Lesson plans to teach children about organic farming

Written by joe murray
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Lesson plans to teach children about organic farming
Free range chickens are common on organic farms (Jupiterimages/BananaStock/Getty Images)

Organic farming is defined as the process of producing foods naturally, using no synthetic chemical fertilisers or genetically modified organisms. Organic farms must be certified and approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture yearly. Interest has grown in school gardens and organic gardening with first lady Michelle Obama's kitchen garden initiative, a White House garden that the First Lady planted not only to provide food for White House dinners, but to educate children about healthy, organically grown fruits and vegetables.

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Farm to School

Farm to School is a national program, operational in 47 states, which connects schools with local farms. Each Farm to School program is shaped locally with the general goal of teaching students about the path from "farm to fork." Many states offer Farm to School resources that include lessons on organic farming and gardening. Georgia, for example, has a complete curriculum that includes field trips to an urban farm.

School Gardens

School gardens are becoming popular throughout America. For example on the west coast, the California School Garden Network was created to help schools start and sustain garden projects. This program offers resources to help schools grow organic gardens. The Edible Schoolyard is an organic garden and kitchen classroom in Berkeley, California, sponsored by the Chez Panisse Foundation. This program has been in effect since 1995 and offers many resources for other schools to use.

Lower Elementary School Lesson Plans

Younger children in grades K to 2 learn about farms and where foods come from. At this level, students become familiar with farming in the classroom by watching plants grow from seeds, or even, if space permits, starting a small organic garden. Taking a field trip to an organic farm is often a good way to introduce the concept of organic farming.

Upper Elementary and Middle School Lessons

In a lesson plan developed by the New York Times' Learning Network entitled "Organic, Slow or Local: Exploring Food-Based Communities," the author shares a comprehensive lesson on how communities come together over shared beliefs over food production. Upper elementary and middle school students work in small groups to tackle a number of food-growing issues, including the benefits of the organic farming community. This lesson plan incorporates several core standards in subject areas such as health, language arts, agricultural education and life skills.

A program at Carmel Middle School in California called MEarth can be emulated by other schools. Focusing on ecoliteracy, the six-week course for 6th graders demonstrates sustainability in lifestyle choices, including organic gardening. The course is organised around a "seed to table" philosophy which gives students the opportunity to learn about all aspects of organic farming, from photosynthesis to cooking.

High School Lessons

Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are organisms that have had their genome altered in some fashion. Certified organic foods do not contain GMOs; even those which are only partially made with organic products are not allowed to contain GMOs, according to the Environmental Protection Agency's National Organic Program. The issue of GMOs is controversial. PBS has developed a lesson plan that presents the issues in a role-playing food debate. Through this program, high school students will better understand GMOs and be able to critically discuss the pros and cons of both GMOs and organic farming in the U.S. and the rest of the world.

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