Cultivating Agricultural Literacy in the Garden

Some students and I recently harvested twelve pounds of radishes from a school garden. Yes, twelve pounds!

They were slightly past their prime, some having grown so large that they more closely resembled beets. They were planted in the “field trial” bed, a twenty-foot row dedicated to different varieties of four crops: peas, carrots, lettuces, and radishes. The radishes were planted late in the fall, but due to smoke, rain, and winter breaks, we never got around to harvesting them.

We would not make very good farmers, but there were still many lessons in agricultural literacy to be learned. Cultivating agriculture literacy in the school garden means incorporating the following themes:

  1. Agriculture and the Environment
  2. Plants and Animals for Food, Fiber & Energy
  3. Food, Health, and Lifestyle
  4. Science, Technology, Engineering & Math
  5. Culture, Society, Economy & Geography

As it was, I gathered evidence that students understood radishes are food–meant to be eaten and not wasted. They were eager to try the three different kinds: Cherry Belles, French Breakfast, and Easter Egg and demonstrated that consumers have preferences.

They noticed imperfections, signaling that some of the product had been damaged, possibly by pests. Finally, they got that it was a lot of work to harvest them: pulling them from the ground, tearing off the leaves, rinsing the dirt, then washing thoroughly before tasting.

Taken a bit further, our radish harvest could have included close observation of the damaged roots, possibly weighing them and considering the loss of income related to not being able to sell the “imperfect” produce.

We could have investigated the best methods for preparing radishes, such as cooking or pickling. Or, we could have harvested them at different times and kept notes about flavor over time or conducted market research by polling individuals about their favorite radish type. Finally, we could have investigated where radishes originated and considered different ways radishes are used in cuisine.

None of these would make us better farmers, but it would make us a bit more agriculturally literate. Take a look below for more activities and resources for cultivating agricultural literacy in your school garden.

“An agriculturally literate person would understand the food and fiber system and this would include its history and its current economic, social and environmental significance to all Americans” (p.8).

National Research Council. (1988). Understanding Agriculture: New Directions for Education. 

Activities

  • Visit a local farm!
  • Connect with your County Farm Bureau.
  • Invite an FFA (Future Farmers of America) student to visit your classroom.
  • Conduct a taste test of seasonal specialty crops.
  • Join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) for your classroom.

Resources

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