Lesson overview

Grades 6-10
Time 40 minutes
Resources Slides, Discussion, Video
Standards CCSS ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.3 
CCSS ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.4 
CCSS ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.4 


The slides below should be paired with the discussion resource of this lesson.

Present in a new tab | Click to open speaker notes | Open original in Google Slides


The discussion below should be paired with the slides resource of this lesson.

Ask students to list all of the steps involved in getting food from seed to table. You may ask for students to write these steps down or call on raised hands in a discussion format. Consider these questions:

  • What resources or supplies are needed?
  • Who is involved?
  • Where does food come from and where does it go?

The food supply chain

Formally define the food supply chain:

Definition of food supply chain

The series of relationships between plants, people, and businesses that allow us to transform a seed into a meal. Supply chains connect the individual people and resources that all work together to produce, process and sell the food we eat.

  • Inputs: land, seeds, nutrients (fertilizer, compost), water
  • Farm operation: People! Planting, harvesting, machine operation, animal life cycle & care, managing relationship between what you’re growing and the surrounding ecosystems (plant pests, soil disease, weather patterns, animals that eat or destroy crops, etc. etc.)
  • Processing: (making raw product ready to eat): washing, destemming, sorting for proper size and aesthetic, skinning, cutting, precooking, freezing, etc.
  • Packaging: (making ready-to-eat product ready-to-sell): additives, preservatives, bagging, bottling, branding, ready for customer
  • Marketing: food moves could include online sales, farm box/ CSA/ delivery, farm stand, farmers market, grocery store, sales to restaurants, cafeterias (hospitals, prisons, schools), etc.
  • Eating (consuming): dinner table, restaurant, events, etc.
  • Waste: food that is grown, but not sold or consumed must go somewhere! The end point is different depending on where it gets wasted. (E.g.: back into the earth, landfill, compost, animal feed, etc.) When food is composted, it turns back into nutritious soil that can be used as an input to start the process again

The value chain

Each time food changes hands from farm to processing to marketing to consumer there is an exchange of money and ownership. For this to work, supply chains rely on a global and national network of transportation: semi trucks, boats, etc to connect each part of the process. With each step along the way, there is also value added:

Definition of value added

Adding traits or features to the original raw product to increase the desirability or value of a good to the consumer; by washing carrots, cutting them into baby carrot size, and then bagging them in small portions, we make it more desirable (for some customers) and therefore are able to charge more than we would for a raw carrot directly out of the ground. Another example is dry bean soup mix in a cute jar. Each type of bean is harvested, cleaned, and dried. When we add them together into a single labeled package with a recipe and nutrition facts, the product is worth more than the sum of its parts alone.

Note that “value added” is a process or activity that happens in both supply chains and value chains.

While the goal of a food supply chain is to get as many calories to as many people at the lowest possible cost, the goal of a value chain is to provide the most embedded value in the food we eat. Thinking about our food system in terms of value instead of efficiency allows us to incorporate the importance of other desireable attributes in our assessment of what a successful, desirable food system design looks like:

  • Health, nutrition
  • Local community impacts
  • Environment
  • Cultural relevance
  • Equitable access
  • Distribution of resource control (land, water, food)

Ice cream example

Where does cookie dough ice cream come from?

All of these ingredients are shipped around the world to various processing plants in the United States. How does the path of this ice cream look different through the lens of the supply chain vs the value chain?

  • Cow’s milk from Vermont
  • Sugar from Florida and Mexico
  • Wheat flour from North Dakota, Kansas, and Montana
  • Eggs from Iowa, Ohio, and Texas
  • Chocolate is made from cocoa and other ingredients. The cocoa is largely grown in Latin American and African countries such as Ecuador, Ivory Coast, or Ghana and then processed into chocolate in countries like Canada and Mexico. Click here to visualize global imports and exports of cocoa beans!

For additional data visualization on global imports and exports, visit oec.world

Farmworkers around the world

Show the slides of farmworkers around the world. Ask the class if any of their family members are farmworkers. What do people who work on farms do?

  • Harvest, cut, pick veggies and fruits; catch fish/seafood
  • Fill bags, barrels, cartons with produce, eggs
  • Load goods onto processing vehicles

Note that the work is difficult, low to ground, repetitive, moving heavy equipment and product, exposed to extreme weather (cold and hot, wind), exposed to chemical inputs, early mornings (4am), long days, low pay. Play this 10 minute video on harvesting tomatoes in Florida to build a greater understanding of the work:

People and robots

Open the floor to a discussion on how technology, robots, and other forms of automation can help or hurt farmworkers around the world. Leading questions:

  • What are some technologies used on farms today that do farm work (as opposed to people doing the work)? (tractors, irrigation, conveyor belts)
  • What are some positive and negative reprecussions of using such technologies? (fewer agricultural jobs, but likely better working conditions and higher pay for those still employed)
  • How might the use of technology compliment and help farmworkers, the environment, and improve both the supply and value chains?

Supplementary reading materials