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Agriculture in the U.S. and Around the Globe

Posted on October 16 2022

Agriculture in the U.S. and Around the Globe


Dear Educator,

For Hispanic Heritage Month, this week we are focusing on labor leader and civil rights champion Cesar Chavez for our Geography News Network article. That got us thinking about agriculture, in general, in the United States. Recent statistics show that the Pacific region has the most farmworkers—as you will see in the map that accompanies the GNN biography on Chavez. For students to understand agriculture, we start with a Field Trip on vegetables for upper elementary students. Then we explore states with the most farmer’s markets. (It’s no surprise that California is the big winner, given that the state grows much of the produce for the entire U.S.) We will also look at agricultural production in California, since the state is so important to the industry. We have two GeoInquiries on the topic. These activities use a dynamic map with layers and a lesson plan to engage students. And, we explore the distribution of crops around the world from their continent of origin during the early days of trade. This week’s collection is yet another example of all the exciting content in Maps101 that can complement your classroom lessons. Let’s dig in and check out vegetables first.

Love them or hate them, vegetables are important to diets around the world. This exclusive field trip, written for upper elementary-level students but appropriate for any age, covers different types of food consumers, culture hearths, vegetarians, grains, corn, salad, root vegetables, global vegetables, fruits that are commonly thought of as vegetables, and more. Students are never too old to consider the vegetable families and their variety. And when considering agriculture as a whole, make sure to help students see the connection between the labor in the agriculture industry and the end product—the vegetables!

Depending on where you live, you may or may not have access to local farmer’s markets. But if you do, you will be able to buy produce directly from the farmers themselves, cutting out the middle links of the supply chain. The eat-local movement has gained a lot of attention over the last several years. And a fantastic way to infuse money into your local economy is to buy locally grown produce. This map takes a look at the U.S. and provides data on the number of farmer’s markets in each state. Use this link from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to find farmer’s markets in your area today.


Cesar Chavez was a labor leader and active in the civil rights movement. He was a Mexican American who was born in Arizona, but he and his family came to California to earn money as migrant farmworkers. He was influential in unionizing farmworkers. His efforts eventually led to the creation of the United Farm Workers of America (UFW) union. Students should know of this important fighter for worker’s rights. And, as a Mexican American, we think he is an excellent subject for a biography for Hispanic Awareness Month. The accompanying map shows the census regions with the most farmworkers. The Pacific region has far more than anywhere else. California’s climate is ideal for growing crops. Much of the nation’s food supply comes from there.


Now let’s explore California’s agricultural production. This map shows the counties that produce the most of several farmed goods, including almonds, broccoli, oranges, rice, lettuce, grapes, and more. You can compare this set of maps with the native vegetation map found here: What conclusions can students draw from comparing agricultural production with native vegetation?


Next, we’ll consider agriculture around the world. This GeoInquiry explores the different types of land use found in rural landscapes, using a dynamic, layered map. While the map provides information about the world, the layers provide a deeper dive into agriculture in the United States. A series of activities guides students through using the map and presents questions about it.


No tour of agriculture in the world is complete without an awareness of historical context. Early people had to make do with what grew locally or nearby. As people moved and traded, foods in one continent spread to other continents. This map uses call-outs to explain the spread of agriculture during this period of time.


By the Age of Exploration, in the 15th and 16th centuries CE, crops, goods, and enslaved people were traded to and from Africa, the Americas, and England. These three locations formed a triangle of trade, extending the reach of agricultural goods. Whatever arrived in England spread into Europe through further trade. This is an early example of opening up global markets—in this case, across the Atlantic. Through triangular trade, new goods were introduced to Europe. This map illustrates some of what was traded but is not inclusive of everything. Have students conduct further research on the crops that entered Europe through the Americas, and then ask them to explain how this early globalization affected diets around the world. For example, tomatoes came to Europe from the Americas by Spanish explorers. Italian food today seems hard to imagine without tomatoes.


Finally, we return to another GeoInquiry to think about how climatic data helps us analyze the factors that enable agriculture or constrain it. This activity explores the world’s climates to discover where crops grow best. The layered map also includes population density, annual precipitation totals, land surface temperature, and more, to answer the questions proposed in the activity. GeoInquiries are a dynamic way to incorporate mapping skills in the classroom as well as give practice in analyzing various data.


We hope you have enjoyed this mini-sample of Maps101 that focuses on agriculture. The featured resources above will give you an idea of the type of content available with your subscription. We hope your weekly tour of topics in the GeoJournal helps not just inform you of themes you can focus on throughout the year, but that it also draws your attention to content you may not have realized is available. Happy hunting for more content that benefits your class this school year. And don’t forget to favorite to save what you use often for easy access.

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