Relevancy and Engagement

Before the Plate

Grade Level
9 - 12

Students view the 2018 documentary Before the Plate and follow Canadian chef John Horne as he journeys to the source of ten primary food ingredients used in his restaurant. Using critical thinking skills, students will explore the farm-to-table journey of food. This lesson covers a socioscientific issue and aims to provide students with tools to evaluate science within the context of social and economic points of view. Grades 9-12

Estimated Time
2 hours
Materials Needed
  • Beach ball with a number written on each section
  • Student handouts corresponding with the engagement activity chosen below
  • Before the Plate documentary

documentary: a movie or television program providing a record or report

Did You Know?
  • A study showed that two-thirds of survey respondents reported buying "all natural" or organic foods because they believed they were healthier or safer.1
  • Studies show no nutritional difference between organic and conventionally produced food.2
  • Farm and ranch families make up less than 2% of the U.S. Population.3
Background Agricultural Connections

Before the Plate, a Canadian documentary produced by Dylan Sher, features John Horne, the executive chef at Canoe, a Toronto restaurant. John goes on a journey to discover the story behind the food he prepares at his restaurant. Where did it come from? How did it get there? Recognizing there is a disconnect between the farmer and the chef, John takes action by selecting ten primary food ingredients and following them from the farm to his restaurant. 

This film introduces basic farm-to-fork processes and discusses consumer questions about farming practices such as the use of pesticides, GMOs, antibiotic use in livestock, fertilizers, food transportation, organic labeling, and food waste. The film visits and highlights Canadian farms, but the same farming practices and principles can be found throughout North America.

"Farmers need to hear our voice, and we need to hear theirs...and to do that we need to be on the same page. We need to understand what it takes to produce food and what steps [farmers] are taking to get there and why. From there, together, we can create the food system we want."

The run time of the film is 93 minutes. The film received a G rating from the Ontario Film Rating board. However, note that John Horne (the main character) does say "shit" twice in the film. If you'd like to mute the audio for this, do so from 15:37-15:40.

Movie Timestamps:

  • Introduction: 0:00-4:54
    • Potatoes: 4:55
    • Beef: 15:10
    • Tomatoes: 30:42
    • Vegetables (carrots, onions, and celery): 36:11
    • Sunflowers: 43:46
    • Milk: 49:52
    • Wheat: 1:04:36
    • Honey: 1:10:36
    • Food transportation: 1:19:57
  • Summary: 1:24:05 - 1:31:26 

  1. Write the numbers 1-4 or 1-6 on your ball.
  2. Stand in the middle of the room and hold the ball up for your students to see. Without rotating the ball, ask students in various points of the room which number(s) they can see. For example, ask a student in the front of the classroom what number he or she sees, followed by the same question to a student in the back of the room and so on. Each student will see all or part of different numbers.
  3. Ask your students, "Why, if you are all looking at the same object, a ball, are you seeing different numbers?" Explain that it is because each has a different “point of view.” Each student sees different numbers from their point of view. They may see an entire number or part of a number. There will be some numbers that they do not see at all.
  4. Use this object lesson to spring into a discussion about food. Explain that while we all consume food, it can be seen from many perspectives.
  5. Take a quick poll by asking your class to raise their hand if their immediate family participates in farming or ranching of some sort. Calculate a statistic for your class, then share with them that farm and ranch families make up only 2% of the U.S. population.2
  6. Hold up the beach ball again. Ask students if farmers and consumers could have different points of view about food and how it is produced. (Yes. Many consumers have little to no direct connection to the farms where their food is produced, which can both amplify and create different points of view as well as misconceptions.)
  7. Explain that you will be watching a documentary where a chef leaves his restaurant and goes on a journey to the farms where food begins its journey. The film represents his effort to see the farmers' side of the beach ball (point of view) and understand what goes into the production of our food, including decisions such as the use of genetically modified seed, antibiotics in livestock production, animal welfare practices, market fluctuations, and more.
Explore and Explain

Using film in a learning environment allows students to go on a journey and experience the world beyond their classroom. Below you will find four strategies to engage students as they watch the documentary, Before the Plate. Choose the strategy that fits your learning objectives the best.

Strategy 1: Reflective Writing Assignment

  1. Print the attached Reflective Writing Prompts and distribute them to students. You may choose to assign students to specific prompts or allow them to choose their own.
  2. Instruct students to read their prompt and the associated questions. Inform them that these questions are just a beginning. They should add their own questions and make notes about their observations on the topic as they watch the film.
  3. Show Before the Plate.
  4. After viewing the documentary, assign students to complete their reflective writing assignment.
  5. Discuss student reflections and summarize with students what they have learned.

Strategy 2: Spotting Science and Engineering in Food Production

  1. Ask students how the following three words are related: science, engineering, and farming. Allow students to brainstorm and offer their answers. 
  2. Inform students that they will be watching the film with a particular focus on identifying the science and engineering involved in producing our food supply.
  3. Give each student one copy of the attached Spotting Science and Engineering in Food Production handout. Instruct students to list and describe every application of science or engineering that they see in the film. Give examples and definitions as needed to prepare the students.
  4. Show Before the Plate.
    • Pause the movie at 6:38 where it shows the potato planting machine. If students did not catch it on their own, point out that this is an example of engineering. This machine was engineered and built to make planting potatoes easier. Planting by machine can be done faster and with more efficiency than planting by hand.
    • Pause the movie to discuss further examples as needed for students to successfully complete the assignment.
      • Be sure students recognize the scientific process used by research agencies who test the use of pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, GMOs, etc. This is explained when the researchers are interviewed in several segments of the film.
      • Point out the engineering design process in each machine or technological advancement.
      • Help students see that productive agriculture requires the application of science. Science and engineering are used to find the best farming practices, improve genetics through selective breeding, manage plant and animal life cycles, etc.
  5. After the film, summarize with students the impact and value of science and engineering to our food production and supply.

Strategy 3: Educating Farm-to-Fork Through Social Media

  1. As a class, determine five to ten of the most common sources your students use for news and information on a daily or weekly basis. Most likely multiple social media sources will be listed. Continue a discussion about social media and its pros and cons.
  2. Show Before the Plate. As students watch the documentary, have them begin recording ideas for effective ways to communicate the farm-to-plate process of foods.
  3. After the film, divide class into small groups of 2-3. Assign each group a specific food to research. You may choose to allow students to select their own food or use food cards to assign them a food.
  4. Instruct students to create a social media marketing campaign to tell the story of their food. They should determine the social media platform and prepare an outline for a campaign of 5-7 educational posts. If opportunity exists, have students actually post their content and create a class hashtag to track and view the posts.

Strategy 4: Q & A

  1. Print and distribute the attached Viewing Guide to each student in the class. 
  2. Instruct students to answer the questions as they watch the film.
  3. Show Before the Plate.
  4. After viewing the documentary, have a summary discussion as a class allowing students to ask questions and share their reflections about the most impactful thing they learned from the film (question #30 on the guide). See the Teacher Key.
  • Have students visit the Before the Plate website where they can click on the food ingredients to learn more about their journeys to the plate.

  • Discuss digital literacy and critical thinking strategies with students in relation to the content of the film. Ask students how they can evaluate the validity of this film for an accurate message. Introduce students to the CRAP Test (Currency, Reliability, Authority, Purpose), a memorable mnemonic device to evaluate the validity of a resource.


After completing these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:

  • Points of view differ on topics related to agriculture and the production of our food. 
  • Modern farming practices use a lot of technology and highly sophisticated machinery.
  • New innovations and emerging science is currently being developed to continually improve the efficiency of food production.
  • Following the laws of supply and demand, consumer decisions regarding their food impact farming practices. 
Andrea Gardner
National Center for Agricultural Literacy
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