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Food for Thought Lesson Plans

Productitvity in Urban Agriculture

Grade Level

Grade 4


One issue facing our growing urban areas is a lack of fresh produce. Students will address this issue by applying a reasoned decision-making process to choose one way to increase productivity in urban agriculture. Students will design urban gardens and share their ideas with others.


Three, 45-minute lessons

Student handouts
  1. Agricultural Productivity: Then & Now
  2. Answer Key - Agricultural Productivity: Then & Now
  3. PACED Grid
  4. Answer Key - PACED Grid
  5. Urban Agriculture Action Plan
  • Acre: a unit of measurement for land areas (about the size of a football field without end zones)
  • Compost: a mixture of decayed plant materials added to soil to improve its quality
  • Environment: natural surroundings, or physical features, in an area
  • Fertilizer: a natural or chemical substance added to soil to make it better for growing plants
  • Input: supplies, or resources, needed to produce something
  • Output: what is produced
  • Productivity: the amount of output divided by the amount of input (resource)
  • Urban agriculture: growing food within and around cities
Background—Agricultural Connections

Productivity is an essential economic concept for elementary students to investigate. Urban agriculture provides a meaningful opportunity for students to apply economics to a current issue facing growing urban populations -- the lack of access to fresh produce. This topic is relevant for elementary students as children's lives are affected, particularly children living in low-income households. Food desert is a term sometimes applied to areas that do not have access to fresh produce. A food desert is an area where getting fresh, healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are especially difficult. They can be found in urban and rural areas and often include communities of color with low income households. Food deserts are areas where access to grocery stores that sell fresh produce is difficult because of distance or lack of public transportation. According to a report from the Economic Research Service of the US Department of Agriculture, approximately 2.3 million people live more than 1 mile away from a supermarket and do not own a car. ( This makes buying groceries a difficult task. In some insistences, individuals may rely on less-healthy food options that are available from closer stores like gas stations, fast-food restaurants, or small corner stores.

Several types of urban farms exist, including aquaponics, hydroponics, community gardens, balcony gardens, and rooftop gardens.


image credit: ytimg via Creative Commons

How can urban agriculture become more productive, so food deserts no longer exist, and healthy produce is available to everyone? Farmers, leaders, and community members all impact how food could be grown within and around cities. A few ideas of how to increase the output of urban farms include:

  • change laws in cities of where gardens could be located (zoning)
  • offer land at a reduced price to become gardens
  • provide more places in cities to compost for rich soil
  • increase access to water for plants
  • protect gardens from the pollution and climate conditions in cities


Some criteria to consider when deciding how to better manage the inputs needed to produce food in cities include:

  • quality of the vegetables and fruits (e.g., freshness, taste)
  • price to purchase vegetables and fruits
  • cost of growing food in cities (inputs)
  • impact on the environment


Agricultural productivity on farms has increased over time. For example, the amount of corn produced in the same space has increased over time due to the use of specialized equipment, development of new varieties of seeds and fertilizers, and improved farming techniques. Additional details and graphs illustrating US Corn Grain Yield Trends Since 1866 can be viewed at

How has this increased productivity impacted the environment? Being aware of economic and geographic concepts related to agriculture from the past can inform future decisions.

Interest Approach - Engagement
  1. Begin by asking students to think like geographers to list ways that farmers modify (change or adapt) the environment to grow the crops we need to survive. Possible ideas: clearing the land, finding a source of water, fertilizing the crops, harvesting, impacting habitats of birds and animals. Follow-up question: what are the consequences (intended and unintended) of these interactions? Possible answers: crops (food), erosion, irrigation, pollution, habitat loss. Keep this list and refer to the concept of human-environment interaction throughout the lesson.
    1. Option: view the photos about corn production in MN including an image of Dakota women and children
  2. Introduce or review the concepts on the anchor chart (see vocabulary section). TIP: draw a football field minus the end zones to show the approximate size of an acre.
Day 1: Agricultural Productivity: Change Over Time

Essential Question: How have farmers produced more crops on each acre of land?

  1. Distribute or view the handout, Agricultural Productivity: Then & Now.
    1. Read the list of inputs and outputs and look at the photos. Then have students work with a partner to categorize items for each farm. Review the lists together.
    2. Ask students to respond to these questions:
      1. Which farm was more productive? Why?
      2. What are some current issues related to farming? If time allows, students can visit websites that highlight current issues agriculturalists are discussing and writing about. A few websites to start with:
    3. Transition to the back side of the handout by informing students about a current issue facing urban areas (cities) related to food - there is a lack of access to fresh vegetables and fruits, particularly for children living in low-income families.
    4. Read the information on the handout and have students analyze the photo by responding to the prompts (you may also display the image on a screen).
    5. Ask students to share their responses to determine that this is a rooftop garden. What are some of their wonderings?
  2. Collect the handouts. Ask students to consider the economic concept of productivity from the anchor chart related to urban agriculture - how might urban agriculture become more productive? (topic for Day 2).
Day 2: Agricultural Productivity: Growing Food in Cities

Essential Question: How can we get better at growing food in cities?

  1. Begin by asking students about the issue introduced on Day 1 related to food in cities [lack of access to fresh vegetables and fruits]. What are some different ways to provide fresh produce in cities? [community gardens, farmers markets, rooftop gardens] These are good ideas, but there are many inputs (resources) for a small output (food). Refer to the handout, Agricultural Productivity: Then & Now to review these concepts.
    1. Option: introduce other types of urban agriculture such as aquaponics, hydroponics.
  2. Ask students to think like economists by posing the essential question of the day - How can we get better at growing food in cities? (how might urban agriculture become more productive?) What are some challenges and some solutions? Have students engage in a Think-Pair-Share.
  3. Introduce this problem to students -
    1. Our local community would like to invest in one way to improve urban agriculture. You are going to choose an option using a reasoned decision-making process. This means that you are going to weigh the costs (what has to be given up) with the benefits (what will be gained). We are going to use a graphic organizer called a PACED Grid to help us make our decision. Then you will be sharing your decision with others (school administrators, community members, elected officials).
    2. Distribute paper copies of the PACED Grid and complete the first three steps together as a class.
      1. P = Problem (read together from the handout)
      2. A = Alternatives (have students add these, others?)
        1. Change laws about where gardens could be located (zoning). In many urban areas, zoning restricts where gardens can be created. Students living in rural and suburban areas may not be aware of these restrictions. Challenge these students to investigate the zoning laws in an urban area in Minnesota (Examples: Minneapolis, St. Paul, Duluth, Rochester).
        2. Offer land at a reduced price to become gardens.
        3. Provide more places in cities to compost for rich soil.
        4. Increase access to fresh water for plants.
        5. Protect gardens from the pollution and climate conditions in cities.
      3. C = Criteria used to weigh each alternative (have students add these, others?)
        1. Quality of the vegetables and fruits - good or bad?
        2. Price to purchase vegetables and fruits - high or low?
        3. Cost of growing food in cities - how many resources (inputs) are needed?
        4. Impact on the environment - good or bad?
      4. E = Evaluate each alternative according to each criterion
        1. Do the first one together and then have students reason with a partner to complete the grid.
      5. D = Decision … what is the best alternative?
        1. Record the different choices from the pairs.
        2. Which options are more common than others? Why?
  4. Collect the handouts. Ask students to consider the type of urban farm they would design based on their decision (option: show additional photographs from National Geographic).
Day 3: Agricultural Productivity: Sharing Our Decision About Urban Agriculture

Essential Question: How can we share our decision with others?

  1. Begin by asking students to describe the reasoned decision-making process they used to choose one way to help urban agriculture become more productive. (PACED)
  2. Conduct a Think-Pair-Share about composting... why was this the best option to meet the criteria for growing more vegetables and fruits in cities?
  3. Review the other alternatives for making urban agriculture more productive (more spaces, land prices, etc.) Remember: all of these ideas are needed to help solve the problem... the PACED grid helped decide the alternative to start with considering the criteria.
  4. Discuss the list of ways people can take action to influence a decision about an issue. TIP: Have this list on chart paper or projected on a screen.
    1. Ways people take action: create a web page, make and hang up posters, make a phone call, present at a meeting, write a letter or email.
  5. Divide students into groups and distribute the handout, Urban Agriculture Action Plan.
  6. Review the parts of the handouts and encourage students to think of other ways.
  7. When groups are finished, discuss the ways, challenges, and benefits of taking action.
  8. Collect the handouts and close with discussing the issue introduced in Lesson 1:
    1. Ask students to consider how urban agriculture could help solve the problem of access to fresh vegetables and fruits in cities.
      1. Have groups of people or leaders taken action on this issue in your community? Has this been addressed by elected officials?
Local Flavor
  • Visit a community garden or a local farmers market.
  • Read books about community gardens or farmers markets.
  • Make posters to create an awareness of the lack of fresh vegetables and fruits in urban areas.
Enriching Activities
Minnesota Academic Standards
Social Studies - Geography Explain how humans adapt to and/or modify the physical environment and how they are in turn affected by these adaptations and modifications.
For example: Humans cut down a forest to clear land for farming, which leads to soil erosion. Consequently, humans must use more fertilizer to supplement the nutrients in the soil.

Social Studies - Economics Define the productivity of a resource and describe ways to increase it. For example: Productivity equals the amount of output divided by the amount of input (resource). Things that can increase productivity—division of labor, specialization, improvements in technology (the way things are made). The productivity of a corn farmer (resource) has been improved using specialized equipment, development of new varieties of seeds and fertilizers and improved farming techniques. Apply a reasoned decision-making process to make a choice.
For example: Processes—a decision tree or PACED decision-making process (Problem, Alternative, Criteria, Evaluation, Decision). A choice—evaluating the benefits and costs of buying a new game.

Social Studies - Civics Describe how people take action to influence a decision on a specific issue; explain how local, state, national or tribal governments have addressed that issue.
For example: Ways people take action—write a letter, make phone calls, create an advertisement or web page, attend a meeting.

Common Core Connections
Grade 4 Writing

Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to inform about or explain the topic.