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Unit 2: Farmers, Factories, and Food Chains

This unit explores how our food—from plants to animal products to seafood—is grown, harvested, processed, and distributed. Students will examine conventional industrial practices, explore sustainable alternatives, and consider the impact both have on human health and the environment.

Download the entire curriculum lesson planslesson plans with handouts, and lesson plans with handouts and slides.

Lesson 1: Crops: Growing Problems

Students will explore how crops are grown in industrial agriculture and how those practices impact human health and ecosystems. This lesson also covers the importance of soil, freshwater, and biodiversity in agriculture. In later lessons, students will learn in more detail about ecological alternatives to industrial crop production.


Lesson 2: Animals: Field to Factory

Students will explore how animals are raised for food in the industrial system, and how it impacts human health and ecosystems. They will also look at ecological alternatives to industrial food animal production (IFAP)–such as pasture-based production–and consider the advantages and disadvantages of each system.


Lesson 3: Seafood: Wild and Farmed

Students will explore how aquatic animals are harvested from the wild and farmed (aquaculture) and how those practices impact ecosystems. They will also consider health benefits and risks of eating seafood. Although seafood includes both aquatic plants and animals, the focus of this lesson is on fish and shellfish.


Lesson 4: The Hands That Feed Us

At least one in six members of the U.S. workforce are employed in the food chain, from farm fields to food service. Students will identify different jobs, examine their working conditions, and consider how to improve workers’ health and quality of life.


Lesson 5: Our Changing Climate

This lesson allows students to zoom out and see how the food system is linked to a global issue: climate change. Students will learn about how climate change occurs, analyze the connections between climate change and agriculture, and consider ways to reduce the food system’s greenhouse gas emissions.


Lesson 6: Turning Toward Sustainability

Students will explore alternatives to the prevailing industrial model of agriculture and what it means for agriculture to be sustainable. They will examine agroecology as an approach to food production that nourishes, rather than depletes, natural ecosystems and human communities. They will imagine what a different agricultural paradigm could look like and share that vision with others.


Lesson 7: Our Food's Journey

Food often travels thousands of miles from where it is produced to where it is sold and eaten. Students will learn why food is transported long distances and consider the advantages and disadvantages. Students will critically examine and debate different scales of food distribution (local, regional, national, and global).


Lesson 8: Keeping Our Food Safe

Each year thousands of Americans experience foodborne illnesses caused by pathogens or biological toxins. Agricultural chemicals and additives in our food supply contribute to risks of chronic illnesses such as cancer. Students will explore how food becomes contaminated, the consequences for public health, and how to prevent and respond to food safety issues.


Lesson 9: Processing: Farm to Factory

The development of different food processing techniques has sometimes improved and sometimes degraded the quality of food. Food processing offers important benefits to businesses and citizens, including a more varied food supply and foods with a longer shelf life. Certain aspects of food processing, however, raise concerns over nutritional quality, worker health, and food safety. Students will learn how food is processed and explore the positive and negative impacts of food processing techniques.