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National Agriculture in the Classroom

Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix

Lesson Plan

Journey 2050 Lesson 1: Introduction to Sustainable Agriculture (Grades 9-12)

Grade Level

9 - 12

Purpose

Students will explore the question, “How will we sustainably feed nearly 10 billion people by the year 2050?” as they discover what sustainable agriculture is and how it is critical to securing a stable food supply and future for a growing population. Grades 9-12

Estimated Time

90 minutes

Materials Needed
Vocabulary

sustainable: meeting the economic, social, and environmental needs of the present without compromising the needs of the future

sustainable agriculture: an approach to agriculture that focuses on producing food while improving the economic viability of farms, protecting natural resources, and enhancing quality of life for farmers and society as a whole

Did You Know?
  • Sustainable agriculture is critical in the global effort to eradicate hunger and poverty.
  • Reducing food waste positively impacts sustainability.
  • There are an estimated 1.4 billion7 people living in extreme poverty and about 870 million people that are hungry, malnourished and food insecure (have difficulty acquiring food).
  • Unfortunately, about one-third8 of our current global food supply is wasted. In developed countries food is thrown out and over consumed, and in developing countries food is lost to unreliable storage and transportation. 
Background Agricultural Connections

Journey 2050 takes students on a virtual simulation that explores world food sustainability and answers the question, "How will we sustainably feed nearly 10 billion people by the year 2050?" The lesson plans and online simulation program allows students to make decisions on a virtual farm and witness their impact on society, the environment and the economy at a local and global scale. The lessons engage students with the important concepts regarding sustainable agriculture. The online simulation contextualizes these concepts as students experience the lives of real farm families in multiple countries throughout the world. As students interact with each family, they learn the role of best management practices in feeding the world, reducing environmental impacts, and improving social performance through greater access to education, medical care and community infrastructure. These lessons can be taught individually or as an entire unit. See the links below for the remaining lessons:

  • Lesson 1: Introduction to Sustainable Agriculture
  • Lesson 2: Plant Health
  • Lesson 3: Water
  • Lesson 4: Economy
  • Lesson 5: Land Use
  • Lesson 6: Careers for 2050 and Beyond!
  • Lesson 7: Technology and Innovations
  • Take Action: Project-based Learning and Program Summary

It is estimated that by 2050, Earth will be crowded with 2 billion more people. They’re all going to need water, homes, jobs and medicines. But most importantly, how are they all going to be fed? 

This growing population will eat the equivalent of all the food grown in the last 500 years put together.1 That’s over 60 percent more than we grow today2 or 1 billion tons more cereal3 and 50 percent4 more freshwater every year. 

This additional food has to be grown on less land and in a way that protects the environment and animals, while also ensuring there’s enough food for generations to come. This is called sustainability, and it can only be achieved by improving its three interconnected elements: economy, society and the environment. 

The economic component of sustainability is about earning money—creating jobs and incomes to support the national and local community. The social element encompasses things like food, education, medical care and infrastructure, including the roads used to transport food from the farm to your plate. And finally, there are environmental needs to consider. Soil quality needs to be maintained, habitats need protection, water must be conserved, and we need to protect our atmosphere by keeping greenhouse gas emissions to a minimum. 

Imagine a barrel with parts made equally from the three elements of sustainability. You can only fill this barrel to the level of its lowest piece. If the environment is the lowest piece of the barrel, it limits sustainability. This element must be improved to make the world’s sustainability better. 

World leaders in the United Nations have committed to 17 Global Goals5 in order to achieve extraordinary things such as: end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and fix climate change. Sustainable agriculture is key to meeting these goals and creating a stronger 2050 for our people and our planet. 

The planting of a single seed creates a ripple effect that helps the farmer’s family, their community, their country and ultimately, the world. The more farmers grow and sell, the more they have to spend on seeds, machinery and fertilizer to produce even more food and fiber. Income that’s spent locally is invested in the community, providing education, medical care and infrastructure and protecting the environment. If farmers around the world start a ripple, it could improve global economies and help billions rise from poverty. Different farmers raise different crops and animals according to their local soil, climate, technology and markets. But they all have one thing in common. They love agriculture. 

On our journey to the year 2050, we’re going to be spending time with farm families around the world who are growing food sustainably. First, you’ll meet the Madges. They’re a three-generation farming family from Central Alberta, Canada. Then we’ll fly across the Atlantic to meet the Oloos. They own a small farm in Kenya, East Africa. Finally, we’ll visit the Singhs, who live in India where multiple generations farm together. These families and agricultural experts will be giving you advice on what we call best management practices, which will allow us to grow more with less, protect the environment, build stronger communities and feed the growing population of our planet. 

It’s a long journey ahead, but even the longest journey starts with a single step forward. Take it now and join us on our Journey to 2050.

Engage

This lesson has been adapted for online instruction and can be found on the Journey 2050 eLearning site.

  1. Project the Introduction to Sustainable Agriculture slide deck. Begin with slide 2 and ask your students, “How much is 1 million?” Allow students to offer their answers as they begin visualizing the quantity and value of 1 million. Then ask, “If I spent $1000 every day, how long would it take me to spend 1 million dollars?” (2.7 years, or 1,000 days) 
  2. Once students seem to grasp the value of 1 million, move to slide 3 and ask, “If I spend $1,000 every day, how many days would it take to spend 1 billion dollars?” (1,000,000 days or 2,740 years) 
  3. Now that your students are beginning to visualize the sheer quantity of 1 billion ask, “What is the current world population right now?” (over 7 billion). Follow up by asking, “Do you know what the world population is projected to be in the year 2050?” (nearly 10 billion). 
Explore and Explain

Preparation: Prior to class, review the Background Information, video clip, and slide deck associated with the lesson. Review the Teacher's Guide: Getting Started document for further information to prepare for the first day of class.

Activity 1: Introduction to Sustainable Agriculture 

  1. Journey 2050
    • Slide 4: Play the Journey 2050 Introduction video, (3:51 min). Prepare students for the video by asking them to discover three things: 1) Why is 2050 a significant year? 2) What is the sustainability barrel? and 3) What is the ripple effect? (Background and discussion prompts are outlined in the steps below and in the slide deck notes.) 
  2. Why 2050?
    • Slides 5–6: Ask students, “If it is [insert current year] right now, how many years until we reach the year 2050?” Then ask, “How old will you be in the year 2050?” Explain that scientists and world leaders have identified 2050 as a key moment in time when the world’s population will be nearly 10 billion—that is more than 2 billion more than today. Point out to students that they will be adults! They will have an influence on the decisions that impact everything from what is taught in schools to what they buy at the grocery store.
    • Slide 7: Ask students to identify some of the items we will need more of in order to provide for 2 billion additional people on Earth. Brainstorm and list several items on the board. Use questioning to help students identify items such as water, homes, jobs, medicines, food, etc. Remind students of all the products they get from agriculture (food, fiber, fuel, timber, medicines and by-products that are used in manufacturing or end up in items such as lipstick, paint and batteries). Explain that farmers and many other agricultural professionals are responsible for producing each of these daily necessities.
    • Slide 8: Explain that in order to feed 2 billion additional people, it is predicted that farmers will need to produce 60 to 70 percent more food than we currently produce today on the same amount of land or even less.9 Ask, “Will this goal of sustainable agriculture be easy to accomplish? Will the pressure on farmers increase, decrease or stay the same?” As students are thinking and offering answers, draw their attention back to the Interest Approach at the beginning of the lesson, picturing an additional 2 billion people that agriculture must feed. Students should conclude that farmers will have increased pressure to produce more food and fiber for a growing population.
      • Before moving on, formatively assess students to ensure they understand the term sustainability.

Three Dimensional Proficiency: Crosscutting Concepts

Students engage practices of science and engineering as they formulate questions that can be answered through investigation and formulate a problem that can be solved through design.

Asking questions and Defining Problems: Analyze complex real-world problems by specifying criteria and constraints for successful solutions.

  1. What is the sustainability barrel?
    • Slides 9–10: Tomorrow’s farmer will have to feed even more people. It is estimated that by 2050, our growing population will require the equivalent of all the food grown in the last 500 years.10 That’s a lot of food! Ask, “Do farmers have limitations to how much they can produce?” As students think about the answer to this question, give an example of a corn farmer with 100 acres. Can this farmer take their same land, soil, corn seeds, water and tractors and double their crop from one year to the next simply because there is a demand for more corn? No, there are limitations if a farmer wants to produce agricultural goods in a sustainable manner.
    • Slide 11: Ask students to picture a wooden barrel made up of several wooden slats. Explain that we are going to call it a sustainability barrel. Each wooden slat of the barrel represents a factor influencing sustainable agricultural production. Each factor can be placed into one of three challenges to sustainable agriculture—producing sustainably while maintaining economic, social and environmental systems. For example, in order to be able to grow enough food to feed the world sustainably, we have to make sure that farmers are able to earn a profit, that communities have access to education and healthcare, and that the soil stays healthy and we don’t destroy habitats.
    • Slide 12: Ask students, “What are some examples of limiting factors?” (water, available land, soil health, climate, economy, education, etc.) Ask students to explain how each factor influences our ability to produce our food. Remind students that we must continually improve the weakest part of our sustainability, whether it is education or soil health. They all impact our ability to feed the world. A community or program is only as successful as its least developed sustainability factor.
  2. What is the Ripple Effect? 
    • Slide 14: Ask, “Can a single drop of water impact an entire body of water?” (Yes, it creates a ripple.) 
    • Slides 15–16: Use these slides to illustrate how sustainable practices in agriculture can create a positive ripple effect. 


Activity 2: Sustainability Farming Game Level 1 Demo 

  1. Slides 17–18: Inform students that they are about to embark on a “Journey to 2050.” Inform students that they will be using a game to farm virtually in different parts of the world. Along the way they will learn more about where our food, fiber (clothing and shelter) and fuel comes from and how farmers can sustainably produce these items for a growing population.
  2. Introduce the Sustainability Farming Game. Inform students that they will experience the lives of actual farm families across the world. As they interact with each family, they should pay attention to the farming practices they choose, the technology they use and the community investments they make. Remember, agriculture is the foundation for life, and its success creates ripples locally and globally that will determine whether we meet the challenge of feeding the world.
  3. Write on the board a reminder of what the sustainability barrel includes:
    • Social: food, education, infrastructure, healthcare
    • Economy: profits, income, jobs, community
    • Environment: habitats, soil health, water, greenhouse gases
  4. Open the Sustainability Farming Game Level 1 Demo on each student’s computer or device.
  5. Explain that the sustainability barrel will determine their score, and help students understand the significance of balancing the social, economic and environmental pillars of the sustainability barrel throughout the game (e.g., investments in soil health produce better crops, earning more money; investments in roads allow products and people to travel easier, improving access to markets and labor).
  6. Explain to the students that it is very important that they listen to you as they will have to stop and wait every time they finish a level. Every student must start and end the game (roughly) at the same time to ensure your class time flows smoothly.
    • Note to teacher: The first level is a demonstration of the game designed to teach students how to play. Students will be in Kenya and will play one round, which will take about five minutes. The game stops after they have completed each teaching moment (such as how to plant, water and harvest).
  7. Once time is up, the game will pause on the Results page. When all students have reached the Results page, instruct them to press “continue,” and help them understand what the Ripple Effects screen shows. They will then move on to the Surplus Contribution Opportunities page. Encourage them to invest in their limiting factors (there will be a red arrow under the limiting factor). If the investment matches that factor, there will be a red arrow on the left, beside the investment name. Once their score stops going up they can press “continue” and finish with the demo level.
  8. Slides 19–20: Once students have completed the game, use the following questions to help students synthesize what they have learned:
    • After growing your first crop, did you invest some of your money to purchase additional land? Why or why not?
    • What was the limiting factor in your sustainability barrel? What did this mean? (Answers will vary) 
    • What were some of the ripple effects of your farming choices? 
Be sure students understand that agricultural sustainability is more than a local effort. Benefits and challenges may vary from country to country due to factors such as their economy, climate, and population growth, but overall sustainability is a global effort.
Elaborate
  • Show the animated video, 7 Billion: How Did We Get So Big So Fast? to illustrate to students why and how our population grew to reach over 7 billion today. 

  • Utilize these 60-second supplementary videos for each of the topics below:

  • As an example to illustrate growth and improvement in agriculture, explain that a North American farmer in the 1900s produced enough food for 10 people. Today’s farmer feeds over 120 people. Ask students, “Why can farmers produce more food today than they could in the early 1900s?” (increased knowledge and skills about plants and animals, technology, machinery, improved breeding and genetics, etc.)

  • World leaders are working on solutions to global sustainability. The United Nations has released 17 goals that we all need to work towards. There is a free App called Global Hero that highlights each goal in 30-second mini-games. (There are no in-app purchases to play the games.)

  • The Journey 2050 lessons provide an introduction to agricultural sustainability. Take a deeper dive into additional sustainability topics using the links found on the Sustainability page.

Evaluate

Review and summarize the following key concepts (Slide 26):

  • Our population is growing. By 2050 it is expected that our world will grow from over 7 billion people to nearly 10 billion people.
  • Sustainable agriculture is the practice of producing our food, fiber and fuel in a way that is profitable to the farmer, supports a healthy quality of life and protects our natural resources (land, air and water).
  • Many factors can limit our ability to produce food for a growing population. These limiting factors are depicted in the sustainability barrel.
  • Using sustainable agricultural practices can improve our society through the ripple effect.

Sources
  1. http://www.economist.com/node/18200702
  2. Sustainable Development Network Solutions (2013). Solutions for Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems http://unsdsn.org/mwg-internal/de5fs23hu73ds/progress?id=EHV3NQH3C4-PP-EivDwXY4i2HzIjIWty8lBnkNioco0,
  3. http://www.fao.org/mwg-internal/de5fs23hu73ds/progress?id=HXecPI0p3XpJtFbAsjLRZd3G4ZjPgUW5N3PqtZYwwio
  4. http://waterfortheworld.net/index.php?id=12
  5. http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/
  6. Sustainable Development Network Solutions (2013). Solutions for Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems http://unsdsn.org/mwg-internal/de5fs23hu73ds/progress?id=EHV3NQH3C4-PP-EivDwXY4i2HzIjIWty8lBnkNioco0,
  7. http://www.un.org/en/globalissues/briefingpapers/population/vitalstats.shtml
  8. http://www.worldfooddayusa.org/food_waste_the_facts, and http://www.un.org/waterforlifedecade/food_security.shtml
  9. Sustainable Development Network Solutions (2013). Solutions for Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems http://unsdsn.org/mwg-internal/de5fs23hu73ds/progress?id=EHV3NQH3C4-PP-EivDwXY4i2HzIjIWty8lBnkNioco0,
  10. http://www.economist.com/node/18200702
  11. http://www.worldfooddayusa.org/food_waste_the_facts
  12. http://www.un.org/en/globalissues/briefingpapers/population/vitalstats.shtml
  13. Sustainable Development Network Solutions (2013). Solutions for Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems http://unsdsn.org/mwg-internal/de5fs23hu73ds/progress?id=EHV3NQH3C4-PP-EivDwXY4i2HzIjIWty8lBnkNioco0 
Acknowledgements

The Journey 2050 program was originally developed by Nutrien in collaboration with Calgary Stampede, Alberta Canola Producers Commission, Nutrients for Life Foundation, and Agriculture in the Classroom Canada. Authors and contributors were drawn from each of these organizations under the direction of Lindsey Verhaeghe (Nutrien) and Robyn Kurbel (Calgary Stampede.) The lessons were updated and revised in 2017 and 2022 with contributions from the original J2050 Steering Committee, the National Center for Agricultural Literacy, and the National Agriculture in the Classroom Organization. 

Author

Lindsey Verhaeghe, Andrea Gardner, Debra Spielmaker, and Sara Hunt

Organization

Nutrien & National Center for Agricultural Literacy

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