It seems that in our busy life of fast food and convenience, many people have become so disconnected from their food, they don’t know where their food actually comes from (or what it is made of!). This is the first article in a series to help kids understand more about our food system.
Today we’re mapping our fruits and vegetables: with a little research in the supermarket, the kids are discovering where our food was grown and how long it traveled to get here!
We recently packed a notebook and pen with us during a trip to the supermarket, on a quest to see where our fruit and vegetables were grown. Luckily, most of the supermarkets near us label the origins of the produce, and my kids were able to gather their data quite independently.
I let them choose which fruits and veggies they would write down, and they happily ran from bin to bin recording the data. My little kids would point out their favorites, but were a little more entertained trying all of the juicy samples:).
Once they decided we were finished, we came home to work on locating the origins of the foods. The older kids decided it would be better to draw pictures of the foods, to help the little kids “read” the results better.
Anytime my girls can turn a project into art, they do! They enjoyed drawing little pictures of the grapes and pineapples, zucchini and carrots. We used card stock and markers and they helped each other decipher handwriting and illustrate their data.
Once we had all of the pictures cut out, we attached tape, and I had the kids try to find the countries of origin of all of the fruits and vegetables we had recorded. Some countries were harder to find than others! Perhaps it was because we went to Whole Foods- which tries to stock lots of local items- but I was pleasantly surprised that we had a LOT of food grown locally in our state (Texas). I think I was suspecting to have more Latin American produce- but maybe at different times of the year this would change? We are in summer, which is the height of fresh harvest.
We also had a lot of fruit from California, which produces more than half of all of the fruits and vegetables in the US. We talked about how citrus grows in the winter in warmer climates, and how in January, the oranges, lemons, and limes would probably come from Florida or Texas. Right now it is winter in the southern hemisphere, and the oranges available are from Australia. I introduced the idea of eating foods that are grown locally, so that we don’t waste resources and contribute to pollution in the transportation of the fruit and veggies. The kids found the fruits that had traveled the farthest (Australia and New Zealand), and we talked about how they could have arrived to the US (via barges, traveling across the oceans). We traced their possible routes from their farms to our house and saw that we had a choice to buy apples from New Zealand or Chile. I wondered why we didn’t have any Michigan or Minnesota apples!? Being from Chicago, we would go pick apples- maybe the Midwest farms keep the apples local:).
We also talked about how fruits and vegetables are freshest right when they are picked. Traveling long distances, they lose nutrients and flavor. We talked about eating foods in season, and how buying from a Farmer’s Market might mean that the food was picked the same day we buy it.
It was a great activity, that combined geography, with some science and nutrition thrown in.
Here are some other articles for parents to learn more:
Local Harvest, a US-based web site that helps find farmers’ markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area, where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies.
Locavore has a free app to help you find local foods in season.