up: Create four eye-level stations around the classroom. Place a different grain (wheat, corn, soybeans, and a picture of sugarbeets) at each station along with the corresponding choropleth crop outline maps for 2012 and 2017 and a bottle of liquid glue. Print blank county maps on cardstock paper or have students glue their blank county maps to cardboard.

  1. Students will read a short history about agriculture in Minnesota from the "Minnesota's Early Farmers" web article or printed version either independently or with partners.
    1. Ask students to take notes, highlight, underline, etc. information that was surprising to them or questions they have.
    2. Open a discussion about what students read, questions they still have and explain today they will look at three crops grown in Minnesota and how their production has changed over time.
    3. Explain over the next three days, students will learn about the crops some farmers grow today on their farms.
  2. Hold up the corn kernel, soybeans, sugarbeet image and wheat berries for students to see.
    1. Ask students to hypothesize what crops they are seeing and what those crops can be processed into.
    2. Discuss with the class each crop and using commodity webpages and/or commodity cards for corn, soybeans, sugarbeets and wheat.
    3. Explain to students how important corn, wheat, sugarbeets and soybeans are. Explain what each crop can be processed into (beyond food products).
  3. Explain today students will be working with a partner to read choropleth maps to help label two separate blank county maps of Minnesota - one map will use 2012 data and the second map will use 2017 data.
    1. Model how to use a choropleth map by asking students what color shows the counties with the highest percentage of their land used for that crop and which color shows the lowest percentage.
    2. Explain while a crop can be found in more places in Minnesota, they will be focusing on identifying counties with the highest percentage of their land used for each crop production.
    3. Students will move to different stations around the room to view each of the different choropleth maps (corn, soybeans, wheat and sugarbeets). As students observe the different maps, they will glue corn, wheat berries and soybeans to their county map. Sugar beets will be represented by a square drawn on their map. Remind students to create a key for each map.
      1. Students will do this for a 2012 and 2017 map. To speed up the lesson students could observe the color maps and not glue the crops onto a new blank map.
      2. When students are finished, they will be asked to include a compass rose, label neighboring states, Ontario, adding a map title, date and name (authors).
    4. If time remains have students hypothesize different growing regions/why corn, soybeans, wheat and sugarbeets are grown in certain areas of the state and not others (or with a lower percentage of land used for that crop).
    5. Save maps for the following days.
Day 2
  1. Begin the lesson by reviewing with students each crop and have students share their observations from the previous day.
  2. Explain to students they will be working with a partner or in groups to hypothesize why certain crops are grown in certain areas. They will also look from the 2012-2017 maps to hypothesize why there may be a change. What caused this change? Was the change positive or negative?
    1. After students create a hypothesis, provide each group with a copy of the Food for Thought precipitation, landforms, frost free days, major highways, railroads and population change maps.
    2. Ask students to use these maps and the maps they created the previous day to confirm, change or create a new hypothesis about why crops are grown in a certain region and/or what causes the change between their 2012 and 2017 maps.
      1. Students should note their reasoning using a graphic organizer. Examples include: two/three column notes, a t-chart or another way to organize their thinking.
    3. If time allows, students will hypothesize (creating a new map, class map or discussion) what students believe each crop map to be for the current year will be with reasoning based on the Food for Thought maps.
Day 3
  1. Explain that students will be using what they learned the previous two days along with what they already know about gardening for the lesson today. If possible and appropriate, invite a local farmer or gardener to visit your class and share their experiences with growing plants.
    1. Ask students what they already know about growing plants and gardening.
      1. Discuss what plants need to survive, how plants can be grown (in gardens, hydroponic, vertical gardens, etc.), and the different types of plants they could grow at home (fruits, vegetables, flowers).
  2. Working with a partner or in groups, students will observe the nursery location and apple growers maps in addition to the maps previously used to discuss nursery and orchard locations.
    1. Guiding questions could include: Where are most nurseries clustered/located? Are nurseries located near major roads/railways/water routes? Why would this be beneficial? **Notes can be taken in any form including two and three column notes.
  3. Discuss with students what they believe to be reasons nurseries and orchards are clustered in specific areas of Minnesota and how this relates to growing regions. Have students think about how land is used in different areas of the state.
  4. End the lesson by having students share what surprised them the most during the past three days and any questions they are still curious about.
Local Flavor
  • Field Trip to Mill City Museum, ask a local farmer or nursery owner to speak about growing crops/nursery stock, Master Gardeners presentation on gardens and alternatives to traditional gardens (hydroponics, tower, vertical), create a county map with the major crops/nursery stock grown (animal agriculture could also be included).
Did you know? (Ag Facts)
  • Minnesota is ranked first in sweet corn production in the US and fourth for field corn
  • 42 percent of corn is exported to other countries, 37 percent of corn is processed into things like ethanol, 14 percent is used for animal feed and 7 percent is used in other ways
  • Wheat is the primary grain used in U.S. grain products — approximately three-quarters of all U.S. grain products are made from wheat flour
  • Wheat is grown in 42 states in the United States
  • Soybeans are the number one export crop in Minnesota
  • One acre of soybeans (about the size of a football field) can produce 84,600 crayons
  • A mature sugar beet is about one foot long, weighs two to five pounds
  • Minnesota growers use 13,000 million square feet of greenhouse space
  • Honeycrisp apples were developed at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and took 31 years to develop
Enriching Activities
  • Students can use additional Food for Thought Maps to observe agricultural regions for livestock following similar steps as above
  • Students can view videos about corn, and soybeans at
Minnesota Academic Standards
Social Studies - Geography Use maps and concepts of location (relative location words and cardinal and intermediate directions) to describe places in one's community, the state of Minnesota, the United States or the world. Create and interpret simple maps of places around the world, local to global; incorporate "TODALS" map basics, as well as points, lines and colored areas to display spatial information. Describe how the location of resources and the distribution of people and their various economic activities has created different regions in the United States and Canada. Analyze the impact of geographic factors on the development of modern agricultural regions in Minnesota and the United States.

Science Create and analyze different kinds of maps of the student's community and of Minnesota.

Common Core Connections
Grade 3 Speaking & Listening, Writing

Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 3 topics and texts, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.

Recall information from experiences or gather information from print and digital sources; take brief notes on sources and sort evidence into provided categories.

Grade 4 Speaking & Listening, Writing

Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 4 topics and texts, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.

Recall relevant information from experiences or gather relevant information from print and digital sources; take notes and categorize information, and provide a list of sources.

Grade 5 Speaking & Listening, Writing

Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 5 topics and texts, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.

Recall relevant information from experiences or gather relevant information from print and digital sources; summarize or paraphrase information in notes and finished work and provide a list of sources.