California Agriculture in the Classroom

A Day Without Dairy

Grade Level(s)

3 - 5

Estimated Time

70 minutes


In this lesson, students will create, read, and interpret graphs relating to the economic importance of the dairy industry and be challenged to understand the economic consequences of a day without dairy.


For class:

For each group:

For each student:

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

Essential Links


agricultural economist: a career to collect data and analyze graphs to determine the best marketing options for farmers

Background - Agricultural Connections

This lesson is part of a series called, Milk Matters: Discovering Dairy. These lessons introduce students to the history, production, nutritional value and economic significance of the dairy industry. Other related lessons include:

The dairy industry is the largest sector of the California farm economy. Milk and cream are the essential ingredients for all dairy products, a general term used to describe food and beverages made from milk. This includes everything from sweet ice cream to a glassful of nutrient-packed milk. Dairy products are a diverse group of food items. Just think of the hundreds of varieties of cheese alone! California has been the nation’s leading dairy state since 1993 when it surpassed Wisconsin in milk production.

In recent years, California dairies have significantly increased milk production due to an increase in the amount of milk each cow produces and a higher number of cows in our state. Although production has increased, fluid milk demand continues to decrease, forcing many dairy processing plants to convert the increasing supply into butter, milk powder and cheese.

The price of dairy products is determined by many different factors. The products go through several stages of processing that may include health testing, pasteurization, packaging and transportation. When we pay for dairy products at the grocery store, we are also paying for the cost of fuel to transport the product to the processing plant and then to the retail location. When you think about the cost of production, which could include technology, machinery, feed prices, maintenance, veterinary services, farm employees and more, the consumer quickly realizes the money he or she pays for nutritious dairy products supports many workers who help along the way.

Dairy products not consumed in the United States are exported worldwide. Exporting is sending milk, dairy products or any other commodity abroad for trade or sale. People throughout the world are enjoying dairy products from California. Many factors affect the amount of dairy products exported every year, including world weather conditions, natural disasters, market regulations and demand. For example, in recent years, exports of dairy products from the U.S. have increased due to droughts in other dairy-producing nations.

With all these facts, it’s hard to imagine a day without dairy. Even a single day without dairy would have a devastating effect on California’s economy. The dairy industry provides over 435,000 full-time jobs and brings in approximately 20 million dollars to California’s economy every day.

More information on the dairy industry can be found here.

Interest Approach – Engagement

  1. Place a series of dominos where your class can see. If dominoes are not available you could also stand several books up in a row.
  2. Ask your students what would happen if you knock down one of the dominoes.  Your students should recognize that tipping one domino over will have a chain reaction and the remaining dominos will also be tipped over.  Sometimes this is called a "domino effect."  Review with your students that the dairy industry is a portion of agriculture that provides milk to our diets.  Ask your students what would happen without the dairy industry.
  3. In this lesson, students will:
    • create, read and interpret graphs related to dairy’s economic impact; and
    • explore the economic consequences of a day without dairy.


Activity 1: Economy of  the Dairy Industry

  1. Take a poll of the class to determine the students’ favorite type of cheese: Mozzarella, American, Cheddar or Swiss. Create a chart on the board to record the students’ responses to the poll. Ask the students what type of graph should be used to illustrate the information. Students can work in groups or as a class to create the appropriate graph.
  2. Review with the students the purpose of graphs in displaying important information. A large part of an economist’s job is collecting data, creating graphs and interpreting those graphs to determine changes in the market. Why would it be beneficial for someone in the dairy industry (or any other agriculture industry) to be interested in the changes within the agriculture market?
  3. Explain that economists and dairy farmers alike use graphs to determine the importance of dairy product sales in the economy. In this lesson, students will create and read different graphs to better understand the role of dairy in our daily lives.
  4. It may be helpful to work with students in creating a “word wall” of vocabulary words they will read and write during the lesson. Place definitions of challenging vocabulary words on the board, depending on grade level. Pass out index cards featuring corresponding vocabulary words to each group. Have the groups take turns matching their vocabulary words to the correct definitions. Direct students to orally use the words in a sentence and/or record the definitions on a separate piece of paper.
  5. Have the students complete the A Day Without Dairy activity sheet.
  6. Discuss the economic impacts of a day without dairy. Work with the students to estimate the quantity of milk consumed daily in California (or substitute your state). For example, poll the class to determine the amount of dairy products the class consumes daily. Use multiplication to estimate the amount of dairy products consumed by the entire school, city, state, and country. Discuss with the class:
    • The amount of money lost in a day without dairy
    • The dairy industry’s impact on jobs and employment
    • The basic concept of supply and demand
    • If California stopped producing milk, how would we get dairy products? How would this affect prices at the store?
  7. Review the activity. Have the students review their learning by creating “A Day Without Dairy” milk carton. Instruct the students to decorate a milk carton depicting newly-acquired concepts on each side. If time allows, they can make their carton colorful and creative.
    • Side 1
      • Title: A Day Without Dairy, Drawing, Name
    • Side 2
      • Answer the following question, using complete sentences, on lined paper. What would a day without dairy be like? A year? Paste your response to the milk carton.
    • Side 3
      • Paste a copy of the bar graph you created illustrating exports from the United States, Canada and Russia.
    • Side 4
      • On a separate piece of paper, list all vocabulary words learned, including definitions. Paste your list to the milk carton.

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


This lesson was funded in 2008 by the California Milk Advisory Board and the California Farm Bureau Federation. To meet the needs of California educators, Milk Matters: Discovering Dairy was created to meet the Curriculum Content Standards for California Public Schools. The unit also includes a collection of relevant resources about the dairy industry.

Executive Director: Judy Culbertson
Layout and Design: Imelda Muziom


Mandi Bottoms

Organization Affiliation

California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom