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Sprouting Ideas: Integrate Global Agriculture Into Teaching

On Wednesday, we shared how food production and distribution is—and has for centuries—been a global issue. Today's blog post is dedicated to putting those ideas to practice in the classroom.

By Heather Singmaster and Jennifer Manise

There are many existing resources to help all teachers integrate a global perspective into their ag classrooms. The newest is The Great Seed Search, a game created by the American Farm Bureau in collaboration with Asia Society and Longview Foundation. Featured on the My American Farm website, students learn that seeds, those kernels so integral to life on this planet, originate from countries around the world. As they learn where seeds come from, they also learn about the cultures of those countries.

At the high school level, students have opportunities to engage deeply with more advanced ideas. Agriculture students from across the nation participate in the World Food Prize Global Youth Institute. Schools are also developing their own programs. For instance, at Tech Valley High School in New York, students researched the best trees to plant to stop erosion in a rural Haitian community. Many teachers such as Mary Brownell of Springside Chestnut Hill Academy in Jenkintown, PA and Deanne McBeath of Village Charter School in Trenton, NJ have used iEARN to create gardens, raise hens, coordinate school assemblies, raise funds to help partner schools around the globe, and expand curriculum in their schools. 

Here we share additional resources and curriculum ideas.* Please add your own in the comments section.

For elementary schools:

  • In immersion schools, like Livingston High School in New Jersey, science teachers co-plan lessons with a world language teacher or volunteer. Students can learn how to count, measure, and make predictions in two languages.
  • Gather seeds from different parts of the world (black beans from Brazil, mung beans from India, guava seeds from Peru) to sprout. Have students map the seeds to their places of origin and see how their cultivation has spread around the world. 
  • The book Hungry Planet documents what families around the world eat each week. Use it to kick off a discussion in your class on anything from healthy eating to resource allocation to exports of crops. 
  • Does your high school host an international exchange student? Can he/she be a guest speaker on food issues in his/her culture? If not, have you or your colleagues traveled abroad? What did you learn about food?

For high schools:

Some teachers are using the Feeding the World unit from Lab Aids. Or develop your own project based learning activity around an agricultural issue:

  • With China's rising soybean consumption comes the question of where should soybeans be produced. Explore this issue with your class.
  • In aquaculture, when examining the life cycles of fish, examine the distances the fish travel, the borders they cross, and the international disputes that sometimes result.  
  • Consider the global flower growing industry and explore the role of the declining honeybee population critical to pollinating crops.

Integrating this content into the classroom allows you and your students to become co-learners and builds connections between the most local and global topic for classrooms today.

*We would like to extend a special thanks to the ag teachers who have shared their ideas and resources with us either through the Global Ag Survey or in conference sessions.

Heather Singmaster is Assistant Director, Education, Asia Society and Jennifer Manise is Executive Director, Longview Foundation. Follow Heather and Jennifer on Twitter.

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