Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix
Many Types of Farms
Students will explore the sources of a variety of agricultural products and discover that farms can be diverse in size and in products that are grown and raised.
Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)
domesticated: adapted over time (as by selective breeding) from a wild or natural state to life in close association with and to the benefit of humans
hydroponics: a method of gardening where plants are grown in a water and nutrient solution without any soil
middlemen: a person who plays an economic role intermediate between producer and retailer or consumer
resource: a place or thing that is available for use
subsistence: the state of having what you need to support oneself at a minimum level
Did You Know? (Ag Facts)
- Raising beef cattle is the single largest segment of American agriculture.1
- Dairy cows in the United States produce 215 billion pounds of milk a year.2
- The U.S. has 328 million commercial laying hens. On average, each laying hen produces 289 eggs per year.3
Background Agricultural Connections
Farms can be diverse in size and in product. Farms may be owned by companies or family-owned, large-scale or hobby-sized. Farm size depends on the availability of land and resources such as money and workers to manage the farm. Farms may raise animals such as poultry, livestock, fish, or insects or they may grow crops such as fruits, vegetables, and grains. Some farmers sell their products locally. Other farmers sell their products to large companies to process into other goods such as food, clothing, craft items, or medicine. Knowledge of the different kinds of farms present in today's world increases awareness that all of the products we utilize have to come from somewhere. Understanding how agriculture affects daily life often means that the process is not taken for granted.
Dairy farming is an agriculture enterprise raising female cattle, goats, or other milk-producing livestock for long-term milk production. All female dairy animals begin lactating after giving birth. The milk may be either processed on site or transported to a dairy for processing and eventual retail sale. Many dairy farms also grow their own feed, including corn, alfalfa, and hay. This is fed directly to the cows or stored as silage for use during the winter season.
Livestock refers to a domesticated animal intentionally reared in an agricultural setting to make products such as food or fiber or to be used for its labor. Livestock may be raised for subsistence or for profit. Raising animals (animal husbandry) is an important component of modern agriculture. Livestock are generally kept in an enclosure, fed by human-provided food, and intentionally bred. The type of feed varies from natural grass to highly sophisticated processed feed.
Ranching is the practice of raising grazing livestock, such as cattle or sheep, for meat or wool. Ranching is also a method used to raise less common livestock such as elk, American bison, or even ostrich or emu. If the ranch includes arable (able to grow crops) or irrigated land, it may also grow feed, such as hay, for the animals' use. Ranches that accept paying guests are known as dude ranches.
Poultry is a class of domesticated birds, such as chickens, turkeys, and ducks, used for meat, eggs, or feathers. Chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese are the most common birds raised on poultry farms. Chickens are raised for their eggs (layers) or meat (broilers). Turkeys are primarily raised for their meat.
Aquaculture is the cultivation of fish, shellfish, algae, or other aquatic organisms. Aquaculture is different from fishing in that active human effort is used to maintain or increase the animal population as opposed to taking them from the wild. Fish farming is the principal form of aquaculture. Fish species raised by fish farms include salmon, catfish, tilapia, and cod. The fish are generally raised in large tanks or ponds, although some fish farms use synthetic fiber cages in existing water resources.
Beekeeping (apiculture) is the practice of intentional maintenance of honey bee colonies, commonly in hives, by humans. A beekeeper may keep bees to collect honey and beeswax, to pollinate crops, or to produce bees for sale to other beekeepers. A colony of bees is composed of a single queen, many workers (infertile females), drones (males), and a brood (eggs, larvae, and pupae). A hive is the box used by beekeepers to house a colony.
While each individual species has its own peculiarities, the cultivation of all grain (or cereal) crops is similar. All are annual plants, meaning that one planting yields one harvest. Wheat, rye, oats, and barley are the cool-season cereals. These are hardy plants that grow well in moderate weather and cease to grow in hot weather. Barley and rye are the hardiest cereals, able to survive in cold weather (overwinter). Wheat is the most popular.
Once the cereal plants have grown their seeds, they have completed their life cycle. The plants die and become brown and dry. As soon as the parent plants and their seed kernels are reasonably dry, harvest can begin. Cereal crops are machine-harvested, typically using a combine harvester which cuts, threshes, and separates the grain from the husk. Farmers commonly deliver their newly harvested grain to a grain elevator, a large storage facility that consolidates the crops of many farmers. The farmer may sell the grain at the time of delivery or maintain ownership of a share of grain in the pool for later sale.
Traditionally, vegetables were farmed in the soil in small rows or blocks, often primarily for consumption by the grower's family, with the excess sold in nearby towns. Later, farms on the edge of large communities began specializing in vegetable production, with the short distance allowing the farmer to get the produce to market while still fresh.
Planting in long rows allows machinery to cultivate the fields, increasing efficiency and output. However, the diversity of vegetable crops requires that a number of techniques be used to optimize the growth of each type of plant. Some farms specialize in one vegetable while others grow a large variety. The development of artificial ripening technologies, rapid transportation, and refrigeration has reduced some of the challenges of getting produce to market in good condition.
Raised bed gardening has increased yields from small plots of soil without the need for commercial, energy-intensive fertilizers. Modern hydroponic farming produces high yields in greenhouses without using any soil, but expends more energy.
Farms may grow large quantities of a few types of vegetables and sell them in bulk to major markets or middlemen; this requires large growing operations. They may produce for local customers or sell through farm stands and local farmer's markets. Large cities often have a central produce market which handles vegetables and manages distribution to supermarkets and restaurants.
An orchard is a planting of trees or shrubs maintained for fruit production. Most orchards contain either fruit or nut-producing trees for commercial production. Most temperate-zone orchards are laid out in a regular grid, with a base of grazed or mown grass or bare soil for maintenance and fruit gathering.
Grapes for wine, raisins, or table grapes are grown in vineyards. Vineyards are often located on hillsides with soil of marginal value for other types of plants. Planting on hillsides maximizes the amount of sunlight that falls on the vineyard.
Cranberries are a group of evergreen dwarf shrubs or trailing vines found in acidic bogs throughout the cooler parts of the Northern Hemisphere. The fruit is a berry that is larger than the leaves of the plant. It is initially white, but turns a deep red when fully ripe. Most cranberries are processed into products such as juice, sauce, and sweetened dried cranberries. Historically, cranberry beds were constructed in wetlands. Currently, cranberry beds are constructed in upland areas that have a shallow water table. The topsoil is scraped off to form dikes around the bed perimeter. Clean sand is hauled in to a depth of four to eight inches. A common misconception about cranberry production is that the beds remain flooded throughout the year. During the growing season, cranberry beds are not flooded. They are irrigated regularly to maintain soil moisture. Cranberries are harvested in the fall when the fruit takes on a distinctive deep red color. Beds are flooded with 6"-8" of water to facilitate the harvest. A harvester is driven through the beds to remove the fruit from the vines. Cranberry beds are flooded again during the winter to protect against low temperatures.
Interest Approach - Engagement
- Provide each student with a blank piece of paper and ask them to draw a farm.
- Compare the drawings. How are they similar or different? Address any misconceptions or stereotypes.
- Clarify that not all farms are the same. Available resources help farmers determine the size of their farms and what they will grow and/or raise.
- Explain to the students that they will be examining different types of farms.
Activity 1: Farming MyPlate
- Project the MyPlate image onto a large screen.
- Divide the class into teams and assign each team one of the MyPlate food groups—fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy.
- Ask each team to use the State Agricultural Facts to choose a food grown in their state for their assigned food group.
- Have the teams conduct research on the type of farm that produces each food. They should answer the following questions:
- What does the farm produce?
- What equipment and supplies are needed to produce the food?
- Where in your state is this food grown?
- Allow time for the groups to present their findings. Presentations should include pictures or drawings with brief explanations. Optional: Students could bring in a sample of a food product grown or raised on the type of farm they researched for the class to try.
Activity 2: Plan Your Own Farm
- Use the Many Types of Farms PowerPoint Slides to discuss the different types of farms that produce food.
- Lead a discussion about farming. Include the following points in the discussion:
- A farm can grow any kind of grain, vegetable, or fruit as long as the soil and climate are right for that crop.
- Most meat and animal products found in grocery stores come from farms. Some of our clothes are made from plants or animals grown or raised on farms (cotton, wool, leather).
- Many types of animals, even insects such as bees, can be raised on a farm.
- Farms can include a mix of animals and crops. They can also grow or raise just one kind of crop or animal.
- Farms come in all sizes and can be owned by a family, multiple families, or a large company.
- Provide each student with a Plan Your Own Farm activity sheet. Have them create a farm that could operate in the area in which they live. Ask them to consider their climate and soil when planning which crops can be grown and animals can be raised in their region.
- Provide time for the students to share the farms they created with the class.
Concept Elaboration and Evaluation:
After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:
- Farms can be diverse in size and product.
- Farms can include a mix of animals and crops or they can grow or raise just one type of crop or animal.
- The soil and climate of an area determine which crops can best be grown there.
- A farm's size depends on the availability of land and resources such as money and workers to manage the farm.
Suggested Companion Resources
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