This month, Mr. Aaron Murray’s Grade 6 students completed a research project about how food gets from farms to our tables. Following their unit on caloric energy, Mr. Murray wanted to broaden his students’ understanding of the energy and resources needed to produce and distribute food in the United States and form all parts of the world. “We did the energy within food, and then we wanted to look at the energy and resources that go into making food,” Mr. Murray said. Starting with the harvest and going all the way through transportation, preparation, and digestion, the students researched and presented their findings on a particular food of their choosing.
Growing up in Kansas and having wheat-farming family near Wichita, Mr. Murray knows how important it is to understand where your food comes from. “The goal of the project is to learn that food doesn't just magically appear in your grocery store,” Mr. Murray said. “A lot of city kids don’t realize how much it actually takes to get milk, or to get an egg, or to get beef.” To understand all of the energy that goes into producing and transporting food, students conducted meticulous research. They investigated topics such as how many gallons of water a 1,000-acre wheat farm would need if wheat needs an inch of rain a week to grow, or how many miles to a gallon of gas a semi-truck gets when transporting crops from Montana farms to Colorado grocery stores. “There are a lot of 'aha!' moments in this unit,” Mr. Murray said.
Once the students compiled their findings on energy and resource needs when producing and distributing foods, Mr. Murray wanted them to imagine and suggest alternatives that might reduce waste and energy consumption. Many analyzed and made suggestions of how to reduce energy and waste as well as how to use waste products productively. Students focused on the excessive amounts of food waste that result from unappealing food appearances – referred to as “ugly food”—or misleading expiration dates. They suggested policy changes, more effective food distribution including to people experiencing food insecurity, and subscriptions to grocery delivery services that intervene in “ugly food” waste cycles.
After the students researched and presented their findings, Mr. Murray made sure they finished on a high note. “It’s called ‘Buffet Day.’ All the kids bring their foods in and we sample them,” Mr. Murray said. “We had a smorgasbord of sushi and pizza and ice cream. It was great.” Even with the final feast, though, Mr. Murray’s favorite part of the project is hearing how excited students get when they learn something new about their food. “They ask ‘Mr. Murray, did you know about this?’ And sometimes, I didn’t,” Mr. Murray said. “At the dinner table, I bet they have a whole bunch of stuff to talk about.”
Graland Country Day School is a private school in Denver, Colorado, serving students in preschool, kindergarten, elementary, and middle school. Founded in Denver in 1924, Graland incorporates a rich, experiential learning approach in a traditional classroom setting, emphasizing the development of globally and socially conscious leaders who excel academically.