Crops 1: Where Does Food Come From?

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Crops 1: Where Does Food Come From?


To help students understand that most of the food we eat comes from farms.


This is the first lesson of a two-part series on where food comes from. These lessons are intended to help students understand that most of the food they eat comes from farms.

In Crops 1: Where Does Food Come From?, students learn that most of the food they buy in stores originally comes from farms. Students are gathered together to sing a song about growing crops on a farm and learn from the lyrics the kinds of things that farmers do and need to grow plants well. They learn about the five steps in our food system and discuss its aspects in the context of a story about tomato farming and distribution.

In Crops 2: What Plants Need to Grow, students focus on the second part of the central benchmark by learning how to grow plants and about the kinds of things that promote growth (warmth, sunlight, water, soil). Their activities involve learning about how seeds and plants grow and participating in a simple, in-class gardening project.

While teaching, keep in mind that a lot of people never see food or fiber before those products get to retail stores and that primary-school children may have only vague ideas about where their foods and fabrics come from. This series of lessons will seek to address this lack of awareness by introducing children to some of the basics of agriculture, such as: where most foods come from, how plants are grown, and what process farm products undergo before they arrive at stores. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, pp. 183–184.)

Students will also benefit from knowing that many people are involved in the farming industry. These include workers who farm the land and produce farm equipment and those involved in the processing, storage, transportation, and distribution of food. It might also be helpful to point out that many forms of transportation, refrigeration, processing, and packaging enable food to be transported, stored, and consumed thousands of miles from where it is originally produced. (Science for All Americans, pp. 183–184.)

The basic experiences of students at this early level include seeing plants grow from seeds they have planted, eating the edible portions of the mature plants, and noticing what plants and other things animals eat. Comparisons can be made to see what happens if some plants don't get water or sunlight. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 184.) Since students at this early level are unfamiliar with how to conduct scientific investigations, the in-class gardening project should be conducted by the teacher with class observation.

Ideas in this lesson are also related to concepts found in these Common Core State Standards:

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.2.1 Ask and answer such questions as who, what, where, when, why, andhow to demonstrate understanding of key details in a text.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.2.2 Identify the main topic of a multiparagraph text as well as the focus of specific paragraphs within the text.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.2.6 Identify the main purpose of a text, including what the author wants to answer, explain, or describe.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.2.7 Explain how specific images (e.g., a diagram showing how a machine works) contribute to and clarify a text.
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Planning Ahead

This lesson uses a song called Oats, Peas, Beans, and Barley Grow. There are a number of videos on YouTube that feature this song. You may want to look at them to familiarlize yourself with the music. If you like, you can also show them to the class to prepare for the lesson.


Start the lesson by handing out copies of the lyrics to the Oats, Peas, Beans, and Barley Grow song, which is from the Agriculture in the Classroom website. Explain the song to the class and read over the lyrics first, making sure students understand the meanings of these words:

  • sows his seed — plants his seed
  • takes his ease — takes his time
  • stands erect — stands up straight
  • hoes the weeds — removes the weeds
  • harvests his seed — cuts and collects his crops

Students will also need to understand what "Repeat First Verse" means and what to do after each chorus, as indicated.

After the read through, have the class stand in a circle and sing the song. Once they have a feel for what the song is and what it means, have the class "do the motions while singing," as directed. For instance, through discussion and modeling, students can learn to stand erect, stamp their feet, clap their hands, and turn around to view the land as they sing.

When finished singing and doing motions, ask discussion questions based on this song to determine what students know about farming. These may include:

  • Where are foods like oats, peas, beans, and barley grown?
  • What do farmers do first with their seeds?
  • What do seeds need to grow?
  • What kinds of things do farmers need to do to grow their crops?

During the discussion, have students take a closer look at the four main actions that the farmer does in the song to grow his crops:

  1. First the farmer sows his seed.
  2. Next the farmer waters the seed.
  3. Next the farmer hoes the weeds.
  4. Last the farmer harvests his seed.

Ask students if they know about the kinds of actions farmers (or even gardeners) take when planting, watering, hoeing, or harvesting their crops. Accept all answers and encourage students to elaborate on their ideas. Focusing on these fundamental steps in the farming process will better prepare students for learning about the main steps in our food system.

Finally, conduct a brainstorming session in which students come up with foods other than those mentioned in the song that are grown on farms.


Distribute copies of the Steps in the Food System, found on page 92 of the Feeding Minds, Fighting Hunger resource. Have students focus on the illustration. Ask orientation questions like these:

  • What do you see in the picture?
  • What is going on? Who are these people?
  • What are the different men doing?
  • What kinds of things do you think are being grown?
  • What is the man doing on the field at the bottom of the picture?

    (Encourage students to elaborate on their responses.)

When finished, take time to read over and elaborate on the five steps involved in our food system—which begins with the food producer's efforts to grow crops or take care of animals, and ends with the final preparation of the store-bought fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, or meat products we prepare and consume at home.

During the discussion about the list, have students brainstorm and come up with some examples of the kinds of people, activities, weather conditions, and machines that might be involved in and affect each phase of the farm-to-table process. This will help to elicit student ideas/misconceptions about how food is grown and how it gets to their homes. Questions may include:

  • Is weather important to farmers? Why or why not?
  • Besides farmers, what other kinds of workers help to bring food to our homes?
  • Where does food usually go after it leaves a farm?
  • How does food usually get to factories or supermarkets?

Next, read The Story of Miguel's Tomatoes, found on page 93 of the Feeding Minds, Fighting Hunger, with the class. The purpose of this story is to illustrate the five food-system steps that Miguel's tomatoes undergo from the farm to people's homes. Also pass out copies of the From the Farm to Your Home student sheet and read over the directions to help students understand that they will be required to draw scenes from Miguel's story that are part of the five steps of the food system.

Begin by carefully reading over the first section of the story, The Tomatoes Grow in the Fields, because it describes how tomatoes are grown. (Note: Students will explore plant growth in the second lesson of this series.) This section is also important because it covers the first two steps of the food system that they will be required to illustrate on their student sheets. After reading the first section, ask discussion questions like the ones below to gauge student comprehension.

Section 1: The Tomatoes Grow in the Fields

  • What did Miguel have to do to prepare his fields before planting? (Step 1)
  • What kinds of things do plants need to grow well? (Step 1)
  • How did Miguel know when to pick the tomatoes? (Step 2)
  • How did Miguel and his wife pick, store, and transport the tomatoes? (Step 3)

After the discussion, provide guidance as students draw scenes from the story on their student sheets that depict Steps 1–3.


After covering the first section and completing their illustrations for Steps 1–3, read over the last four sections of Miguel's story with students, taking breaks in between to address discussion questions like the ones below. Students should complete the illustrations for Steps 4–7 on their own.

Section 2: The Tomatoes Go to the Village Market

  • What did Miguel do with the tomatoes at the village market? (Step 4)
  • What did Pedro do with the tomatoes? How did he transport them? (Step 4)

Section 3: The Tomatoes Go to the Big City

  • Where in the city did Pedro transport the boxes of tomatoes? (Step 5)
  • Why were the tomatoes stored in a cool, dark room at the supermarket? (Step 5)

Section 4: The Tomatoes Go to the Food Processing Factory

  • What happened to the tomatoes at the food processing factory? (Step 6)
  • What was the job of the sorters at the factory? (Step 6)

Section 5: The Tomatoes Go Home

  • What happened to the tomatoes after they were canned? (Step 7)
  • Would Miguel and Ana ever buy canned tomatoes at a store? (Step 7)
  • What kinds of meals does your family make with canned tomatoes? (Step 7)

When finished, have students present their illustrations to the class and explain how their pictures depict the steps Miguel's tomatoes took from the farm to people's tables.

Peanuts into Peanut Butter — Optional Activity
As a way for students to step back a bit from what they have learned and better conceptualize the food-to-table process, encourage them to think about some common foods in their homes and discuss what kind of processing they went through to get there.

Students should make the connection, when possible, back to the crops. For example, have them consider the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Have them consider and discuss the possible process that peanuts undergo to become peanut butter (or that berries take to become jelly). This kind of fun and practical pondering will help to reinforce what they have already learned, and allow them to make the crop connection with everyday foods that are real to them. Other simplified examples may include:

  • Oatmeal — oats
  • Tater Tots — potatoes
  • Ice Cream — milk, sugar cane
  • Hot Chocolate — cocoa beans
  • Coffee — coffee beans


Follow this lesson with the second lesson in the Crops series: Crops 2: What Plants Need to Grow.

This lesson series may also be supplemented by the Science NetLinks lesson, What Parts Are There to a Plant?, which lets students observe and document similarities and differences among parts of plants.

For further reinforcement on the food-to-table process, students can visit the 4-H Virtual Farm, which includes an exhibit, Wheat: From the Farm to You. This exhibit takes students to a wheat farm to observe how crops grow, how they're processed, and the extensive, high-tech journey they take before becoming the products we buy in supermarkets. Encourage the class to explore the other virtual farms on the site, including horses, fish, dairy, beef, and poultry.

Students can further their understanding of our food system and how plants grow by visiting Kids Farm, a colorful, online resource that introduces children to many different types of farm animals, wild animals, farm equipment, and how certain fruits and vegetables grow. The site features music, activities, and much more.

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Lesson Details

Grades Themes Project 2061 Benchmarks National Science Standards

Other Lessons in This Series