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Food for Thought Lesson Plans

Minnesota Farm Labor

Grade Level

Grade 6


Minnesota's agricultural workforce continues to rely on immigrants and migrant workers for labor. Students will read maps, stories, and graphs to learn about Minnesota's farmland and farm labor force, particularly the experiences and role of immigrant and migrant workers.

  1. Students will think like geographers to explore birds-eye view maps of cities and their surroundings across Minnesota in the late 1800's. (concept: settlement patterns)
  2. Students will think like historians to investigate farm labor over time. (concepts: immigrant, migrant worker)
  3. Students will think like economists and political scientists to analyze graphs to learn about the make-up of the farm labor force in Minnesota. (concept: farm labor)

Three, 45-minute lessons

Activity 1
Activity 2
Activity 3
Activity 4

Optional: History of birds-eye view maps, Hmong American Farmers Association

  • Farm labor: farmers, their family members, and hired workers who do the work of farming
  • Immigrant: a person who comes from one country to a different country to live
  • Migrant worker: a person who moves from place to place throughout the year to get work, especially on farms*

* Source: Northern Lights (pg. 454-5)

Background—Agricultural Connections (Should align with NALOs selected for this lesson)

Farm labor is an essential topic for students to investigate in their exploration of agriculture in Minnesota. Learning about people who work on farms can provide a meaningful opportunity for students to be aware of who produces their food. This topic is relevant for students as they may live on a farm, know someone who works on a farm, or be the child of a migrant worker.

This lesson begins with an opportunity to read birds-eye view maps to gain a geographic perspective of land use during the time of early immigration. Then students will read articles to learn about farmers over time. These farmers include the Dakota early in our state's history up to present day immigrant farmers. Finally, students will learn about who makes up today's farm labor workforce in Minnesota.

Here are three websites with background information about farm labor in the United States:

For a recent overview of agriculture in Minnesota, MPR offers seven charts related to farming in our state; graphs six and seven focus on the make-up of farmers in our state (see Activity 4). -

Interest Approach - Engagement
  1. Provide each student with a blank piece of paper. Ask the students to spend about five minutes drawing what a person who works on a farm looks like.
  2. At the end of the five-minute time frame, form students into groups of two or three and have them share their drawings. Each group can discuss the similarities and differences between their images.
  3. Ask groups to share these lists and show the drawings while sharing the similarities and differences with the class.
  4. Ask students to share ideas for how their drawing would be different if you attached a certain year or decade, for example, what did farm workers look like in the 1850s when Minnesota was becoming a state?
  5. Explain to students that they will be investigating the Minnesotans responsible for growing food that feeds us since our state's early beginnings in the 1800s to today.
Activity 1: Birds-eye View Maps

Essential Question: How do natural resources and physical features affect settlement patterns?

  1. Ask students to imagine what Minnesota might have looked like in 1858 when it became the 32nd state of the United States of America. Lead a discussion that allows students to think like geographers and historians. Possible questions:
    1. What might have been different about the Minnesota landscape - land, lakes, rivers, and places where people lived?
    2. Imagine you were an immigrant or settler coming to Minnesota in the late 1800s and early 1900s. What do you think you would have seen? How have things changed since then?
    3. Many immigrants and settlers had hopes of owning land and farming. Imagine you were one of these early Minnesotans, where would you have gone in our state to farm? What things would you have grown? Inform the students that you are going to investigate what some areas of Minnesota looked like over 100 years ago.
  2. Begin by asking students what they already know about a birds-eye view perspective. Share that some maps created in the late 1800's show cities and their surrounding land and bodies of water from above (the perspective of a bird). Today we can use Google Earth to view Birds Eye maps as well as Street View maps, but this technology was not available in the 1800s and early 1900s. Discuss with students the advantages and disadvantages of the different perspectives.
  3. Distribute the handout, Reading a Birds-eye View Map. Students will be working in groups; decide if each student should have a handout or if students will work together on one.
    1. Go to the website: Birds-eye view maps from across Minnesota and choose one map to preview.
    2. Ask students to respond to this question:
      1. What do you notice about the landscape surrounding the city?
    3. Then students will then be assigned a city's map from this collection and work on their own or with a partner/group to complete the handout.
    4. Have the students meet with other groups to share their observations about their own city.
  4. Ask students to share similarities and differences between what they see on the maps using the guiding questions on the back side of the handout.
  5. Optional - Use Google Earth to find a modern birds-eye map of one or more of the cities that the students looked at using the primary maps. Ask students to make observations about what has changed. Ask students to look and think about what features (natural resources and physical features) of the city and its surrounding area have caused the use of the land to change and possibly increased the number of people living in the city.
Activity 2: Farmers Love for the Land

Essential Question: How has agriculture and farm work pushed and pulled people to Minnesota?

  1. Explain to students that throughout Minnesota's history many groups immigrated or settled in Minnesota due to push and pull factors. Push factors are conditions that push or drive people out of a certain location. Pull factors are conditions that pull or attract people to a new location. Have students brainstorm push and pull factors that caused people to settle or immigrate to Minnesota in the 1800s, 1900s and 2000s. If students do not mention land and agriculture as a "pull" factor, mention that this was an opportunity in Minnesota. Our state's soil resources and climate are good for growing many plants and animals. Early in our state's history, the opportunity to own land and raise plants and animals pulled many European immigrants to Minnesota. The land resources and agricultural opportunities have continued to pull people to Minnesota from all over the world.
  2. Tell the students that you are going to read an excerpt from the book Esperanza Rising to explore the importance of the land to some groups of people. The novel Esperanza Rising is an example of historical fiction. This means that the story is not real, but it is based on real events, a real setting with real people regarding a farm family in the early 20th century. To get students thinking about farm families, ask and discuss a few questions:
    • Do you know any farmers or farm families?
    • What kind of work is done on a farm?
    • Why do you think some people choose to work and live on farms? Or own their own farm?
    Help students understand that many farmers enjoy raising plants and animals that provide us with food, fuel, clothing, etc.

    Agriculture is important to our lives! In the past, and still today, some farm families migrate to more fertile land. The story of Esperanza Rising focuses on a farm family raising grapes in Mexico.

    Optional: Watch the video Grape Expectations (4 min 30 sec) to help students understand how grapes are grown. Possible discussion questions:
    • What new things did you learn from the video about growing grapes?
    • Why do you think more grapes are grown in California than in Minnesota?
  3. Place the students in groups of two. Ask them to partner read the Esperanza Rising Text Excerpt.
    • Note: Partner reading is a practice used by teachers instructing a two-person team alternating reading aloud to one another while switching each time there is a new paragraph. An alternative to reading out loud separately is to have the two students choose to read silently at the same time.
  4. Give the students the discussion questions below, or create a few of your own, and ask them to choose and answer three questions out of the six on a 3" x 5" index card. It is important to encourage the students to answer in their own words and not their peers.
    • How is the vineyard (farm where grapes are grown) the same and different to farms in Minnesota?
    • Do you think Esperanza and her family enjoy farming? Why or why not?
    • What factors could possibly push Esperanza's family to leave Mexico or pull them towards living in a different country?
    • Would factors focusing on the land and farmer have a large impact on this family?
    • Describe the geographical setting. What is it like where Esperanza lives?
    • When Papa said, "our land is alive," what did he mean?
  5. Ask the students to go to an area in the classroom and sit in a circle for a Text, Talk, and Time discussion. Have them bring their copy of the Esperanza Rising excerpt and their responses to their three chosen discussion questions from Step 4.
    • Emphasize the Text, Talk, and Time rules. To see a demonstration, watch this Text, Talk, and Time strategy video - Rule reminders: Thumbs up: Share new information, Two fingers: Add to an answer, Teacher's hand up: Students are quiet, the next question is asked
    • Ask the students to think about Esperanza's farming family. What challenges and opportunities might they face? Why might they feel pushed or pulled to move from Mexico? Help students realize that some families in Minnesota might have similar experiences to Esperanza's family
Activity 3: Immigrant and Migrant Workers Over Time

Essential Question: Who has worked in Minnesota's farm fields to produce food?

  1. Inform the students that we are going to explore the people who have worked on Minnesota's agricultural land to produce food, plants and animals.
  2. Introduce and preview the three articles students will be reading by showing images from the articles and asking students to think about the lifestyle and experiences of farmers throughout Minnesota history.
  3. Distribute the handout, Minnesota's Farmers Then & Now.
  4. As a group, assist students in defining the terms immigrant and migrant worker at the top of the handout. (See vocabulary section above for definitions).
  5. Then students will read the articles to learn about farm labor over time in Minnesota. You can assign all articles to every student or you can jig-saw, with one group of students focusing on the first article: Minnesota's Early Farming, one group of students focusing on the second article Migrant Workers and one group focusing on the third article: New Minnesota Farmers. The groups of students become "experts" for the article they read and share information with the other groups.
  6. After the articles are read and the handout completed, discuss with students what this information means to them. Possible discussion questions:
    1. Who has worked in Minnesota's farm fields to produce food?
    2. Why did they want to farm? What features of Minnesota drew them to farm here?
    3. What challenges have farmers faced in Minnesota?
    4. What push and pull factors brought farmers to Minnesota?
  7. Optional:
    1. Encourage students to learn more about an organization in Southern Minnesota that is working for better working conditions for migrant farmers:
    2. Encourage students to learn more about the impact of migrant workers in Minnesota history. Independently or in teams, students can research migrant workers that have had an influence on migrant worker rights. Examples include: César Chávez, Dolores Huerta, Tomás Rivera, Paul Rodriguez, Luis Valdez and Sauveur Pierre Frome:
Activity 4: Immigrant and Migrant Workers within Minnesota's Farm Labor Force

Essential Question: Who makes up Minnesota's current farm labor force and what challenges and changes might we see in the future?

  1. Begin by posing the essential question and discuss with students. Ask students to record a few of their ideas or main points of your class discussion in their notebook or on a sheet of paper.
  2. Share the following article with students and use it as a starting point for discussion on Minnesota's current farm labor work force and how this might change in the future.
    1. Minnesota Public Radio - A Look at Minnesota Farming in 7 Charts
      1. Assist students in understanding that the U.S. Department of Agriculture conducted a census (an official count) in 2017. The information that was collected in this census was used to create the charts in this article.
      2. Have students look at the bar graphs in part 6 of the article. Currently farmers are mostly men and their average age is 58. How do students think this might change in the future?
      3. Share with students the Millennial Farmer YouTube videos and website. Ask students to think about a few things:
        1. Does Millennial Farmer fit with the data displayed in part 6 and 7 of the article? (He is male, but he is not close to the average age of 58).
        2. How might this farmer's experiences be different than migrant workers and other immigrants that we discussed earlier in this lesson?
        3. He uses YouTube and social media to share information about farming. How might this impact Minnesotans who are not farmers? How might it impact people from other states or countries?
      4. Also have students look at part 7 of the article - most Minnesota farmers are white. Ask students to think about how the other groups listed in chart 7 (Hispanic, Asian, Multi-race, Native Indian or Alaska Native, Black or African American, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander) could be encouraged to be involved in farming agriculture. What challenges and roadblocks might they face? What could be done to help overcome these barriers?
        1. The MPR Article "Tribes Revive Indigenous Crops and the Traditions that Go with Them" could be shared with students to provide some ideas for this discussion.
    2. Additional information from the 2017 National Agricultural Statistic Services can be found on this 2017 Agriculture Census PowerPoint Presentation. Demographic information can be found on slides 22-32. The maps, graphs and data can be used to further discuss agriculture, farmers and farm laborers.
  3. Have students look back at the ideas that they recorded in Step 1. Provide time for students to reflect on these thoughts and how they might have changed after reviewing the articles, and additional pieces of information shared in steps 1 and 2. Encourage students to record their new thoughts and describe any changes in their thinking.
    1. Work with your class to determine how you might share or show their thoughts about Minnesota's current farm labor force and what challenges and changes might we see in the future. Also encourage students to think about the complexity of the agricultural world and the hard work that goes into getting food to their plate. Could this affect choices they make in their future regarding where they buy food, how they think about food waste, interactions with migrant and immigrant families connected to agriculture? Ideas for students to share and show their thoughts include:
      1. Journal entries
      2. Using images, graphs, charts, etc. to create visual elements in the classroom or school
      3. Using technology to create videos, podcasts, etc.
Enriching Activities
  • Show students video clips from AgCultures - for a global perspective of farm labor.
Sources and Credits
  • Activity two is adapted from the Esperanza Rising lesson from the National Agriculture in the Classroom Curriculum Matrix.
Minnesota Academic Standards
Social Studies - Civics Use graphic data to analyze information about a public issue in state or local government.

Social Studies - Geography Create and use various kinds of maps, including overlaying thematic maps, of places in Minnesota; incorporate the "TODALSS" map basics, as well as points, lines and colored areas to display spatial information. Locate, identify and describe major physical features in Minnesota; explain how physical features and the location of resources affect settlement patterns and the growth of cities in different parts of Minnesota.
For example: Physical features—ecosystems, topographic features, continental divides, river valleys, cities, communities and reservations of Minnesota's indigenous people.

Social Studies - History Identify the push-pull factors that bring the Hmong, East African, Hispanic, Asian Indian and other immigrants and refugees to Minnesota; compare and contrast their experiences with those of earlier Minnesota immigrant groups in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. (The United States in a New Global Age: 1980-present)

Common Core Connections
Grade 6 Reading: Literature

Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

Grade 6 Reading: Informational Text

Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

Determine a central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through particular details; provide a summary of the text distinct from personal opinions or judgments.

Analyze in detail how a key individual, event, or idea is introduced, illustrated, and elaborated in a text (e.g., through examples or anecdotes).