National Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix


Growing a Nation: Into a New Millennium

Grade Level(s)

9 - 12

Estimated Time

90 minutes


Students will understand the significant events throughout American agricultural history that have changed American society. Students will recognize the importance of labor in agriculture and see how the implementation of technology in agriculture increased agricultural production.


  • Growing a Nation multimedia program and necessary projection equipment or computer lab
  • Embedded Resource Cards
  • Farm Facts booklets
  • New Millenium Activity Sheets

Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)

Essential Links


sustainable agriculture: a system that can indefinitely sustain itself without degrading the land, the environment or the people

Did you know? (Ag Facts)

  • It takes 3.3 acre feet of water to grow enough food for an average family for a year.
  • An acre foot of water is about 326,000 gallons.

Background Agricultural Connections

Growing a Nation uses instructional design and innovative technology to bring depth and meaning to historical events. The program and lesson plans merge seamlessly with existing American history textbooks and high school history curricula. 

Introduction to Growing a Nation:

Our country has witnessed sweeping changes—from the untamed wild times of Buffalo Bill to the technological era of Bill Gates—but food has never lost its central role in our lives. Food not only sustains life but also enriches us in many ways. It warms us on cold, dreary days, entices us with its many aromas, and provides endless variety to the everyday world. Food is also woven into the fabric of our Nation, our culture, our institutions, and our families. Food is on the scene when we celebrate and when we mourn. We use it for camaraderie, as a gift, and as a reward (and sometimes as a crutch).

We are all aware of how food has changed. At the turn of the 20th century, home cooking and canning were fixtures of life in America. Lard, seasonal vegetables, potatoes, and fresh meats were the staples of our diet. And 40 percent of Americans lived on farms. Today, convenience foods and dining out are common. Ethnic diversity has influenced our tastes and the variety of foods available. Technology and trade allow us to enjoy most foods all year round. And less than 2 percent of the population grows our food, while 9 percent are involved in the food system in some way—in processing, wholesaling, retailing, service, marketing, and inspection.

What Americans often forget, however, is the remarkable system that delivers to us the most abundant, reasonably priced, and safest food in the world. The American food system—from the farmer to the consumer—is a series of interconnected parts. The farmer produces the food, the processors work their magic, and the wholesalers and retailers deliver the products to consumers, whose choices send market signals back through the system. Every piece fits every other piece, notwithstanding an occasional gap and pinch.

At the end of the day, it is safe to say the U.S. food system has done a remarkable job of using technology and inventiveness to its advantage and ultimately to the benefit of the consumer. We get the foods we want, when we want them, in the form we want them, all at affordable prices. Thanks to this system, Americans spend less of their income on food than do consumers anywhere else in the world.

Despite the dramatic evolution of the American food system, there are some constants in our ever-changing world. Americans will always love food. The American food system will continue to adapt, grow, and provide us with the products we desire.

(James R. Blaylock, Associate Director, Food and Rural Economics Division, ERS, Amber Waves, June 2003)

The “conservation movement” promoted by Teddy Roosevelt, Jon Muir (naturalist, preservationist), and Gifford Pinchot (conservationist, head of U.S. Forest Service) in the early 20th Century gave way to the “environmental movement” punctuated by Rachel Carson in the 1960s and continues on through environmental activism of the 21st Century. Evaluating the effectiveness of presidential administrations and how they have addressed social and environmental issues is at the core of educational history standards. In voting for a president, Americans learn about the candidate’s environmental positions and may need to sort through environmental “facts” and “opinions.” Teddy Roosevelt condemned the view that America’s resources were endless and made conservation a primary concern. Roosevelt, Pinchot and most Progressives believed in using experts and scientific and technical information to solve problems. For Roosevelt conservation meant that some wilderness area would be preserved while others would be developed for the common good. Carson’s book resulted in the Water Quality Act of 1965. President Johnson said that “There is no excuse. . .for chemical companies and oil refineries using our major rivers as pipelines for toxic wastes.” In 1970, President Nixon consolidated 15 existing federal pollution programs into the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In the 1980s, the environmental movement began to struggle with the balance between the environment, jobs, and progress. Activity 2 uses critical thinking to help students examine an issue, risks, and how decisions are made. Activity 3 focuses on U.S. production, exports, and imports as they relate to international trade and economic trends. Students will analyze how issues such as national security, sovereignty, overseas competition, and environmental concerns affect the U.S. economy.

Sustainable agricultural practices seek to sustain farmers, resources and communities by promoting farming practices and methods that are profitable, environmentally sound and good for communities. Sustainable agriculture fits into and complements modern agriculture. It rewards the true values of producers and their products. It draws and learns from organic farming. It works on farms and ranches large and small, harnessing new technologies and renewing the best practices of the past.

Sustainable agriculture is:

  • Economically viable: If it is not profitable, it is not sustainable.
  • Socially supportive: The quality of life of farmers, farm families and farm communities is important.
  • Ecologically sound: We must preserve the resource base that sustains us all.

Interest Approach – Engagement

  1. Have a class discussion using the following questions. Use this discussion to assess the prior knowledge of your students and to introduce them to the lesson.
    • Does America need to farm in the 21st Century?
    • Who supports the 2% who grow products on farms and then ensure a finished product arrives as food, clothes, shelter, or energy? (Another 9% of the population in the role of scientists, specialists, processors, business professionals, etc.)
    • Who will be the next generation of farmers, agricultural scientists and agricultural educators?
    • What is sovereignty as it relates to America's food and energy supplies?


Activity 1:

  1. Using a classroom projector or a computer lab, review the Growing a Nation multimedia presentation. (Into a New Millennium section)
  2. After students view selected slides, assign each student or group of students an Embedded Resource Card and ask them to be prepared to answer the Embedded Resource questions either by direct response or by using one of the Teaching and Learning Strategies. You may want to assign a particular strategy or cut the strategies into strips and ask each student to pick one or two. If the student or group of students is allowed to pick two, ask them to choose the learning strategy they prefer and put the other one back. The embedded resources that pop up on each Growing a Nation screen are designed to be adaptable to a variety of teaching strategies and flexible for diverse learning styles. Each slide contains five or six embedded resources that detail events in American history that can be explored for a greater understanding of the time period or historical cause and effect relationships. Each embedded resource asks higher order questions to not only increase student knowledge but to increase their comprehension to the level of application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation (Bloom’s Taxonomy of educational objectives).
  3. The Teaching and Learning Strategies can be applied to nearly all the embedded resources in addition to students answering the embedded resource questions.

Activity 2: Should this Product be Banned?

Relate the following to the class:

A high school freshman doing a science project asked 50 people if they would sign a petition demanding strict control or total elimination of the chemical “dihydrogen monoxide” because it:

    • can cause excessive sweating and vomiting
    • is a major component of acid rain
    • can cause severe burns in its gaseous state
    • can kill if aspirated
    • contributes to erosion
    • decreases effectiveness of automobile brakes
    • has been found in tumors of terminal cancer patients

Forty-three of the people surveyed said they would sign the petition, six were undecided, and one said “no.” Yet, if the student had called di-hydrogen monoxide by its common name (water), the results would have been a unanimous “no.”

Perception and context are critical to good judgment. Most issues require an examination of validity, context, and trade-offs. Review with students the following:


  1. Was the research conducted properly and are the conclusions easy to understand?
  2. Is the disclosed information true?
  3. Has the research been replicated?
  4. Has the research been published and peer-reviewed?


  1. How is this data used?
  2. Is the whole picture being provided?
  3. What other factors or variables were left out of the research?


Are the solutions worse than the problem?

We get in our cars knowing there is a risk that we might be involved in an accident. We ingest tons of chemicals in the form of prescription drugs. Society often looks for a safety guarantee when, in fact, nothing we do is risk-free. We can do certain things to minimize risks. We can wear seat belts and drive defensively. We can take medicine only when we absolutely need it. But, even with these measures, we realize that nothing is 100% safe.

Risk is the chance of injury, damage, or loss; the degree or probability of loss; the act of exposing oneself to a risk or taking a chance. Scientists and government officials usually address risk in terms of probability for populations, not individuals. The scientific classification for risk may range from low to high to absolute. However, individuals often associate the word “risk” with “danger” instead of “probability”.

As in other sectors, the science-based processes of risk assessment and management help determine reasonable agricultural and environmental risk levels. These processes measure and characterize risk, estimate the probability of occurrence, and predict the nature and magnitude of potential adverse effects. For example, scientists may assess various risk factors from pesticide residues in or on the foods people buy and develop management strategies to control residues. Risk managers integrate social, economic, and political factors into risk assessment results.

Ask students to work in small groups to identify the product in question and to do a risk/benefit analysis to reach a reasonable conclusion about whether the product should be banned.

The product:

  • contains a chemical that causes cancer in laboratory animals.
  • causes serious injury to millions of people.
  • kills 40,000 people a year.
  • kills millions of animals a year.
  • causes fires when ignited.
  • requires tremendous resources for production.
  • causes major air pollution problems.
  • produces toxic gases.
  • causes billions of dollars in property damage every year.
  • destroys millions of acres of land for roads to facilitate it.

Ask each group to discuss its analytical process and conclusion with the entire class.

The product referred to is an automobile, and its risks are an acceptable part of American life because individuals believe they have control over the risks and because there often is not an acceptable alternative to the automobile. This is the type of critical thinking that needs to be used when looking at all kinds of issues.

Activity 3: International Trade, Interdependence, & Sovereignty

  1. Ask the students if they or their families have ever purchased a product made in a different country.
  2. Encourage discussion by mentioning the brand names of various products such as Volkswagen (Germany), Sony (Japan), Toyota (Japan), Nintendo (Japan), Panasonic (Japan), Hyundai (South Korea), Adidas (Taiwan), Nokia (Finland), Barilla (pasta, Italy), Nestlé (Switzerland).
  3. Ask students to name American brand names; examples include: Levi’s, Microsoft, Google, McDonald’s, Heinz, Coca-Cola, Starbucks, Ford, and many more. Although these companies and their associated brand names are owned or operated in a particular country, each has substantial interest in the economy of one another. The products they produce may also require raw ingredients or inputs from each other or other countries around the globe. This is what is meant by the “global market” or “globalization.”
  4. As a homework assignment, ask each student to complete the “Household Survey Activity Sheet.”
  5. When the class has completed the survey, make a chart on the whiteboard or overhead giving names of the countries and names of the brands.
  6. Ask the students to think about the results of the survey. Were they surprised by the number of products they found in their homes from other countries?
  7. Share the overheads “Where Your Food Dollar Goes,” “American Agriculture’s Share of World Production,” “What We Sell to the World. . . What We Buy from Other Nations,” and “Our Top Foreign Markets.”
  8. Use the World Map transparency and colored markers to indicate from what countries or states their families have products. Connect the dots from the countries or states to the state where the students reside. Do the students see any trends? Electronics, automobiles, food? Discuss with students that some countries specialize in producing goods at a price Americans are willing to pay. The U.S. government has trade agreements with many countries, but not with all. The World Trade Organization (WTO) is an international, multilateral organization which sets the rules for the global trading system and resolves disputes between its member states, all of whom are signatories to its approximately 30 agreements.
  9. As closure for this activity, ask students to create a concept map selecting one household item on their survey and then make the connections that product has to other resources, businesses, and careers. Can the student trace the product back to the farm or another natural resource such as oil (plastic)? Does the product’s principle ingredient come from another country? You may want students to identify the location where the connections on their concept webs occur.
  10. Finally, as a class, discuss again the questions noted in the Motivator/Interest Approach section of this lesson.

We welcome your feedback! Please take a minute to tell us how to make this lesson better or to give us a few gold stars!


Suggested Companion Resources

Agricultural Literacy Outcomes

Culture, Society, Economy & Geography

  • Provide examples of how changes in cultural preferences influence production, processing, marketing, and trade of agricultural products (T5.9-12.j)

Plants and Animals for Food, Fiber & Energy

  • Evaluate evidence for differing points of view on topics related to agricultural production, processing, and marketing (e.g., over-grazing and loss of plant species diversity; monocultures contributing to genetic vulnerability; use of fertilizers and pesticides increase crop production but may contaminate water sources; creating open space; farmland preservation; animal welfare practices; immigration issues; world hunger) (T2.9-12.d)

Education Content Standards


Economics Standard 5: Trade

  • Objective
    Negotiate exchanges and identify the gains to themselves and others. Compare the benefits and costs of policies that alter trade barriers between nations, such as tariffs and quotas.

Economics Standard 8: Role of Prices

  • Objective
    Predict how changes in factors such as consumers' tastes or producers' technology affect prices.


NCSS 3: People, Places, and Environments

  • Objective 1
    Objective 1
    The theme of people, places, and environments involves the study of the relationships between human populations in different locations and regional and global geographic phenomena, such as landforms, soils, climate, vegetation, and natural resources.
  • Objective 4
    Objective 4
    The causes and impact of resource management, as reflected in land use, settlement patterns, and ecosystem changes.
  • Objective 6
    Objective 6
    The social and economic effects of environmental changes and crises resulting from phenomena such as floods, storms, and drought.
  • Objective 8
    Objective 8
    The use of a variety of maps, globes, graphic representations, and geospatial technologies to help investigate spatial relations, resources and population density and distribution, and changes in the phenomena over time.

NCSS 7: Production, Distribution, and Consumption

  • Objective 1
    Objective 1
    Scarcity and the uneven distribution of resources result in economic decisions and foster consequences that may support cooperation or conflict.
  • Objective 3
    Objective 3
    That regulations and laws (for example, on property rights and contract enforcement) affect incentives for people to produce and exchange goods and services.
  • Objective 6
    Objective 6
    How factors such as changes in the market, levels of competition, and the rate of employment cause changes in prices of goods and services.
  • Objective 9
    Objective 9
    Various measures of national economic health (e.g., GNP, GDP, and the unemployment rate).

NCSS 8: Science, Technology, and Society

  • Objective 1
    Objective 1
    Science is the result of empirical study of the natural world, and technology is the application of knowledge to accomplish tasks.
  • Objective 2
    Objective 2
    Science and technology have had both positive and negative impacts upon individuals, societies, and the environment in the past and present.
  • Objective 3
    Objective 3
    That the world is media saturated and technologically dependent.
  • Objective 4
    Objective 4
    Consequences of science and technology for individuals and societies.
  • Objective 5
    Objective 5
    Decisions regarding the uses and consequences of science and technology are often complex because of the need to choose between or reconcile different viewpoints.
  • Objective 7
    Objective 7
    Findings in science and advances in technology sometimes create ethical issues that test our standards and values.
  • Objective 8
    Objective 8
    The importance of the cultural contexts in which media are created and received.
  • Objective 9
    Objective 9
    Science, technology, and their consequences are unevenly available across the globe.
  • Objective 10
    Objective 10
    Science and technology have contributed to making the world increasingly interdependent.
  • Objective 11
    Objective 11
    That achievements in science and technology are increasing at a rapid pace and can have both planned and unanticipated consequences.
  • Objective 12
    Objective 12
    Developments in science and technology may help to address global issues.


HS-ESS3: Earth and Human Activity

  • HS-ESS3-6
    Use a computational representation to illustrate the relationships among Earth systems and how those relationships are being modified due to human activity.

Common Core Connections

Reading: Anchor Standards

    Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
    Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
    Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.
    Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

Speaking and Listening: Anchor Standards

    Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
    Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
    Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.


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