National Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix

Search

Food Miles

Grade Level(s)

3 - 5

Estimated Time

1 hour

Purpose

Students will explore the economic and environmental benefits of buying locally grown food.

Materials

Interest Approach – Engagement:

  • Computers or tablets
  • Where Does Your Food Dollar Go? graphic
  • Projector

Activity 1: Food Mile Cafe

  • Food Miles Cafe Menu
  • Food Miles activity sheet
  • Computers or tablets

Activity 2: Eating Local Pros and Cons

  • Pros and Cons graphic organizer

Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)

Vocabulary

carbon footprint: a measure of the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by a single endeavor or by a company, household, or individual through day-to-day activities over a given period

economy: a way to make a living; how people produce, sell, and buy whole goods and services

food miles: the distance food has traveled from where it is grown to where it is eaten

fossil fuel: a natural fuel such as coal or gas, formed in the geological past from the remains of living organisms

local food: the direct or intermediated marketing of food to consumers that is produced and distributed in a limited geographic area

locavore: a person whose diet consists only or principally of locally grown or produced food

Did you know? (Ag Facts)

  • If all the agricultural land in New York State were devoted to feeding New York City's population, there would be only enough food to feed half the city—with nothing left for the rest of the state.2
  • Different areas of the world have their own local cuisine. The diets and food preferences of various cultures depend on social, religious, economic, and safety factors as well as the availability of different foods.
  • An estimated 15% of the US food food supply is imported.5

Background Agricultural Connections

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines local food as the direct or intermediated marketing of food to consumers that is produced and distributed in a limited geographic area.1 Local food is commonly considered to be food grown within 100 miles of its point of sale or consumption. A locavore is a person whose diet consists only or principally of locally grown or produced food. Buying food from local farmers and in-state businesses is believed to be good for communities, the economy, and the environment. Purchasing locally grown food lowers the consumer's carbon footprint, ensures freshness, and benefits the local economy. 

Most food in the United States is shipped an average of 1500 miles before being sold.2 These distances substantially increase when considering food imported from other countries. Reducing food miles lessens the environmental impact of food by cutting back on air pollution and fossil fuel consumption. 

Typically, produce in the US is picked 4-7 days before being placed on supermarket shelves. Locally sold produce can be harvested at its peak ripeness and reaches the consumer faster and at a fresher stage. In addition, because local produce is fresh, there is less waste. When produce is shipped long distances, the amount of food lost to spoilage increases.

When consumers buy local, more of their money stays in their community. The choice to buy local food affects not only the farmer that grows the food, but also the trucking company that ships the products, the store that sells the product, and the state and city governments that operate on taxes from the businesses you support. Every dollar spent to purchase locally produced products adds four times more to the local economy than a dollar spent at a national chain retailer.3

Local food can be found at farmers' markets, restaurants, community supported agricultural programs (CSAs), food co-ops, food hubs, food stores, and online. Due to consumer demand, more and more grocery stores and restaurants are highlighting locally grown food. Below is a list of state programs that promote local foods:

Interest Approach – Engagement

  1. In preparation, set up a poll at polleverywhere.com.
  2. Conduct the poll by asking students, "How much of every dollar you spend on food goes to the farmer?"
  3. Display and discuss the results of the poll.
  4. Project the Where Does Your Food Dollar Go? graphic5 on a large screen. Ask the students the following questions:
    • Are you surprised by where your food dollar goes? Why or why not?
    • Are you surprised that the farmer receives so little of the dollar?
    • Do you think buying locally grown food would help the farmer by reducing some of the other costs associated with food production?

Procedures

Activity 1: Food Miles Cafe

  1. Provide each student with a Food Miles Cafe Menu, and ask them to choose their favorite meal from the menu choices. Point out that the menu indicates where each meal's ingredients come from.
  2. Ask the students to predict how many miles their meal traveled. 
  3. Distribute the Food Miles activity sheet. Allow the students to use a website such as Google Maps or MapQuest to find the distance from their hometown to the farm where each of the main ingredients were grown or raised. Have them record the miles on the activity sheet. Then, have the students calculate the total miles the ingredients for their meal traveled.
  4. Ask the students to compare the total miles with their predictions. 

Important
The locations listed on the Food Miles Cafe Menu represent actual farms in a high-production state for each commodity. In some cases, the food could be produced closer to your location.

Activity 2: Eating Local Pros and Cons

  1. Distribute a Pros and Cons graphic organizer to each student. Throughout this activity, as the students are discussing the topic, they should make notes concerning the advantages and disadvantages of eating local on their graphic organizer.
  2. Organize the students into small groups. Ask the groups to discuss the question, "Why does food travel long distances?"
  3. Have the groups share the ideas they discussed with the class. Guide the students to consider the following points:
    • Population Density: Some areas do not have enough local farmland to support their local populations. 
    • Out-of-season Preferences: In some areas, food production stops during the winter. Local food options are limited unless food is preserved. Transporting foods from other locations provide people with a year-round variety of food options and nutritional diversity.
    • Climate and Soil Conditions: Some climates are better suited than others for growing certain crops. It costs less for farmers to focus on products their climates are best suited to grow. Extra food can be exported to other areas.
  4. Introduce the students to the term "locavore." Explain that a locavore is a person whose diet consists only or principally of locally grown or produced food. Ask the students to consider their meal choices from the Food Miles Cafe Menu. Ask, "Could any of the ingredients be grown or raised locally?"
  5. Have the students return to their small groups, and ask them to discuss some of the reasons someone might be motivated to be a locavore.
  6. Have the groups share the ideas they discussed with the class. Guide the students to consider the following points:
    • Economic: When you buy local products, more money stays in your community.
    • Environmental: The less miles a product travels, the less fossil fuels are needed to transport it. Reducing food miles cuts down on fuel consumption, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions.
    • Fresher Food: The farther food is transported, the amount of food lost to spoilage increases. Local food is typically fresher than food that has travelled long distances.
  7. Ask the students, "How feasible would it be to eat only locally produced foods? If you decided to be a locavore, what foods would you have to give up?"

Concept Elaboration and Evaluation:

After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key points:

  • Food travels long distances due to population density, out-of-season preferences, and climate and soil conditions.
  • Buying locally grown food is believed to be good for communities, the economy, and the environment.
  • A locavore is a person whose diet consists only or principally of locally grown or produced food.

Important
We welcome your feedback! Please take a minute to tell us how to make this lesson better or to give us a few gold stars!

 

Enriching Activities

  • Play the My American Farm interactive game Harvest This or Farmer's Market Challenge.

  • Read the book On the Farm, At the Market by G. Brian Karas. Generate a discussion about farmers' markets in your local community. Compare farmers' markets to trading posts and the bartering system. Indicate items that would be seasonal and items that would not be.

Suggested Companion Resources

Agricultural Literacy Outcomes

Culture, Society, Economy & Geography

  • Explain the value of agriculture and how it is important in daily life. (T5.3-5.d)
  • Provide examples of agricultural products available, but not produced in their local area and state (T5.3-5.e)

Education Content Standards

Within ECONOMICS

Economics Standard 2: Decision Making

  • Objective
    Objective
    Make effective decisions as consumers, producers, savers, investors, and citizens.

Within GEOGRAPHY

5-8 Geography Standard 11: The patterns and networks of economic interdependence on Earth's surface.

  • Objective 3
    Objective 3
    The world is increasingly interdependent as a result of flows of people, capital, information, raw materials, and goods.
  • Objective 4
    Objective 4
    Economic systems are dependent on integrated transportation and communication networks.

K-4 Geography Standard 11: The patterns and networks of economic interdependence on Earth's surface.

  • Objective 1
    Objective 1
    People engage in economic activities, such as producing goods and offering services, in order to earn a living.
  • Objective 2
    Objective 2
    Some locations are better suited than others to provide certain goods and services.
  • Objective 3
    Objective 3
    People and countries trade locally produced goods and services for goods and services that are produced in other places.
  • Objective 4
    Objective 4
    Networks of transportation and communications are used to move information, products, and people.

Common Core Connections

Speaking and Listening: Anchor Standards

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1
    CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1
    Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.3
    CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.3
    Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

 

Creative Commons License