The story of food traces a path from farm to fork.

Tomato and Farm

Activity Overview

Students examine food labels and conduct research to trace food paths from the original plant or animal source. They then make posters describing the story of a particular food.

Essential QuestionDownload the Curriculum

How does the way food is raised, processed, transported, and eaten impact both people and the environment?


All of our food has a story to tell. Each story includes when, where, why, and how a certain food gets from the farm to your plate and who is involved in getting it there.

As portrayed in the Nourish DVD chapter “Seed to Table,” the story of commodity corn is very different from that of an heirloom tomato. While each crop is a part of a food system that involves growing, processing, transporting, retailing, and eating food, their two stories vary dramatically in their social, environmental, and economic effects.

One story–the commodity corn’s–is typical of processed foods in an industrial food chain. This story starts with a corporate agribusiness growing miles of corn in monocrop fields. It includes chemical fertilizers, processing plants, long-distance transportation, and mega-retailers.

The industrial food chain is very efficient and has given us a wide variety of cheap food. But these things come at a cost to the environment, people’s health, and even to the farmer. Industrially produced food uses lots of energy, emits a variety of pollutants, and pays farmers an average of just 9 cents of every food dollar spent.

The other story–the heirloom tomato–exemplifies an unprocessed food in a local or ecological food cycle. This story starts on a mixed crop farm, where the farmer uses organic pest control and composting to avoid chemical pesticides and fertilizers. It includes short-distance transportation and face-to-face interaction with the customer at a farmers market. In this story, the majority of every food dollar spent goes to the local farmer, who can then reinvest it in the local community.

By becoming more aware of the food system that produces our food, we can be better equipped to make conscious choices about what and who we support. Labels are a good place to begin investigating the story behind a food, but the full story may require further research or conjecture.


Labels from a variety of different foods (see Preparation)
Copies of Food System and Food Story Clues student pages
Access to Internet
Poster board and colored pens, or presentation software

Estimated Time

Two 50-minute class periods, plus time for any additional research

Download the Nourish Curriculum Guide to read the full activity.

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