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Agriculture Helping you every day

AgMag Teacher Guide Issue 1

Why Ag in the Classroom?

Agriculture means survival. Over time, fewer and fewer people have close contact with farming and the total agricultural sector. They’re not aware of their own and society’s total dependence on agriculture. People must be agriculturally literate in order to make responsible decisions affecting this giant lifeline.

Teaching students to be agriculturally literate brings their learning to life. Helping students understand the farm-to-table connection is important in our consumer-driven society. That’s what the student Minnesota AgMag Series is all about.

About Your AgMag 

The AgMag is a great supplement to your social studies, science, or language arts curriculum. The AgMag has particular appeal to the study of Minnesota history and geography. You’ll get three issues per school year: October, January, and March.

October AgMag Theme: Agriculture is Everywhere!

  • Overview of Agriculture
  • The three segments of agriculture
  • Agricultural careers
  • Major Minnesota agriculture crops/growing areas/biomes
  • Rainfall
  • State symbols and agriculture
  • Minnesota History: Minnesota’s early farmers from ancient days to 1900

January AgMag Theme: Agriculture, the Land, and You!

  • The interdependent world of agriculture
  • The five-stage cycle from farm to consumer
  • Minnesota History: How agriculture has changed Minnesota’s landscape

March AgMag Theme: Caring for Our Natural Resources

  • The importance of caring for our natural resources
  • Caring for water, soil and air
  • Minnesota History: New people in Minnesota agriculture

Note to Teachers:

Pre/Post Quizzes

As you begin using AgMag in the classroom, MAITC asks that you have your students take the quiz before reviewing the materials, then take the quiz again as a post test once they’ve completed AgMag. These quizzes are on the AgMag website (directions below), and students can take the tests online. Students will see their score when they complete the test, and the scores will be submitted anonymously to MAITC. This helps MAITC see what students are learning through the AgMag and if we’re achieving the program’s mission.

Thank you!

Test Location: The Quiz can be taken on the website. Visit the AgMag website (www.mnagmag.org) the Quiz is on the right sidebar, just under “Search.”

Integration Ideas

Social Studies

  • Investigate how Minnesota land has changed over time. Challenge students to find historical accounts and photos.
  • Find additional maps. A good source is the Food for Thought geography resource at http://minnesota.agclassroom.org/educator/fft.cfm

English Language Arts

  • Ask students to identify key ideas and details and build their vocabulary through the AgMag’s informational text.
  • Use agriculture as an inspiration for creative writing activities and group discussions. Ideas: trace family history to agriculture roots, life in an early Native American village or on a settler’s farm.

Science and Math

  • Use the careers listed on page 2 to draw connections between agriculture and science.


Some words in your AgMag may be unfamiliar to your students. Many are defined in the articles. Words you might wish to pre-teach are:

AGRICULTURE: Growing plants and raising animals that people use for food, clothing and many other things every day. It’s also harvesting those farm products and getting them to us so we can use them. Agriculture is the industry that grows, harvests, processes, and brings us food, fiber, fish, forests, sod, landscaping materials, and more. It uses soil, water, sun, and air to produce its products. The process starts on farms, orchards, gardens, and ranches with the growing and the harvesting of crops and livestock, then moves to processing plants before finally traveling as finished products to stores, farm markets, lumberyards, greenhouses, and more where consumers buy the products. Agriculture is connected in some way with almost everything we eat, wear, and use.

Quote from an Unknown Source: “Agriculture is not simply farming. It’s the supermarket, the equipment factory, the trucking system, the overseas shipping industry, the scientist’s laboratory, the houses we live in, and much more. It has an effect on the air we breathe, the ground we walk on, the water we drink, and the food we eat.”

BIOME: The parts of the Earth’s surface that are divided by climate, soil types, and the kinds of plants and animals that live within each part. Minnesota has four distinct biomes.

BONANZA FARMS: Large farms (usually from 1500-100,000 acres) that focus on one or two highly valuable crops. In Minnesota’s history, bonanza farms focusing on wheat were popular between 1875 and 1890. These farms became highly profitable through the use of new machinery and huge crews of cheap hired labor. Over time, the land was exhausted and the large farms were no longer profitable. By the 1920s, the last remnants of the bonanza period had faded away.

CLIMATE: The long-term patterns of weather in a particular area or region. Temperature, air pressure, humidity, precipitation, sunshine, cloudiness, and wind all impact the climate.

DISTRIBUTION: Getting products from farms to consumers.

DIVERSIFIED FARMS: Those that grow a variety of crops and/or livestock.

FIBER: The raw material from plants and animals, like cotton and wool, which are used to make cloth, rope, and more.

GROWING SEASON: Period of the year that is warm enough for plants to grow.

LIVESTOCK: Farm animals (including poultry) raised for food, clothing, and other products or uses.

INDUSTRY: The businesses, organizations and people that provide a particular product or service.

LANDSCAPING MATERIALS: Vegetative materials such as trees, shrubs, perennial plants, and annual plants used to decorate the outside of a home, business, or outdoor area.

SOIL TYPES: Soils are differentiated by the amount of sand, silt, and clay particles present. This is called soil texture. The soil texture affects the soil’s ability to hold moisture, nutrients, and air. These factors influence the conditions needed for plant growth.

PRECIPITATION: Rain and snow.

PROCESSING: Changing raw materials into many different things.

PRODUCTION: Growing and harvesting plants or raising farm animals.

SPECIALIZED FARMS: Those that grow mainly one crop.

SUBSISTENCE FARMERS: Those who grow just enough food to feed themselves and their animals, and sometimes a little extra to use for trading and bartering.

TERRAIN: The physical features of an area including elevation, slope, vegetation, and surface material. Terrain affects water movement and drainage characteristics, and it can also affect weather and climate patterns.

TURF: The upper surface of soil that is made up of grass and plant roots.

Minnesota Academic Standards Connection

Subject Standard Code Benchmark
Social Studies Analyze the impact of geographic factors on the development of modern agricultural regions in Minnesota and the United States.
Social Studies Locate, identify and describe major physical features in Minnesota; explain how physical features and the location of resources affect settlement patterns and the growth of cities in different parts of Minnesota.
Social Studies Describe how land was used during different time periods in Minnesota history; explain how and why land use has changed over time.
Science Create and analyze different kinds of maps of the student’s community and of Minnesota.
Science Compare the impact of individual decisions on natural systems.
English Language Arts Explain events, procedures, ideas or concepts in a historical, scientific or technical text, including what happened and why based on specific information in the text.
English Language Arts Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; provide an accurate summary of the text distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.

AgMag Cover (Social Studies)

Discussion Prompters

  1. Agriculture is everywhere. What are the agriculture connections on this page? (Soap, food, paper, tires, clothes)
  2. Why is it important for all people to know about agriculture? (We all depend on agriculture for food, clothing and shelter. It’s important to understand how our needs are supplied as we make decisions about using land, protecting resources, keeping food safe, and much more.)

AgMag Pages 2 and 3 (Social Studies, Economics, Science)

  1. What have you eaten or worn today that came from an animal? A tree or plant? The soil? Which came from beef or dairy cattle? Hogs? Poultry?
  2. Why do we say agriculture depends on natural and renewable resources? (The things that are produced, processed and distributed all are dependent on soil, sun, air, and water in some way. Animals and plants are considered renewable resources.)
  3. After students match the jobs to Production, Processing, and Distribution, discuss some of the careers that are unfamiliar to them. Guide students to see that each category includes many different and some overlapping roles.

Crossword answers:

  1. Plants
  2. Environment
  3. Animals
  4. Soil
  5. Sun
  6. Air
  7. Water

Agriculture field answers:

A. Processing

B. Production

C. Distribution

So Many Ag Career Choices!

Using the career lists on page 2, ask students to choose a career they’re not familiar with and do some research about it. They should then write 2-3 paragraphs about that career, explaining what the career does and why it’s important for agriculture. A good resource for them to research online is https://www.agriculture.purdue.edu/usda/careers

AgMag Pages 4 and 5 (Geography, Map Skills)

  1. What geographical features of Minnesota make it a good state for agriculture? (Variety of terrain and soil types, climate, rainfall, weather.)
  2. What makes the Red River Valley (Northwest area) such a high-producing crop area? (Rich, fertile soils, adequate moisture, large flat areas for mechanized agriculture.)
  3. Which of the four regions has a main crop that people may not always think of as agriculture? Explain your answer. (The Northeast area. In the past, natural forests were cut down and not replanted. Today, forests are replenished and trees are considered a renewable crop.)
  4. In what weather situations can farmers do things to protect their crops and animals? (Farmers carefully plan when to plant crops to avoid weather that is too cold or wet. They might irrigate crops during dry conditions. They harvest ripe crops quickly to avoid damage to crops that can be harmed by fall frosts. They control the temperature in animal barns and shelter animals from inclement weather.) When do they have no control at all? (Violent winds and hail, extreme heat and drought, flooding, wildfires, late spring and early fall frosts, etc. are all beyond human control.)
  5. How did glaciers create Minnesota’s biomes? (Massive sheets of ice moving across most of Minnesota, other than the far southeast corner known as s the “Driftless zone,” carved and moved the land underneath them as the glaciers retreated. This caused the creation of rivers, lakes, and different geological terrains.
  6. What makes the biomes different? (The types of vegetation that grow there, the weather patterns in each, and the growing season of each)
    1. There are four biomes:
      1. Tallgrass Aspen Parkland, which is a mix of prairie land and deciduous forests and has a growing season of approximately 90-130 days;
      2. Pinelands, much of which is densely forested with pine trees and has the shortest growing season of approximately 90-100 days;
      3. Prairie Grassland, which has few trees and was once heavily covered in prairies and has the longest growing season of approximately 130-180 days;
      4. Hardwoods, which contains mostly leaf-bearing trees and has a growing season of approximately 100-130 days.
  7. Discuss annual precipitation as an average of data collected over many years. Remind students of weather events such as drought and flooding. What effect do these have on farmers? How could deviations eventually impact our food supplies and prices?

Think and Discuss:

  • How are the biomes different from one another? (Different terrains, growing seasons, climates, vegetation, what will grow there)
  • What biome do you live in?
  • How does it fit the description to the left?
  • Why do you think the Pineland biome main crop is forests, not field crops? (Short growing season, terrain that’s rocky and sandy, heavily forested)
  • What are some of the crops grown in the Prairie biome? (Potatoes, sugarbeets, soybeans, corn)

Minnesota Grown answers:

  1. B
  2. D
  3. C
  4. A

Minnesota Rainfall answers:

  1. Prairies gets the least rainfall. Hardwoods gets the most (and parts of northeast)
  2. Specific crops need different amounts of moisture
  3. Above normal: Crops drown out or wash away. Yield is reduced. Below normal: Drought causes crops to wither or die. Yield is reduced.
  4. Hay and Pastureland: Central/Southeast growing region, Hardwoods biome
    Sugarbeets: Northwest growing region, Prairies biome
    Corn and Soybeans: Southwest growing region, Prairies biome
    Forest and Pine Trees: Northeast growing region, Pinelands biome
    Wheat: Northwest growing region, Prairies biome

AgMag Page 6 (Social Studies, History)

This section covers state symbols, which often involve forms of agriculture. Tell the students how these symbols often represent things that Minnesota is well known for growing or producing.

  1. How do symbols communicate ideas more quickly than written words?
  2. What is meant by the old saying “A picture is worth a thousand words“?
  3. What are some slogans or sayings that represent Minnesota? (“Land of 10,000 Lakes,” “The Gopher State,” “The North Star State” or the “Star of the North”.
  4. Take the Minnesota State Symbols game quiz on the Minnesota House of Representatives website: http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/hinfo/StateFair3/

State symbol answers:
Wild rice is hand-harvested in lakes and marshes. Cultivated wild rice is planted in water-filled paddies and harvested by machines.

Honeycrisp apples were developed at the University of Minnesota.
Milk, cheese, cream, ice cream, yogurt, cream cheese, butter, cottage cheese, sour cream, kefir, whipped cream
Red (Norway) pine trees live an average of 250 years.

Did You Know? answer: Lester soil is a nutrient-rich soil that is ideal for growing pasture grasses and crops such as soybeans and corn. Lester soil is found in 17 counties in south-central Minnesota. The soil is very productive and important to the Minnesota economy.

State Events
The Minnesota State Fair was created in 1859, one year after Minnesota became a state, and its original purpose was to celebrate the state’s agriculture. Many counties in Minnesota have annual county fairs, and agriculture is an important part of those events as well. Have the students discuss whether they’ve attended either the State Fair or a county fair, and what agriculture they saw (for example, live farm animals, food displays, crop art, etc.).

Name the Symbol Answers:
State Flower: Pink and white lady slippers: The pink-and-white lady slipper is found in swamps, bogs, and damp woods. It has largely disappeared due to habitat loss. As one of Minnesota's rarest wildflowers, it is illegal to pick lady slippers in the state.
State Bird: Common Loon
State Fish: Walleye

AgMag Page 7 (History, Social Studies)

Imagine life as an early immigrant or Native American family before 1900. You have no electricity. Your water is drawn by pail from a well. Your bathroom is an outhouse. Your only transportation is a horse and wagon, or a canoe. Most of your family’s time is taken just getting the food, clothing, and shelter you need to live day to day. How do you get your food? Cook it? Wash your clothes? Take a bath? Keep your home warm in winter? What are some of the children’s jobs in the family? What would you do to have fun? What is the hardest part of your life? The best part?

AgMag Page 8 (Social Studies)

  1. Why are different crops eaten in different locations of the world? (Food crops need different soils, climate and terrain in order to thrive. People use their local grains in most of their meals.) Major food crops worldwide are corn, wheat, rice, potatoes, cassava, and soybeans.

Minnesota AgBrag answers:

  1. China
  2. Canada
  3. Mexico
  4. Japan

Why do these countries want Minnesota’s products? Because they do not have the climate, soil, or space to grow these crops efficiently and cost-effectively themselves.

What foods are imported to Minnesota from around the world? Why is this necessary?
Coffee, cocoa beans, pineapples, fish, shellfish, bananas, mangos, tea, tropical oils are among the foods imported from around the world.

Why is this necessary?
Minnesota either does not have the climate to produce these items, or it is not cost-effective to do so here.

Acres of Pizza answers:
Cardboard for pizza box – Tree
Crust – Wheat
Pepperoni – Pig
Sauce – Tomatoes
Cheese – Cow

What Is It? answer: Sugarbeets

Curry combs are still in regular use for grooming horses and other animals. Grinding wheels may look different but are still important today.

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