AgMag 3rd Grade Specialty Crops Teacher Guide

Why Ag in the Classroom?

Agriculture means survival. Over time, fewer and fewer people have close contact with farming and the total agricultural sector. They’re not aware of their own and society’s total dependence on agriculture. People must be agriculturally literate in order to make responsible decisions affecting this giant lifeline.

Teaching students to be agriculturally literate brings their learning to life. Helping students understand the farm-to-table connection is important in our consumer-driven society. That’s what the student Minnesota AgMag Series is all about.

About This AgMag

The AgMag is a great supplement to your social studies, science, health, or language arts curriculum. This special issue is a deeper dive into specialty crops, something which many of your students may not be familiar with. Note: All photos of crops in this issue feature specialty crops grown in Minnesota.

Integration Ideas

Social Studies

  • Investigate how different types of crops grow in different places across the U.S. and Minnesota.

English Language Arts

  • Ask students to identify key ideas and details and build their vocabulary through the AgMag’s informational text.
  • Use agriculture as an inspiration for creative writing activities and group discussions. Idea: look at the farm profiles on pages 4-5, then have students research and write about some of the specialty crops those farms grow.

Science and Math

  • Use the weed and pest control information on page 6 and the Plant Families section on page 7 to draw connections between agriculture and science.


  • Page 8 covers the relationship between good health and nutritious foods.


Some words in your AgMag may be unfamiliar to your students. Many are defined in the articles. There is also a glossary on the AgMag website: https://mnagmag.org/glossary/
Words you might wish to pre-teach are:

AGRICULTURE: Growing plants and raising animals that people use for food, clothing and many other things every day. It’s also harvesting those farm products and getting them to us so we can use them.
Agriculture is the industry that grows, harvests, processes, and brings us food, fiber, fish, forests, sod, landscaping materials, and more. It uses soil, water, sun, and air to produce its products. The process starts on farms, orchards, gardens, and ranches with the growing and the harvesting of crops and livestock, then moves to processing plants before finally traveling as finished products to stores, farm markets, lumberyards, greenhouses, and more where consumers buy the products. Agriculture is connected in some way with almost everything we eat, wear, and use.
Quote from an Unknown Source: “Agriculture is not simply farming. It’s the supermarket, the equipment factory, the trucking system, the overseas shipping industry, the scientist’s laboratory, the houses we live in, and much more. It has an effect on the air we breathe, the ground we walk on, the water we drink, and the food we eat.”

BIOLOGICAL CONTROL: Controlling pests by bringing in a natural predator to that pest.

CLIMATE: The long-term patterns of weather in a particular area or region. Temperature, air pressure, humidity, precipitation, sunshine, cloudiness, and wind all impact the climate.

COMMODITY CROPS: Crops that someone grows or makes in order to sell it, not to use it themselves.

CROP ROTATION: Growing first one crop in a field, and then another crop on the same land. Crop rotation makes nutrients available for crops and confuses bugs and weeds.

DISTRIBUTORS: The people and companies who get products from farms to consumers.

FERTILE: Soil that is rich in nutrients and can produce a large amount of healthy crops.

GROWING SEASON: Period of the year that is warm enough for plants to grow.

MULCHING: Laying things like grass clippings, leaves, or straw in the empty spaces around plants. This helps prevent weeds from growing.

NUTRIENTS: Substances in foods that provide things like vitamins, minerals, calcium, and protein that promote growth and good health.

ORGANIC: Crops that are grown without synthetic chemicals, and follow specific soil quality and (where applicable) animal-raising policies.

PROCESSING: Changing raw materials into many different things.

SUSTAINABLE PRACTICES: Techniques for farming that protect soil, water, and air quality.

TERRAIN: The physical features of an area including elevation, slope, vegetation, and surface material. Terrain affects water movement and drainage characteristics, and it can also affect weather and climate patterns.

TILLAGE: Preparing land for farming by digging, stirring, or overturning soil in order to provide an environment that’s best for proper seed germination.

SubjectStandard CodeBenchmark
Social Studies3. that consumers have two roles — as sellers of resources and buyers of goods and services; explain that producers have two roles — as sellers of goods and services and buyers of resources.
Social Studies3. maps and concepts of location (relative location words and cardinal and intermediate directions) to describe places in one’s community, the state of Minnesota, the United States or the world.
Science3. that the practice of science and/or engineering involves many different kinds of work and engages men and women of all ages and backgrounds.
Science3. common groups of plants and animals using observable physical characteristics, structures and behaviors.
HealthStandard 7Students will demonstrate the ability to practice health-enhancing behaviors and avoid or reduce health risks.
English Language Arts3.2.1.1Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers.
English Language Arts3.2.7.7Use information gained from illustrations (e.g. maps, photographs) and the words in a text to demonstrate understanding of the text.

AgMag Specialty Crops: Cover
(Social Studies)

Discussion Prompters:

  • Agriculture is everywhere. What are the agriculture connections on this page? (Soap, food, tires)
  • Why is it important for all people to know about agriculture? (We all depend on agriculture for food, clothing and shelter. It’s important to understand how our needs are supplied as we make decisions about using land, protecting resources, keeping food safe, and much more.)
  • Why are specialty crops important? (They feed us, provide medicine and decoration)

AgMag Specialty Crops: Pages 2 and 3
(Social Studies, Geography, Science, Map Skills)

Discussion Prompters:

  • Which of the specialty crops shown on these pages do you like to eat? Which ones grow in Minnesota? (Sweet corn, berries, apples, sunflowers, potatoes, tomatoes) Which ones don’t? (Citrus, almonds, oranges, peaches)
  • Why can some crops not be grown here? (Minnesota doesn’t have the right climate or growing season)
  • Why are there different growing regions in Minnesota? (Different climate across the state causes the south to have longer growing season than the north; some areas have rougher terrain; some areas don’t get as much moisture)

Where Does It Grow?

Have the students look at the list of specialty crops. Things each crop needs to grow successfully are listed. Have them write down in which region of Minnesota it is grown.

Also have them answer the question: Where is this location in relationship to where you live? (They must use relative location and word and/or cardinal directions to answer. This supports the academic standard.)


Potatoes: Northwest
Christmas Trees: Northeast
Sweet Corn: Southwest
Apples: Central/Southeast

The Taste Test

Bring in different apple varieties and have the students taste-test them. If possible, include a Honeycrisp, since that was developed in Minnesota and is Minnesota’s state fruit. Have the students discuss the different flavors. Are some apples sweeter? Tangier? What is their favorite? Why? Explain to students that apples have been selectively bred for thousands of years to produce the varieties that we know today. Honeycrisp, Gala, Red Delicious, Granny Smith, and the many other apples in the grocery store all come from the same species of tree, but they have distinctly different characteristics. Some are sweet, and others are tart. Some are good for baking, while others are best eaten fresh. Some store well for a long time, but others need to be used soon after ripening. Knowledge of how traits are inherited in apples has allowed breeders to develop the many different varieties found in orchards and grocery stores around the world. (For a more in depth look at apples, take a look at the Apple Science: Comparing Apples and Onions lesson on the curriculum matrix)

Engaging Students

Asking students to annotate the text already on the page can help provide opportunities for both engagement and checks for understanding within the given text. Here are some examples of directions for students:

  • Draw a box around five key words they think are most important to “Specialty Crops.”
  • After reading the bullet points on page 3 about where apples grow best, ask the students to draw a picture of an apple in two regions of Minnesota that seem to be a good fit for growing apples. Prepare to share your answer with a classmate and give a reason for why you chose the regions you did.
  • Draw a triangle around the specialty crop that needs a longer growing season.

AgMag Specialty Crops: Pages 4 and 5
(Social Studies, Geography, Map Skills, Science)

Who are the Growers?

Today’s farmers in Minnesota come from everywhere and raise a wide variety of crops. This section is meant to introduce that concept to your students. Specialty crop farmers include people who have lived in Minnesota their whole lives, and immigrants from other countries. What they all have in common is their love of growing plants. They also have a lot of knowledge about science (and often engineering) in order to successfully grow these crops. Today they are educated in how to sustainably farm to keep farmland healthy for years to come.

Discussion Prompters:

  • Why do farmers need a strong knowledge of science? (To understand how crops and plants grow; to understand what conditions make it difficult to grow and how to overcome those obstacles)
  • Why does Loon Organics grow crops it doesn’t sell, such as clover and buckwheat? (They plow those crops back into the soil to help replenish the soil’s nutrients)
  • Why does Pepin Heights hand pick and inspect each apple before shipping it? (They look for damage or signs of disease)
  • If Hmong immigrants were farmers in their home land, why might they need help starting to farm here? (Different geography, different crops, learning how to work with Minnesota retailers and how to become a part of the Minnesota food industry)
  • Why is an air seeder a good thing for Keith Marti’s farm? (He can plant more quickly and more accurately than without)

Ask a Farmer
Ask the students to make a question mark next to the name of a farmer they would like to meet. Have them write a question for the farmer in the margin of that page.

If You Were the Farmer
Students should choose a specialty crop that they would like to grow. Have them write about the crop and draw a picture of it.

If time permits, refer them back to pages 2 and 3 and ask where their crop would grow best and why.

Farming Math answer:
30 pounds

AgMag Specialty Crops: Page 6
(Social Studies, Science)

Even though they’re called “specialty crops,” we can find these crops in all kinds of places.

Discussion Prompters:

  • What specialty crops can you find at a grocery store, food co-op, or farm market? (food, but also many of these sites sell flowers and plants)
  • What specialty crops can you find at a garden center? (Flowers, plants [annuals and perennials], soil, trees)
  • Why is the Minnesota Grown label important? (Helps shoppers know what products are grown locally)
  • Why do you think some farmers want to run organic farms? (To protect soil and water from synthetic chemicals)

Note for teachers: “How does your family decide where to buy food and what foods to buy?” is a question in the text. Be sure to keep the discussion on this question nonjudgmental—there are no right or wrong answers.

AgMag Specialty Crops: Page 7

Discussion Prompters:
Why is it important for farmers to understand the different plant families? (Because each plant family has different growing needs, so farmers have to understand what those different needs are in order to successfully grow those plants)

Match: Plant Family to Specialty Crop Answers:
Gourd Family: Cucumber
Potato Family: Tomato
Rose Family: Apple

AgMag Specialty Crops: Page 8

Why Do We Need Fruits and Vegetables?

Explain to students that fruits and vegetables are among the best sources for the nutrients we need to grow and thrive. But no one food provides every nutrient, so we need a variety. One way to explain this is to point out that fruits and vegetables have many different colors, so we should “eat a rainbow.”

  • Why should we eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables? (Because each fruit and vegetable provides different nutrients; there is no single food that provides every nutrient humans need)
  • What is your favorite food that provides Vitamin B2? Vitamin C? Calcium? Protein? Are any of the foods listed here something you haven’t tried? What would you like to try?
  • Look at the smoothie recipe. What are some ways you can change it? What could you add? How could you create a smoothie that has lots of nutrients?

Lesson Ideas

Plants Around You

Students will categorize plants into groups, describe what plants need for healthy growth, and start their own garden by planting seeds inside a cup.

Making Half MyPlate Fruits and Vegetables

The purpose of this lesson is to introduce students to MyPlate (2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans) and to reinforce the importance of making half your plate fruits and vegetables.

Let’s Go Shopping!

Students will learn the differences between needs and wants, goods and services, and producers and consumers by participating in a grocery store simulation, exploring the source of grocery store items, and designing their own products to sell.

Discover Christmas Trees

Science, history, and geography topics are used to teach about the history of the Christmas tree, life cycle of a conifer, types of trees and how they adapt, working on a Christmas tree farm, and the ecology of conifer trees.

Pests and Pesticides in Agriculture

In this lesson students learn the definition of a pest and identify categories of pests including vertebrates, invertebrates, weeds, or disease. Through a classroom activity, students learn how pests affect the growth of crops and how integrated pest management (IPM) is used to control pests.

Activity Ideas

  • Use the online Minnesota Grown Directory to investigate Minnesota grown specialty crops and the farms that produce them. See if there are any farms located close to your school. If possible, invite a specialty crop grower to your school or organize a field trip to his/her farm.
  • Investigate your school lunch menu for a specific day or week. Challenge students to identify the specialty crops included. Discuss which plants would be grown in Minnesota and which items might be grown in another part of the United States or world.
  • Have a Specialty Crop Chef competition! Encourage students to share a recipe that involves specialty crops or create their own. Use the smoothie recipe on page 8 for inspiration. Invite students to prepare their recipe for students and/or school staff.

Additional MAITC Resources

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