California Agriculture in the Classroom

Growing a Nation: From Defeat to Victory

Grade Level(s)

9 - 12

Estimated Time

60 minutes


Students will study the cause and impact of the Dust Bowl, recognize how the Dust Bowl led to the Great Depression, and learn how the government responded to assist farmers in the 1930s.


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

Essential Links


conservation: protection of animals, plants, and natural resources; the careful use of natural resources (such as trees, oil, etc.) to prevent them from being lost or wasted

works progress administration (WPA): WPA was the largest and most ambitious American New Deal agency, employing millions of unemployed people (mostly unskilled men) to carry out public works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads

grazing: grassland suitable for foraging animals

Did you know? (Ag Facts)

Background - Agricultural Connections

Growing a Nation uses instructional design and innovative technology to bring depth and meaning to historical events. The program and lesson plans merge seamlessly with existing American history textbooks and high school history curricula. 

Introduction to Growing a Nation:

Our country has witnessed sweeping changes—from the untamed wild times of Buffalo Bill to the technological era of Bill Gates—but food has never lost its central role in our lives. Food not only sustains life but also enriches us in many ways. It warms us on cold, dreary days, entices us with its many aromas, and provides endless variety to the everyday world. Food is also woven into the fabric of our Nation, our culture, our institutions, and our families. Food is on the scene when we celebrate and when we mourn. We use it for camaraderie, as a gift, and as a reward (and sometimes as a crutch).

We are all aware of how food has changed. At the turn of the 20th century, home cooking and canning were fixtures of life in America. Lard, seasonal vegetables, potatoes, and fresh meats were the staples of our diet. And 40 percent of Americans lived on farms. Today, convenience foods and dining out are common. Ethnic diversity has influenced our tastes and the variety of foods available. Technology and trade allow us to enjoy most foods all year round. And less than 2 percent of the population grows our food, while 9 percent are involved in the food system in some way—in processing, wholesaling, retailing, service, marketing, and inspection.

What Americans often forget, however, is the remarkable system that delivers to us the most abundant, reasonably priced, and safest food in the world. The American food system—from the farmer to the consumer—is a series of interconnected parts. The farmer produces the food, the processors work their magic, and the wholesalers and retailers deliver the products to consumers, whose choices send market signals back through the system. Every piece fits every other piece, notwithstanding an occasional gap and pinch.

At the end of the day, it is safe to say the U.S. food system has done a remarkable job of using technology and inventiveness to its advantage and ultimately to the benefit of the consumer. We get the foods we want, when we want them, in the form we want them, all at affordable prices. Thanks to this system, Americans spend less of their income on food than do consumers anywhere else in the world.

Despite the dramatic evolution of the American food system, there are some constants in our ever-changing world. Americans will always love food. The American food system will continue to adapt, grow, and provide us with the products we desire.

(James R. Blaylock, Associate Director, Food and Rural Economics Division, ERS, Amber Waves, June 2003)

Review the Growing a Nation website and the Embedded Resource Cards attached to this lesson.

Interest Approach – Engagement

  1. Use the following questions to hold a class discussion to assess your student's prior knowledge:
    • What was the cause of the Dust Bowl?
    • How did the Dust Bowl and agriculture contribute to The Great Depression?
    • How did the Dust Bowl impact the environment?
    • What was government's response to help farmers during the 1930s?
    • What ended The Great Depression?
  2. After the discussion, inform your students that they will be learning the answers to these questions throughout this lesson.


Activity 1: Using Embedded Resources

  1. Using a projector or computer lab view the Growing a Nation: From Defeat to Victory multimedia program (From Defeat to Victory section).
  2. After students view selected slides, assign each student or group of students an Embedded Resource Card and ask them to be prepared to answer the Embedded Resource Questions either by direct response or by using one of the Teaching and Learning Strategies. You may want to assign a particular strategy or cut the strategies into strips and ask each student to pick one or two. If the student or group of students is allowed to pick two, ask them to choose the learning strategy they prefer and put the other one back. The embedded resources that pop up on each Growing a Nation screen are designed to be adaptable to a variety of teaching strategies and flexible for diverse learning styles. Each slide contains five or six embedded resources that detail events in American history that can be explored for a greater understanding of the time period or historical cause and effect relationships. Each embedded resource asks higher order questions to not only increase student knowledge but to increase their comprehension to the level of application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation (Bloom’s Taxonomy of educational objectives).
  3. The Teaching and Learning Strategies can be applied to nearly all the embedded resources in addition to students answering the embedded resource questions.

Activity 2: Dust Bowl Impact

The ballads of Woody Guthrie, the novels of John Steinbeck and the WPA photographs of artists such as Dorothea Lange have embedded images of the Dust Bowl in the American consciousness. Introduce this dramatic era in our nation’s history to today’s students through photographs, songs and interviews with people who lived through the Dust Bowl. Help your students understand the problems Americans were facing during the Great Depression. Students learn from their textbooks what caused the Dust Bowl and where the Dust Bowl occurred, but to better understand the impact of this environmental disaster, students need to use a variety of primary source documents from this time period. This lesson uses the resources from the American Experience PBS website Surviving the Dust Bowl. The resources on the site allow students to explore the Dust Bowl through photographs, songs (lyrics), interviews, and other archival documents from the Dust Bowl era. Primary Source Analysis

  1. Assign each student to listen to or read one of the interview transcripts from J.R. Davison, Imogene Glover, or Melt White on the PBS Surviving the Dust Bowl website. Each student should complete either the Sound Recording Analysis Activity Sheet (if they listen to the interview) or the Written Document Analysis Activity Sheet (if they read the transcript).
  2. In addition, the “Eyewitness Account” and primary resource of Lawrence Svobida could be used with the Written Document Analysis Activity Sheet.
  3. As a class listen to or view one or more of the following radio broadcasts or films: (These are engaging, dramatic primary sources. You may want to explain to students that radio was the state-of-the-art media of the time!)

4. Students could complete the Sound Recording or Motion Picture Analysis Activity Sheets or note the three most significant concepts they hear. Discuss the concepts and issues raised in each radio or film program. The audio and movie files can be downloaded or streamed from the Classroom Resources section of the Growing a Nation website.

Concept Elaboration and Evaluation

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

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

Suggested Companion Resources


Growing a Nation was funded by USDA CSREES cooperative agreement #2004-38840-01819 and developed cooperatively by: USDA, Utah State University Extension, and LetterPress Software, Inc.

Special Thanks to:


Debra Spielmaker

Organization Affiliation

National Agriculture in the Classroom