The story of our food is intimately connected to ecosystems.

Man raking in garden

Activity Overview

Students explore a garden to find evidence of ecosystem components and interactions involved in the creation of our food.

Essential QuestionDownload the Curriculum

In what ways do we depend on ecosystems for our food?


It is easy to forget that food is a product of ecosystems. We usually purchase it in supermarkets and restaurants, where it bears little resemblance to the original plant or animal. Yet, without sunlight, soil, water, plants, and animals interacting in an ecosystem, we would have no food.

Food gives us the energy we need to stay alive, grow, and reproduce, and we can get this energy only from other organisms. Although the sun emits enormous quantities of radiant energy every day, our bodies cannot use it directly. Instead, we rely on plants to convert it to chemical energy (food) through photosynthesis. This energy may then pass through a food chain to us. Photosynthesis, pollination, predation, decomposition, the cycling of nutrients, and water are all involved in creating our food.

Although farms and gardens depend on ecosystem processes, they are different from natural ecosystems. Natural ecosystems contain plant and animal populations interacting in balance with one another and nonliving things, and can sustain themselves over time. In farms and gardens, people plant seeds, add water, amend the soil, weed, and remove pests to increase production, all of which can affect both balance and sustainability.

As seen in Nourish, these human impacts are often far-reaching, especially with industrial agriculture. For example, pesticides and fertilizers applied to industrial farms in the Midwest have created a dead zone–where almost nothing can live–thousands of miles away in the Gulf of Mexico.


Copies of Ecosystem Hunt student page
Pencils or clipboards
Index cards and rings
Reference materials on ecosystems

Estimated Time

Two 50-minute class periods

Download the Nourish Curriculum Guide to read the full activity.

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