Fresh fruits and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet. They provide vitamins and minerals and are low in calories and fat. Fruits and vegetables come from plants – many parts of plants are edible. See how many different parts you can name. Then, have a tasting party. Which plant part do you think tastes the best? Try growing some of these plants on your own. Lettuce and beans can easily be grown in a small space.
Examples of edible plant parts:
Flowers – broccoli, cauliflower
Stems – celery, asparagus
Seeds – beans, peas
Leaves – lettuce, spinach, cabbage
Roots – carrots, radishes, potatoes, beets, turnips
Fruits – tomatoes, apples, grapes
When you eat a meal, do you think about where it came from? (And, we don’t mean from which grocery store.) How did that food get to your plate? Most of what we eat has been grown from plants or can trace its energy back to a plant. Although today most of us are pretty far removed from the process of growing food, we still rely on it as much as ever. A lot of our food travels very far distances to get to our grocery store, and ultimately to us. By growing some of our own food or buying locally produced food, we can help to reduce the amount of fossil fuels used in food transport.
Have your students write down what they ate for lunch or dinner the day before. Then, have them try to connect as much of their meal as possible to its beginnings as a plant.
Example: Burger breakdown
Bun – wheat and other grain plants are ground to make flour
Ground beef – comes from cows that feed on plants
Cheese –made from milk from cows that eat plants
Lettuce – plant leaves
Tomato – plant fruit
Onions – plant roots
Ketchup – main ingredients are tomatoes and vinegar (also a plant product)
Researchers estimate that about 30% of the food we eat is derived from animal-pollinated plants. Many types of animals are responsible for pollination, including bats and birds, but the majority of pollinators are insects, namely bees. In recent years, many of our important pollinator species have become threatened. The Monarch butterfly is losing habitat in its wintering grounds in California and Mexico and all along its migration routes throughout the United States. Honeybee populations have experienced a relatively new phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), first observed in 2006. Scientists are working hard to determine the cause of declining populations; possible culprits include pesticide use, less nutritious pollen from genetically modified (GM) crops, habitat destruction, parasites, and disease. Pollination is also essential to the balance of ecosystems, as it is responsible for the reproduction of over 90% of the world’s flowering plants. Pollinators are crucial to the health of humans, so we must look for ways that we can help protect them.
Students can do some fun field research by keeping a pollinator log. Daily observe a flowering plant outdoors for one week. Make sure to record the type of plant as well as the habitat. Weather conditions and time of day should also be noted. Keep an observation chart of all of the different types of pollinators you see visiting that flower (bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, beetles, etc.). Use a field guide to help you identify any unknown species. After a week, as a class, discuss your findings. Do certain plants attract certain types of pollinators? What about that plant makes it attractive for the pollinators that visited it? Did you see the pollinator go to another plant of the same species or a different species? Do certain habitats attract more pollinators than others?
Students can also get involved with citizen science projects such as Bee Hunt
and Monarch Health
. Citizen science projects allow amateur scientists and “regular” people to collect data that is then submitted to real scientists who can analyze the information and use it to make conclusions about the study species.
For more information about pollinator species, visit:
(Monarch Watch Program of University of Kansas)
(USDA Q&A article)
(Citizen Science reports on Monarch migration)
(North American Butterfly Association)