Food Economics: Where in the World… and Why?

Food EconomicsThe harvest stage of a school garden provides an ideal setting to observe interdependence of producers and consumers: harvesting food in the garden vs. buying produce in a store or a restaurant.  This is when Social Studies benchmarks can be supported in the garden and students can gain an understanding of how consumer choices affect food sustainability on Maui.

Discussion Points

Limited Resources and Choice: Explain scarcity and effects on daily life. Discuss water scarcity in Hawaii and how it affects farmers / gardeners. What happens when there is less rainfall on the island? How does it affect farmers? What happens if local farmers stop producing a fruit or vegetable? How does it affect the price? What happens when consumers buy imported produce instead of local produce? How does it affect a local farmer’s ability to grow more?

Role of Government: Discuss responsibility of government to provide goods and services – ie. In supplying water to areas where needed.

Economic Interdependence / Role and Function of Markets:  How do people benefit from trade (exchange of goods and services)? Discuss relationships between buyers (consumers) and sellers (producers) and how they depend upon each other. Why do farmers need customers? Why do customers need farmers?

ActivitiesFood Economics

  • Display imported produce: a tomato (from California), banana (from Ecuador), eggplant (from Philippines), cabbage (from Mexico) and ask the students to find where these items are growing in the garden. Have students search for “local” produce bring a sample of each back to circle (or a leaf from the plant if fruit or vegetable is not ready to harvest).
  • Locate origin of each imported produce item on the globe and estimate how many miles / amount of time each one traveled before being sold to the consumer here on Hawaii.
  • Discuss all the human resources involved in delivering that food (farmers, truckers, shippers, store clerks, etc.). Which ones require gas/fuel to do their jobs? Students act out each stage of delivery and exchange.
  • Compare the imported food chain to how many steps / people / how much energy or fuel it took to deliver food from the garden to the table.
  • Ask students if they know someone who grows food on Maui. Discuss the concept of local vs. imported. What is local? Are you local? Why?
  1. If you bought a local banana from a store that sells your uncle’s / auntie’s bananas, who would get the money?
  2. If you bought an imported banana from Ecuador, who would get the money?
  3. If a local farmer gets money for their bananas, can they grow more local bananas? Why?
  4. How can you tell where something comes from when shopping in a store? Show examples of food labels that list the origin of produce.

Final Observations / Questions
Why do stores in your neighborhood import food from other countries? Not enough supply? Not enough demand? Do imported bananas taste better?

  • Taste testing: Sample and compare slices of a banana from Ecuador or other country to an apple banana from Maui. Samples are divided on two plates with no identification on origin.
  1. Which tastes better? Then, reveal which bananas are imported vs. local.
  2. How does supply and demand affect a store owner’s decision to carry local vs. imported bananas?
  3. Which consumer choice supports farmers who live on Maui?
  4. Which banana would you choose? Why?

For more ideas on connecting students their food sources and sustainable practices, check out the free downloads and other resources available via the Center for Ecoliteracy.

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