Where does our food come from? This is always the first thing I ask students when presenting a lesson for Ag in the Classroom in Mahaska and Marion counties. When I first started, the answers were “the grocery store” or “the refrigerator”. Now every hand goes up with confidence as the say, “THE FARM!” My reply then is, “Yes, because we know that farmers are growing plants and raising animals for our food.”
Because so many of our students are removed from the farm, it seems that keeping it simple is the best approach. I visit preschoolers through third grade in Mahaska County and third grade in Marion County. I visit most of them once a month. At some point in the year, each of the grade levels have a lesson from “The Farmer Grows A Rainbow” which is based on the MyPlate.
It’s fun to ask the kids if they know that the farmer grows a rainbow for them. We talk about the MyPlate and all the many colors of the foods, a RAINBOW, and how all of the food comes from the farm.
For preschool, I have a large MyPlate mat that we lay on the floor. Each of the students is given a food card to put in the correct food group. They can check their answers by looking on the back of the card and the color is the same color as the food group. The students then take turns looking at pictures of items that come from the farm and some of them we eat, like beans and broccoli and some we don’t eat like shirts and crayons but all of these are possible because of our farmers. The final activity with preschool is to put pictures from each of the food groups in categories using a traffic light with green being food to eat regularly, the yellow light being foods to eat once in a while as they are not very nutritious and high in calories and the red light represents products like chemicals, cleaning products and animal feeds that come from the farm but are unsafe to consume.
The lesson for kindergarten discusses nutritious choices in each group. For the grains group, which is more nutritious, whole wheat toast or a doughnut? For the vegetable group, a tossed green salad or French fries? For the fruit group, an apple or apple pie? For the dairy group, yogurt or a milkshake? For the protein group, grilled chicken or fried chicken? By showing each of these choices, the students “vote” on which is the more nutritious choice.
Second grade has great visuals with talking about portion sizes. It’s interesting to ask them if they have ever eaten something healthy but eaten too much of it and then they have a stomach ache like too many grapes or too much spaghetti. By showing them objects that represent foods, they see what the correct size should be. Some of the examples are chopped vegetables being the size of a computer mouse, string cheese the size of a tube of lip balm and meat being the size of deck of cards. That one is always a big shock! They are given a puzzle piece to match up with a friend to see if they remember which object represented which food.
Third grade gets very specific with what foods are in each food group, what nutrients are in those foods and what the health benefits to those nutrients are. The students then put pyramid puzzles together to check their answers.
Each of these lessons concludes with singing “The Farmer Grows A Rainbow” song. I try to incorporate singing into many of my lessons as music helps to retain the material.
After each of my lessons, I leave them with some sort of snack to remember the lesson. With “The Farmer Grows A Rainbow” lessons, I leave the classes with a bag of carrots to enjoy. The second graders get a “computer mouse” which they think is funny since for the correct portion size of carrots, it should be the size of a computer mouse. I encourage them to look at their plates or school lunch trays when they eat to see if they have a rainbow of colors. That way they know they will be getting a variety of nutritional foods.
It’s always a good reminder to the students to thank the farmers for growing their rainbow of food!
-Karen Adams is the Ag in the Classroom lead for Mahaska and Marion Counties