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Food for Thought Lesson Plans

Why We Eat the Foods We Eat

Grade Level

Grades 6-8


Students will explore crops and livestock grown and raised for consumption in Minnesota by investigating the five themes of geography, climate, and natural resources in order to recognize how these factors contribute to food cultures.


Two or Three (50-minute) class periods

Interact Approach
Activity 1
Activity 2
Additional Resources for student research in Activities 1 and 2
  • Agriculture: the science or practice of farming, including cultivation of crops and the rearing of animals to provide food and other products
  • Weather: short term atmospheric conditions
  • Climate: the prevailing weather conditions in a specific area over a long period of time
  • Biome: a large region of Earth that has a certain climate and certain types of living things
  • Region: an area of land that has common characteristics (e.g. language, rainfall, landscape, etc.)
  • Latitude: measurement of distance from the equator
  • Topography: the arrangement of the natural and artificial physical features of an area
  • Annual Precipitation: the sum of rainfall and the assumed water equivalent of snowfall for a given year
  • Natural Resources: materials or substances such as minerals, forests, water, and fertile land that occur in nature
  • Growing season: the part of the year during which rainfall and temperature allow plants to grow
  • Soil types: Soil is classified by its texture and the proportion of sand, silt or clay it contains
  • Environment: the surroundings in which a person, plant, or animal lives, including the air, water, and land
  • Vegetation: Plants growing in a biome
  • Deciduous Forests: An area where the plant life loses their leaves at the end of a growing season
  • Coniferous Forests: Area of land that has trees or shrubs containing cones and evergreen leaves
  • Prairie Grasslands: A generally flat area of treeless grassland
  • Tallgrass Aspen Parkland: An area of land that has both prairie and wetlands
  • Staple Food: a food that makes up the dominant part of a population's diet
Background—Agricultural Connections (Should align with NALOs selected for this lesson)

There are many factors that go into the growing of crops. Climate, biomes (growing zones), annual precipitation, the length of a growing season, soil, and elevation are just a few that need to be considered. Determining the best crop(s) for a location or region is influenced by these factors. The major crop(s) grown in each region is the result of taking these factors into consideration. By familiarizing themselves with these factors, farmers are more likely to have harvests that yield higher amounts allowing them to export to other countries.

Interest Approach - Engagement Activity (5 minutes)

Begin the lesson by projecting a blank map of North America on the board. Ask students to brainstorm various crops or animals that they can link with specific states. Examples:

  • California: Almonds/Grapes
  • Florida: Oranges
  • Georgia: Peaches
  • Hawaii: Cane Sugar
  • Idaho: Potatoes
  • Iowa: Corn
  • Kansas: Wheat
  • Louisiana: Shrimp
  • Minnesota: Blueberry, Soybean or Turkey
  • Montana: Cattle
  • New England: Lobster
  • Vermont: Maple Syrup
  • Washington: Apples
  • Wisconsin: Dairy or Cranberry

Continue by asking students to consider "Why" these crops or animals are grown or raised in large amounts in these states. What is it that these items need to successfully grow in these regions? Encourage students to think like a geographer and consider climate, precipitation, physical features and natural resources. This will set them up for deeper thinking about the specifics needed for understanding food geography and how it relates to food cultures in the United States and around the world.

Pre-lesson, teacher preparation

Consider reviewing the vocabulary words listed in this lesson. Identify words that students are not familiar with and assign them to students to investigate at home or before the lesson begins. Students will be working in groups of 3-4. Consider having students grouped before the lesson begins.

Activity 1
Part 1: (approx. 15 minutes)
  1. Ask students, "What are the 5 Themes of Geography?"
    Answer: Location, Place, Human-Environment Interaction, Movement and Region.
    *This can be used as review from the start of the school year, or a great way to introduce it.
  2. After students have shared their ideas, hand out the 5 Themes of Geography guided notes worksheet which will be filled out as you show the 5 Themes of Geography PowerPoint.
Part 2: (approx. 15 minutes)
  1. Ask students to revisit the US map from the interest approach. Have students look at the thematic maps within their atlas and make observations and inferences about the varied climate and geography of the regions. What physical features, climate and latitude can they link to these crops that might explain why they are grown there? Remind them to think of the 5 Themes of Geography as they brainstorm. Write down responses on the board.
Part 3: (15 minutes)
  1. Write the word Biome on the board and ask students to come up with their best definition. Answers may vary. Write the definition on the board and ask students to copy this down into their notebook or folder along with all key vocabulary to be added throughout the lesson.
  2. Hand out Minnesota Biomes Map and Information and Minnesota Counties (named) Map 41. As a class, take turns reading portions of this out loud as they look at the Biomes map (images of each are provided in resources and may be shown as each biome is read). Another option is to have students read silently to themselves or work in pairs to read this information. When finished, have students outline and label the biomes on their blank MN counties map using a specific color for each biome creating and labeling a key for future use.
Part 4: (20 minutes)
  1. Ask students to brainstorm different crops and animals that Minnesota is known for. Write these on the board. Create groups of 3-4 and assign one of the crops or animals to each group. Hand out the Minnesota Commodities research worksheet with the Guiding Questions (listed below) copied on the back. Encourage students to use the Minnesota Food For Thought Maps and AgMag Commodity webpages. Review the directions, encouraging the groups to designate specific Themes of Geography to each group member and to use the provided questions to help with their research.
    Guiding Questions:
    • Where is the food/crop grown?
    • Does it require a specific climate or biome?
    • How long does it take to grow or reach maturity?
    • How does it grow (water, soil, etc.) and how is it harvested?
    • If it is an animal, what does it eat and what kind of shelter does it require?
  2. Once students have finished their sheet, they should discuss/share their findings with the class, then answer the question: "How does local climate and geography affect our community and support the growing or raising of specific crops or animals?"
    Food for Thought Maps that might be helpful:
Activity 2
  1. This activity may be used as an enrichment activity or as a final assessment of understanding. Ask students:
    • "What is a staple food?"
    • "What is food culture?"
    • "What is YOUR food culture?"
    A staple food is food that makes up the dominant part of a population's diet. Ask "Can you think of any foods that we would consider a staple food in Minnesota?" Food culture encompasses what we eat, how it is prepared and when, and how we eat it. Different regions around the United States and around the world have different and unique food cultures. Why? (Why relates to climate, culture, availability, among other things. Encourage students to think about the big picture and Themes of Geography.)
    Write the following on a different section of the board:
    • Chinese Food
    • Ethiopian Food
    • German Food
    • Indian Food
    • Italian Food
    • Mexican Food
    • Moroccan Food
    • Scandinavian Food
    • Southern (US) Food
    • United Kingdom Food
    Add any additional types of food that would resonate with your community of students
  2. Ask students what they think of when they hear each of these terms. Write their responses on the board. Students may think of food items (pasta, tacos, sushi, etc.). Ask the question, "Are these foods traditional foods to these areas?" "What do you think is a staple food that is grown within this region?"
  3. Assign or have each group choose a country and research a specific crop or staple food that is an important part of that region's food culture. After they have finished that portion of the activity, they should go back to the U.S. map and through similar research, find a state they believe might be able to grow that same crop. Each group should fill out their Country and State Comparison worksheet using the 5 Themes of Geography, as well as the thematic maps within their atlas to help with their research.
    Some Guiding Questions for groups to consider while researching:
    • What is the climate? Can you use this to predict the type of food?
    • What are some of the main foods eaten in this country? I had the kids do "What is the climate?" first and then predict the types of food.
    • What are some of the foods produced in this country?
    • What is the climate of this country?
    • How might the climate of the country determine the foods that are produced there?
    • Would we be able to produce the same foods somewhere in the U.S.? Why or why not?
    • What can the 5 Themes of Geography and agriculture reveal about a place and its people
  4. After the group has completed the worksheet, they should then create a Google slide presentation. Presentations should have a minimum of seven slides, each slide having two images comparing their country and state by theme. The last slide should explain how this crop/staple food is used and a part of that country's food culture. Example organization for the Google Slide Presentation:
    • Slide 1 - Title
    • Slide 2 - Theme: Location
    • Slide 3 - Theme: Place
    • Slide 4 - Theme: Human-Environment Interaction
    • Slide 5 - Theme: Movement
    • Slide 6 - Theme: Region
    • Slide 7+ - Description of staple food's connection to the culture and how it is used by citizens and communities
Did you know? (Ag Facts)
  • Cereals account for more than half of the world's harvested area. Cereals are grain-producing grasses, such as wheat, rice, maize, and millet. Of the 2.3 billion tons of cereal produced, about a billion tons are destined for food use, 750 million tons for animal feed, and the remaining 500 million tons is either processed for industrial use, used as seed, or wasted.
  • Rice is the primary crop and food staple of more than half the world's population. Asia is the world's largest rice-producing and rice-consuming region. Rice is also becoming an increasing food staple throughout Africa.
  • Yams are a major staple in West Africa, where they are consumed mainly as "fufu," a gelatinous dough. Fufu can also be made from cassava and plantains.
  • Approximately 75% of the world's agricultural land is devoted to raising animals, including cropland devoted to animal feed and pasture for grazing land.
  • Minnesota is the #1 turkey producing and processing state in the U.S., with 450 family farmers raising approximately 44 million – 46 million turkeys annually.
  • Hawaii consumes more Spam than any state in our union -- in total, 7 million cans a year. Over One-hundred million pounds were shipped to Allied troops during World War II!
Local Flavor
  • GeoInquiry Lesson - Minnesota Dinner Teacher Guide, Minnesota Dinner Student Worksheet
  • A lesson developed by Shana Crossen, University of Minnesota
  • Farm to Table and Beyond, by Koch, Contento, Barton (National Gardening Association).
  • 2019 Minnesota Ag Profile
Minnesota Academic Standards
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. Obtain and analyze geographic information from a variety of print and electronic sources to investigate places or answer specific geographic questions; provide rationale for its use. Create and use various kinds of maps, including overlaying thematic maps, of places in the world; incorporate the "TODALSS" map basics, as well as points, lines and colored areas to display spatial information. Places have physical characteristics (such as climate, topography and vegetation) and human characteristics (such as culture, population, political and economic systems).

Common Core Connections
Grade 6-8 Literacy in History/Social Studies

Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.

Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.