California Agriculture in the Classroom

Where Does It Come From?

Grade Level(s)

3 - 5

Estimated Time

1 hour

Purpose

Students will explore the connection between geography, climate, and the type of agriculture in an area by reading background information and census data about the agricultural commodities beef, potatoes, apples, wheat, corn, and milk.

Materials

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

Essential Links

Vocabulary

by-product: something produced in an industrial or biological process in addition to the principal product

commodity: a raw material or primary agricultural product that is bought and sold on a large scale

data: information in numerical form

end product: the final product after processing that is sold to the consumer

hundredweight (cwt): a unit of weight equal to 100 pounds

bushel: a unit of measurement used in US agriculture that is equivalent to a volume of 64 pints, but is generally standardized by weight for different products; a bushel of wheat weighs 60 lb, a bushel of corn weighs 56 lb

Did you know? (Ag Facts)

Background - Agricultural Connections

The variety of climates and soils found across the United States makes different parts of our country better suited for raising different agricultural commodities. Many of the fresh fruits and vegetables that we eat are grown in temperate regions like California, Florida, and parts of Texas. These areas have longer growing seasons than other parts of the country. Wheat, barley, corn, and other grain crops grow well in our country’s midsection, which was once grassland. In some parts of the country, the land is not suitable for growing crops but provides good grazing for cattle and other livestock. Potatoes grow best in cooler climates, so they are a good crop for mountainous regions where it stays cool longer in the spring. Some crops require a great deal of rain, and some need plenty of sunshine. Because our country has so many different climates and soil types, we are able to produce many different kinds of agricultural products.

Modern technology makes it possible to process, store, and transport agricultural products on a large scale, allowing us to have just about any kind of food we want to eat at any time of year. Modern technology has also made agriculture more efficient and more specialized. Farmers generally specialize in a limited number of crops or types of livestock that are well suited to the climate and conditions of their respective regions. Agricultural commodities, raw products like wheat and milk, are produced on a large scale and measured by the bushel (grains) or the hundredweight (milk). Commodities are sold and traded and then processed before taking the form of the end product that will reach the consumer. By-products from processing are also used in the highly efficient American agricultural industry.

The USDA Census of Agriculture gathers data tracking agricultural production around the country. This information helps the government ensure a stable food supply and helps farmers assess supply and demand for the different crops they are able to grow given the constraints of climate, soil type, space, and equipment. When viewed as maps of production, statistics from the Census of Agriculture reflect what grows best in which part of the country.

Interest Approach – Engagement

  1. Ask students to name their favorite foods. Write the foods on the board.
  2. Next, ask students if they know what ingredients are used in these foods. Write the main ingredients next to the foods they are found in. For example, if they list pizza as a favorite food, the ingredients would include flour, pizza sauce, cheese, pepperoni, etc.
  3. Ask students,
    • "What plants/animals do these ingredients come from?" (wheat, tomatoes, dairy cattle, pigs)
    • "Where are they produced?" (on farms)
    • "Are any of them grown in your state?" (answers will vary by state)
  4. Explain that these ingredients are agricultural commodities. Inform students that they will be learning how geography and the production of their food is related.

Procedures

  1. Share the information contained in the Background, and explore the meanings of the words commodity, product, end product, and by-product. To illustrate, bring to class some examples of end products and the agricultural commodities from which they were made (e.g., cotton ball—or raw cotton boll, if available—and cotton shirt, dry beans and bean dip, tomato and tomato sauce, apple and apple cider). Ask students to differentiate between the commodity and the end product.
  2. Place all the snacks (or attached images) in a large paper bag, and have students draw from the bag to determine which group they will work with. Explain that each snack represents a major agricultural commodity grown in the United States. Write the words corn, potatoes, apples, beef, wheat, and milk on the chalkboard. Lead a class discussion to help students determine which product each snack represents.
  3. Give each student a copy of the Where Does it Come From? activity sheet, and ask them to answer the first three questions.
  4. Give each group a copy of the Background Information and Data handout about the specific agricultural commodity the group will be studying and a copy of the attached map of the United States. 
  5. Instruct students to read the background information and examine the data to answer the remaining questions on the activity sheet. Then they should locate the top five states where their snacks grow on their United States maps and color those states.
  6. Provide each group with a different color of map pins. Have each group report on its findings and mark on a classroom map the states where the designated food grows. Students should also report on the growing conditions necessary for each product.
  7. Lead a discussion in which you ask students what factors determine what is grown in which states (climate, availability of land, transportation, storage capacities) and how much is produced (climate, size of state, soil type).

Concept Elaboration and Evaluation

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

Enriching Activities

Suggested Companion Resources

Sources/Credits

  1. http://www.fb.org/newsroom/fastfacts/
  2. http://www.nass.usda.gov/

Author(s)

National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) adapted by Lyndi Perry

Organization Affiliation

Utah Agriculture in the Classroom