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Food for Thought Lesson Plans

Organic Agriculture

Grade Level

Grades 9-12


The purpose of this lesson is to have students interpret maps and explain the distribution of organic farms across the state of Minnesota and the United States. Additionally, students should be able to discuss several advantages, disadvantages, and practices associated with organic farming and make connections to environmental sustainability.


One or two 55-minute class periods depending on chosen activities

  • Organic farming: Organic agriculture promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles, and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain, and enhance ecological harmony. Organic is a guarantee about how an agricultural food or fiber product was grown and handled before it reached the consumer. It's also a set of standards for farmers who grow plants and animals, and for processors and handlers who turn it into food, clothing, or other products. Farmers and food processors that make organic claims must meet national organic standards, maintain careful records, and be certified* by a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-accredited organization, a process that includes on-site inspection. Certification assures consumers that the product was grown and processed organically. There are stiff penalties for fraud, which means representing a non-organic product as organic. From the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.
Background—Agricultural Connections

We all need food and water to survive. Unfortunately, access to food and water has historically been unequal. According to the United Nations, "the number of undernourished people in the world has been on the rise since 2015, reaching an estimated 821 million in 2018." (The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2019 - With global population estimated to reach nine billion by 2050, concerns about resources and environmental sustainability have become an increasing focus of concern for individuals, state governments, non-governmental organizations, and supranational organizations. Agriculture employs a significant number of the world's population, and climate change is a global threat that will require efforts made across a wide variety of sectors to mitigate its damaging effects. Organic agriculture is one component of the larger issue of environmental sustainability.

Interest Approach - Engagement

If appropriate for your students, ask them to take pictures of products and labels that are organic. Assign ahead of time to allow students the opportunity to collect images in their home and at local places to purchase organic products (stores, markets, etc.). Alternatively, the teacher could take pictures and arrange in a slide deck. Images could be collected from the students via an electronic bulletin board like Padlet ( or used informally at the start of the lesson.

Part 1: Introduction and Minnesota Organic

Assign students to small groups for introductory discussion.

  1. Pass out Intro and Minnesota Organics worksheet to each group to complete Part I. Encourage students to answer questions without looking up the answers on the internet.
    1. What is the definition of organic?
    2. Share images if collected according to the "interest approach" described above. What types of products did they find (fruits, vegetables, meat, clothing)? Where were they sold/purchased (grocery store, farmer's market, co-op)?
    3. Using the map of Minnesota Counties (Map 41) ask students to draw a dashed line where they think organic farms would be in Minnesota.
  2. Prepare printed copies of maps for students (or give access to electronically) to complete Part II.
    1. Share with students the "official" definition of organic farming from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (listed in the vocabulary portion of this lesson). Discuss how the official definition is similar/different to what they listed on their worksheet.
    2. Show students the Organic Farms in Minnesota (Map 20). Ask students to compare their predictions to the actual locations of organic farms in Minnesota. Allow students time to compare Map 20 with the map that they drew on. Where are the biggest differences between what students thought and reality? Ask students what surprises them about the location of organic farms in Minnesota?
    3. Give students these maps: After showing all four maps, discuss the following question with students: Why are Minnesota organic farms located where they are? Answers might include access to population clusters, available farmland, price of farmland, demand, ability to maximize profit, or distance to market.
    4. Compare organic farms from 2009, 2014 (Map 19), and 2019 (Map 20). Ask students to identify similarities and differences between the maps. What areas have lost or gained organic farms? What might account for those changes?

      From 2009 to 2014 the number of organic farms in many areas of the state increased: however, from 2014 to 2019 the number in several areas decreased.

      Why would that happen if domestic organic food consumption and demand has risen?
      1. In Minnesota, many organic farms are dairies or small grains- not produce farms.
        • In general, dairy farms have been struggling to stay in operation and unfortunately many have sold their cows and stopped production
      2. Organic production of produce in other countries, like Mexico, Chile and more, has dramatically increased.
        • You could challenge your students to investigate why the production of organic produce has increased internationally (overall increase in demand).
        • Students could also do some research to determine if organic farming standards and requirements are the same in all countries and if they are enforced in similar ways.
Part 2: USA Organic
  1. Use the article from the Pew Research Center titled, "Organic on the Rise in the United States" to learn about the distribution of organic agriculture in the United States.
  2. Have students read to answer the following questions and discuss as a class.
    1. How does acreage of organic agriculture compare to conventional agriculture in the United States?
      Despite recent growth in organic agriculture, organic farming makes up a small share of overall farmland in the U.S.
    2. What states have large shares of organic farmland?
      California has the most organic farms, followed by Wisconsin and New York.
    3. Which region of the United States saw the most growth in organic agriculture since 2011?
      The South, especially Arkansas, Alabama, South Carolina, and Missouri.
    4. What are the top organic products in the United States?
      Milk, eggs, chicken, apples, lettuce, strawberries.
    5. Agriculture and food-production are constantly changing. Using the information in this article and your observations as a consumer, describe some of the major influences that affect the changes and patterns in food production and consumption.
      Patterns of food production and consumption are influenced by movements relating to individual food choice, such as urban farming, community supported agriculture (CSA), organic farming, value-added specialty crops, fair trade, local-food movements, and dietary shifts.
    6. Challenge students to think about what they have learned about organic agriculture in the first two sections of this lesson. What is the "why" and the "where" for organic agriculture? How do the rules and regulations, as well as land use, impact where organic farms are located and also why they represent a small share of overall farmland in the U.S.?
Part 3: Challenges and Opportunities
  1. Have students read the National Geographic article, "We don't have enough organic farms. Why not?" (November 20, 2018, Rachel Cernansky)
  2. Complete the Organic: Challenges and Opportunities student worksheet that asks students to identify the challenges and opportunities associated with organic agriculture. Challenges include fear, risk, limited funding, training, experience, mentors, labor shortages. Opportunities include growing demand, partnerships with large companies like General Mills, Annie's, Costco, environmental benefits.
  3. Discuss as a class.
Part 4: Possible Assessments
  1. Students write a summary paragraph accurately linking the following words: organic, demand, challenges, opportunities, distribution. Use as an exit slip. Choose examples of strong paragraphs to share with the class.
  2. Students write a paragraph responding to one of the following prompts:
    • Explain two changes in organic agriculture in Minnesota from 2009-2019.
    • Describe the opportunities and challenges associated with organic agriculture in the United States.
    • Explain challenges and debates related to the changing nature of contemporary agriculture and food-production practices.
  3. Collect worksheets and/or acrostic poems for a formative grade.
Local Flavor

Have students research programs offered by a local college or university. What educational opportunities currently exist at that institution? What are possible career paths connected to sustainability and/or organic agriculture? An additional step could be to assign students to different states in a particular region and compare programs (for example: Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, and North Dakota).
Information about the University of Minnesota can be found here:

Using the directory of Minnesota organic farms, have students create an "advertisement" or fact sheet for the organic farms in a particular county.

Did you know?
Minnesota Academic Standards
Social Studies - Geography Identify the primary factors influencing the regional pattern of economic activities in the United States and the world. Make inferences and draw conclusions about the physical and human characteristics of places based on a comparison of maps and other geographic representations and geospatial technologies. Analyze the interconnectedness of the environment and human activities (including the use of technology) and the impact of one upon the other.

Advanced Placement Human Geography (CED 2019)

Explain challenges and debates related to the changing nature of contemporary agriculture and food-production practices. (Learning objective)

  • Agricultural innovations such as biotechnology, genetically modified organisms, and aquaculture have been accompanied by debates over sustainability, soil and water usage, reductions in biodiversity, and extensive fertilizer and pesticide use. (Essential knowledge)
  • Patterns of food production and consumption are influenced by movements relating to individual food choice, such as urban farming, community supported agriculture (CSA), organic farming, value-added specialty crops, fair trade, local-food movements, and dietary shifts. (Essential knowledge)
Common Core Connections
Grade 9-12 Literacy in History/Social Studies

Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.