To familiarize students with the special packaging and transport that many foods require to stay fresh during their journey from the farm to people’s dinner tables.
This lesson is the second of a two-part series on how machines help people grow, package, transport, and store food.
Farming 1: Farm Machines focuses on how “machines improve what people get from crops by helping in planting and harvesting. . . .” Students are introduced to the workings and importance of farm machines and how they help today’s farmers plant, grow, and harvest more and healthier crops for more and more people. Students learn about special types of farm machines and the important tasks they perform on a farm during growing season.
In Farming 2: Packaging and Transport, students focus on the second part of the benchmark, which explores the importance of “keeping food fresh by packaging and cooling, and in moving it long distances from where it is grown to where people live.” The class reads a story about the transformation that harvested wheat takes before it becomes the bread we consume. Students learn about the kinds of materials and machines that are involved in transporting, processing, packaging, and distributing wheat and wheat flour in their long journey from the farm to our dining room tables. They learn that machines and other technologies are involved in almost every phase of this journey, making crop and food production faster and easier and within reach of more people worldwide. This basic orientation will help students when they are challenged to construct simple packages or containers to keep eggs safe and cushioned (just like egg cartons do during transport and storage).
Even at this early age, students may benefit from knowing that, only a century ago, most people in the U.S. worked in farming. Now, because technology has so greatly increased the efficiency of agriculture, only about two percent of the population works as farmers. (However, many people are involved in producing farm equipment and in the processing, storage, transportation, and distribution of food and fiber.) Students also will benefit from learning that farm machines have made it possible for one person to cultivate and harvest more land and to cultivate more different kinds of land. In addition, the development of rapid and cheap transportation helps to reduce the spoilage of food, as do refrigeration, processing, and packaging, which enable food to be transported, stored, and consumed thousands of miles from where it is originally produced. (Science for All Americans, pp. 108–110.)
It also is helpful to keep in mind that a majority of people never see food or fiber before those products get to retail stores. Primary-school children may have only vague ideas about where their foods and fabrics come from. These lessons are designed to help teach children about some of the basics of agriculture, such as: what grows where, what is required to grow and harvest it, how it gets to the stores, and how modern-day U.S. agriculture compares with agriculture in other times. This series relies mostly on stories, which are useful in telling small children about life on the farm and what happens to food between the farm and the store. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, pp. 183–84.)
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.
Two books will be required for this lesson series:
- Farm Machinery: Heavy Equipment by David and Patricia Armentrout
- What Was It Before It Was Bread? by Jane Belk Moncure
Note: In case these two books are unavailable, the following books can serve as replacements, respectively: Farm Machinery by Ann Larkin Hansen and From Grain to Bread by Ali Mitgutsch. Discussion questions may need to be adjusted if one or both of these replacements are used.
Begin by briefly reviewing what students learned in the first lesson about different farm machines and how farmers use them on a farm to cultivate, plant, and harvest crops more efficiently. Questions can be directly based on the student sheet students already completed. Ask students:
- What do combines do?
- Which farm machine pulls machines across fields?
When finished, tell students that in this lesson, they will begin to think and learn about how foods that are produced on farms get to our dinner tables. Ask students questions such as these, encouraging them to brainstorm and provide examples:
- Once a crop has been harvested by farmers, what happens to it?
- Where does it go? What happens to it there?
- How do you think other foods like tomatoes, eggs, or milk get from farms to supermarkets?
- How do farmers keep these foods fresh before people buy them?
- Why is it important to keep foods fresh before they get to the supermarket?
- How do you keep foods like these fresh at home before you eat them?
(Accept all reasonable answers.)
This basic orientation should help students begin to understand that foods produced on farms often need to be transported over long distances and kept fresh by packaging and cooling.
From the Farm to Your Table
When finished, read to the class What Was It Before It Was Bread? by Jane Belk Moncure to help illustrate what happens when wheat is harvested, transported, milled, distributed, and, in this case, baked into bread at a bakery before it is bought and consumed by everyday people like you and me.
Take time to show the illustrations and emphasize the transportation-milling-distribution process the wheat undergoes before reaching our supermarkets. Comprehension questions to ask might include:
- Can anyone tell me what machines are being used in this picture (on page 4)?
- What happens to the wheat after it is harvested? Where does it go? How is it transported?
- What do you think these big machines at the mill do?
- Where does the flour usually go after the mill? How does it get there?
- What kinds of machines are used to make bread? What do they do?
Also point out how other foods like meat, dairy products, fruits, and vegetables often undergo a similar long-distance journey from the farm to our tables. Some foods must be specially packaged, transported in special refrigerated trucks, and/or taken over long distances by train, plane, or ship. Overall, machines and technology are involved in almost every step of the process and make it faster and easier for food producers to provide food for greater numbers of people.
A Closer Look at Eggs
Once students have this basic orientation on the farm-to-the-table journey that most foods take, they are now better suited to explore some of the particulars in the process—like food packaging and refrigeration. Ask questions such as these:
- Are all foods transported in the same way? Why or why not?
- What are some foods that need special packaging to stay fresh? (Examples could include eggs, milk, and meat.)
- What else do these foods need to stay fresh? (They need refrigeration, special handling, etc.)
- What would happen if they were not specially packaged and refrigerated? (Answers may vary.)
Next, take out a bowl or basket with a dozen or so eggs stacked in it for everyone to see. Then ask:
- What do farmers do with eggs before they send them to the supermarket?
- What can happen if eggs are not packaged carefully?
- What can happen if they are not refrigerated?
- How are eggs packaged today? (Examples could include egg cartons, outer cardboard boxes, refrigerated trucks, special “fragile” markings on boxes, etc.)
(Accept all reasonable responses. Encourage students to support their answers with examples.)
Next, divide the class into groups of three. Have them imagine that they have been asked by Egg Packagers of America to come up with some new ways to package eggs so they stay safe and fresh during their long journey from the farm to people’s homes. Tell each group that they will need to share and discuss ideas and work together to come up with a strong, yet soft container that can keep an egg from cracking or breaking, for example, on trucks during transport or at home when being taken out of the refrigerator.
Hand out one egg to each group. (You might want to place each egg in a sealed plastic bag to minimize messy breaks or spillage.) Provide packaging materials like the following for groups to use and choose from: paper, paper bags, plastic bags, cardboard, plastic, styrofoam, wood (tooth picks or popsicle sticks), grass, cloth, glue, tape, scissors, stapler, or other appropriate or available materials.
Allow at least 15 minutes for groups to discuss and create their special “egg containers.” Supervise their use of the materials as they work.
Upon completion, have each group present their egg containers before the class, discuss their design ideas and packaging challenges, compare those with other groups, and then test the durability of their holders by moving them around roughly or dropping them from a few inches above the ground (simulating a rough highway or accidental dropping of the eggs at a supermarket).
Then ask questions like the following to tie the egg container activity with what they have learned in the book they read earlier as well as the machine-based ideas they learned in the first lesson:
- What did you learn from doing this activity?
- How can machines help us to make egg containers (and other food packaging)?
Wrap up the lesson by showing students some different kinds of egg cartons and explaining how cartons are designed to keep eggs together, but individually protected so they do not crack against each other in transport or storage. Explain that these cartons are usually packed into big cardboard boxes or crates to further protect them during transport. In addition, the trucks that carry eggs are often refrigerated to ensure their freshness both in transit and at the supermarket (and home until consumed). Many other dairy and meat products also need special packaging, refrigeration, and handling to maintain their freshness (and keep people from becoming sick from spoilage).
You may also wish to inform students that there are whole companies that are dedicated to creating food packing materials like egg cartons, milk cartons, and plastics for packing meats and other foods that can spoil easily. Companies continue to seek out better and less expensive ways to package and transport the foods we eat every day. Many of these materials are recycled in order to protect the environment.
Students can broaden and reinforce their understanding of different farm machines at the Kids Farm: Equipment page, which provides facts and photographs of the different kinds of machines involved in cutting grass and baling and loading hay. Some machines are pulled by tractor, while others are pulled by horse. Special types of tractors and hauling trucks also are highlighted. Review the “Table of Contents” to explore other areas of farm life.
Inventors Toolbox, at the Boston Museum of Science, teaches students about different “elements of machines.”