The Story of Food in Petaluma, California

Marjan Sobhani, a fourth grade teacher at Penngrove Elementary School in Petaluma, California, created a Nourish unit in preparation for a class field trip to the National Heirloom Exposition. Her students investigated the “story of food” through several activities from the Nourish curriculum. Marjan shares her lesson plan and worksheets here.



Day 1: Food Story Clues

To initiate the unit, the students and I brought in packaged and whole foods for Nourish Activity #1: The Story of Food. I began by introducing the unit and screening the first chapter of the Nourish DVD, entitled Connections. Next, children worked in collaborative groups of 4-5, helping one another to investigate the story of each food at their table group using the Food Story Clues handout. They examined labels, discussed possibilities, and in some cases (particularly with the fresh produce), searched for information online.

After lunch, the class viewed the Nourish short film Try Something New with British chef Jamie Oliver. That set the stage for us to cut and display the whole foods from our morning activity. Students finally had the opportunity to taste the fresh fruit and vegetables they had “investigated.” Everyone was eager to try the rainbow carrots, heirloom tomatoes, exotic dragon fruit, and other “new” foods. Students agreed to politely toss the food they didn’t like. Their reaction was overwhelmingly positive and most students were eager for seconds.

One student shared that his family only eats meat they raise themselves. “We like to eat our own cows and chickens because we know what we feed them.” The class was fascinated by the student’s description of slaughtering animals humanely.

Another student exclaimed, “The carrots in our garden are purple too but they don’t grow straight. They’re a really funny shape.” Then she held her body in an unbalanced pose, one knee, jutting out, arms poking the air. The class was intrigued.

One student squealed to a peer, “This is not an ordinary carrot. It’s delicious!”

We followed up this Nourish activity with a homework assignment. Students had the option of “sharing a meal” with the class. In addition to filling out a questionnaire, students displayed drawings and/or photographs of the meal, along with the recipe. In some cases, students brought in the dish to share with the class.

Here is a copy of the assignment, adapted from Nourish Activity #3: Food Traditions.

Day 2: Seasonal Food Wheel

Today, students completed Nourish Activity #2: Seasonal, Local Food. The lesson began with a screening and discussion of the Nourish short film In Season. At the students’ request, we also viewed Twinkie vs. Carrot.

In preparation for the activity, students were given the option of bringing a fruit or vegetable from home. We talked about the food we had brought. I asked them if they could guess the story of the orange I was holding. The children were amazed by the “Grown in Australia” label on the fruit. They loved imagining what that orange had endured. They talked about unripe fruit, especially bananas, picked for long shelf lives. They were excited about understanding the environmental consequences of how food was grown and transported.

Next, students were given brochures about seasonal foods listed by month, printed by a local community grocery store. The children worked in pairs to create their own seasonal food wheels. They eagerly constructed their wheels and said they looked forward to sharing them with their families. Many children said they planned to display their food wheels on their refrigerators. They also enjoyed marking their favorite foods of each month with an asterisk or other symbol.

Some students brought food they harvested from home gardens, to share with their classmates and teacher. This is beginning to become a ritual with this class.

Day 3: Analyzing Food Ads

Students completed Nourish Activity #5: Analyzing Food Ads with a substitute teacher. The students worked with preselected food ads from magazines. I’m sorry I missed this engaging activity as it provides excellent opportunities to develop critical thinking skills and media literacy. In the future, I look forward to returning to this lesson and giving the class an opportunity to further analyze food ads from television and the Web.

During the Spring trimester, I plan to adapt Nourish Activity #4: Food and Ecosystems as a supplementary activity during our “Environments” unit in science. I know the class will enjoy the Ecosystem Hunt.

Day 4: Field Trip to the Heirloom Expo

As a culminating experience, our class took a field trip to the National Heirloom Exposition. At this colorful event, they met local farmers, enjoyed tasting heirloom produce, and visited numerous exhibits. For a similar experience, try a Farmers Market or local farm.

Day 5: Nourish Action Plan

To conclude the unit, students completed a modified Nourish Action Plan from the activity Nourish Action Projects, which we called “Ideas for Action from Nourish.” This gave students an opportunity to demonstrate what they had learned and anchor their commitments to action.

A Final Reflection

For me, the most valuable outcome of using the Nourish curriculum was the easy way it gave students to speak about their own food wisdom. Children come with varying degrees of sophistication and information about their food. Nourish made it exciting for students to ask questions and develop their own food literacy. Nourish does all of that with beautiful films and resources. Students looked forward to their Nourish lessons and delighted in seeing Nourish on the day’s agenda. When a student saw Nourish on the whiteboard schedule, she exclaimed “Nourish! I love Nourish days!” When I probed her for reasons, she shyly said, “Well, we get to see cool videos, and we get to eat good food, and we talk about food!”


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