Today, most Americans are three generations removed from the farm. While we produce most of our food on farms of one type or another, many consumers lack farm experience. Without that, they will also lack the understanding of how this happens. If you ask them, most children will say that their food comes from a grocery store or favorite restaurant. To help educate, at the Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota we introduce the food to table concept through engagement in our agriculture-based exhibits.
Grow It Gallery
Museum visitors enter our Grow It Gallery to plant and harvest fruits and vegetables in the garden beds. They transport produce to the market, then weigh, sort, and sell it. Aspiring chefs will buy produce to prepare a delicious meal or snack in the kitchen. Young learners often take this experience a step further and cash a paycheck at the bank. Using their earnings from working at the farm, they pay for the cost of a meal or other necessities. This learning-through-play experience easily encompasses the whole farm to table cycle.
During the growing season, first-hand experience with plants and animals is a daily occurrence in the Museum’s outdoor Farmyard. The garden beds are in full production mode, and children water plants, watch them grow, and harvest fresh produce when it’s ready. The active engagement in this process entices many children to try fruits and vegetables they may not eat at home. Learning about produce we grow in Museum garden beds is a gateway to conversations about produce in the grocery store and how it gets there. Museum staff often encourage conversations about gardening at home, as well as different types of gardens for varying lifestyles. Gardening is an activity–and a skill–that children will carry with them through their lifetime.
The Alltech Farm Animal Experience features crops and livestock during the growing season. Visitors can learn about crops we grow in the area and how we use them to make feed for farm animals. They can see how livestock is fed on-site, all while learning what it is being raised for. Children have an opportunity to learn that the chicken in front of them will lay an egg, just like the ones they see in cartons in the grocery store. Visitors can observe how pigs are cared for and how quickly they grow to market size. The Museum donates the pork to the ECHO Food Shelf, where it provides a locally grown source of protein to people in need. Children easily recognize the importance of caring for others in their community as they engage in farm to table learning.
“Ag on the Move” lets children explore how agricultural products travel across the state of Minnesota and beyond. Children will learn about raising plants and animals in one area, then transporting them to other locations before they are processed and arrive at the grocery store. Making this connection is an important step in understanding how agricultural products find their way to the consumer.
Everyone always looks forward to celebrating National Dairy Month with our Dairy Barn exhibit and butter-making program. We pour cream into containers and children shake them up until it turns into butter. Everyone then enjoys spreading it onto crackers. The final product doesn’t look like the butter they buy at the store, but most children understand the process. Butter is made from milk, which comes from a cow, which we raise on a farm.
As they learn through play, children make connections between growing, harvesting, processing, transporting, and selling food.
More learning fun:
Visit your local farmer’s market, where you can buy directly from a local farmer or grower. Let your child ask questions or pick new fruits and vegetables to try. The food at the market is fresh and local, and you will find a variety of organic, free range, and pasture-fed products. This might become a new, favorite family tradition that will encourage healthier eating habits!
Check out the Food Link on the American Farm Bureau Federation’s website.
Read the following books, Museum favorites:
- “We’re Going to the Farmers’ Market” by Stefan Page
- “Before We Eat: From Farm to Table” by Pat Brisson and Mary Azarian
- “Food from Farms” by Nancy Dickmann
- “Growing Vegetable Soup” by Lois Ehlert
- “Who Grew My Soup?” by Tom Darbyshire
- “Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table” by Jacqueline Briggs Martin
- “Garden to Table: A Kid’s Guide to Planting, Growing, and Preparing Food” by Katherine Hengel
- “From Seed to Plant” by Gail Gibbons