Food Doesn’t Grow In Grocery Stores: A Harvest Lesson


Fall, fall, wonderful fall. The time for field trips to the farm (for us city folk at least) and lots of hard work for kids actually growing up in farm country. But with fewer and fewer kids growing up with access to the growing process, many in the new generation are experiencing a serious disconnect with their food supply.

This is a lesson I’ve done in probably a dozen classrooms, as part of units on community, food, recycling, and interdependent systems. It incorporates a drama-based game, sequencing, cause and effect, and is just a lot of fun.

We start with a read-aloud about food. Almost any read-aloud will do, preferably something short because the activity can take a while to build up. Lois Ehlert has a number of wonderful books involving food that work, but again, almost anything you have on hand will work.

After the read-aloud, I ask, “Where does the [insert food from the story here] in the story come from?” Answers can vary depending on the crowd. Some kids are very savvy and will know the original source right off the bat, others will insist that it comes from the grocery store. Yes, they will. We don’t spend a lot of discussion on it, I like to just use that opening question to set the scene.

I say, “Let’s work this out. I need two students to pretend something for me.” I choose two students (choose people who can follow directions for an extended period of time, because they’re going to be there for a while), and assign one to play him or herself, and the other to play the mother/father (choose thoughtfully, you don’t want too much fun being made at someone’s expense). The game is that the parent gives the student a snack, like whatever food was in the book we just read, and the student pretends to eat it. I don’t bother with props, although you could totally incorporate that if you have something suitable laying around. The kids mime the action once, then they have to freeze, and I ask, “Okay, so where did [the student playing the parent] get the [let’s say milk]?”

The kids will say the grocery store. If it’s a vegetable and they say from her garden, bonus points, but for purposes of this game, tell them we’re pretending she doesn’t have a garden, so she’s getting it from the grocery store. So the parent mimes going to the store and buying the milk, and you choose a third student to play the cashier and ring her up. The students mime the actions in sequence now – the buying of the milk, then the feeding of the child, then they have to freeze again.

I ask, “How did the milk get on the shelf? Did it grow there?” The students all have a laugh about this, and of course someone put it on the shelf. The stockboy. So we choose someone to play the stockboy, who puts the milk on the shelf, where the parent picks it up, to be rung up by the cashier, and then fed to the child. They mime the actions through once, and then have to freeze again.

You’re getting the idea, right? Where did the stockboy get the milk from? From the store room. Well, how did it get to the store room? Somebody had to drive it in a truck, so you choose a truck driver, run through it again, and continue. Beyond the truck driver, I have added in:

The bottler.

The pasteurizer.

Another truck driver to drive between the milking plant and the pasteurization plant.

A milking plant.

A farmer.

The cow itself (the kids love this one, it’s funny),

The grass (this can be 3 or 4 students if you need to give extra people a turn),

and the sun (somebody trustworthy gets to stand on her chair), and rain clouds.

This can easily get 15 students up and out of their seat, moving around. The key is to make sure everyone freezes after the run-through is done. If they can’t freeze, they forfeit their role and have to switch out with someone. Once we’ve established where the milk, or whatever it is, comes from, then we usually explore where it’s going. What happens after the milk is finished? What happens to the carton? It goes in the trash. What happens to the trash? Now I pull in the other half of the class acting out the disposal system. This includes:

The trash collector.

The compactor.

A forklift operator.

An incinerator.

Another forklift operator.

A landfill bulldozer.


A recycling trash collector.

A recycling receiver.

A sorter.

A washer.

Someone to run the machine that breaks it down.

Someone to drive it to a factory to be made into something else.

The factory worker who makes it into something else, perhaps even another milk container.

A truck driver to drive the new milk container to the bottling plant, which was established in the first half of the game.

I establish before starting the lesson how many roles I need to create so that everyone in the class has a turn. If students are absent, I eliminate a forklift operator or two, or reduce the number of plants that the cow eats, or have only one raining cloud, etc. But I always have an outline going in so that I don’t get stuck with two students who didn’t get a turn.

After acting out the whole system, we have a guided discussion based on whatever we were using this activity to teach. If I’m doing it for Earth Day, we talk about why the recycling center is an improvement over the landfill (if you can bring in prop milk cartons, maybe from the kids’ lunches, this becomes really obvious as the cartons pile up more and more every time you run through the activity.) If I’m doing it for a unit on community, we talk about what would happen to the whole system if one of the people were missing. Sometimes we act this out, sometimes we just talk about it. Then it becomes a discussion of how everyone’s role is important.

Afterward, we always do some kind of writing reflection. Sometimes it’s a sequencing activity, sometimes it’s a reflection question, depending on my goals.

This would be a great unit to do in the fall with all the pumpkin and apple lessons – you can easily substitute apple cider or pumpkin pie for the milk in this example, and because a lot of community units happen in the fall, it could tie in with those also.

Would you attempt this lesson? How would you adapt it for your needs?

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