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Lesson 5: The Edible Backyard:

Discovering Food Traditions and Sources in Your Community

How much of the food that we consume comes from local sources and how much travels to us from far away places? What are the advantages of consuming local food?  What are the environmental impacts of transporting food?  How can we make sustainable decisions when buying food? Support your  Health, Civics, and Science curriculum with this video that profiles a Long Island clammer who specializes in local distribution. Then, use the accompanying lesson plan to have students embark on community-focused research projects to create a multimedia classroom exhibit around the theme of “Eating Local.”



Technological innovation has transformed the way we eat. The average distance that food travels to an American’s plate is 1,500 miles. According to, 40% of our fruit is produced overseas and, even though broccoli is likely grown within 20 miles of the average American’s house, the broccoli we buy at the  supermarket travels an average of 1,800 miles to get there.  Another surprising statistic: 9% of our red meat comes from foreign countries, including locations as far away as Australia and New Zealand.

What is the impact of this? Produce sometimes travels for up to two weeks before it arrives in grocery stores.  Picked long before it reaches peak ripeness, this food is less fresh and therefore, less flavorful. It also usually requires additional packaging and may have been genetically modified in order to survive the trip. Transporting food over long distances also uses fossil fuels that create pollution.  

In the past decade, there has been an increased emphasis on the value and benefits of buying and consuming local foods. Farmers who sell direct to local consumers can select, grow, and harvest crops to attain peak freshness and nutrition. They also receive the full retail value of each food dollar spent, instead of losing profits to the high costs of transportation and packaging. Apart from benefiting the local economy and being more nutritious, another benefit of eating locally is that it can also encourages the use of local farmland and supports the preservation of open spaces. Finally, eating locally encourages eating seasonally, that is foods that naturally grow at a given time of year, which in turn supports local economies, is supposed to be healthier, and has less environmental impact. In this episode, we are introduced to a Long Island clammer who symbolizes the local small producer who is making a comeback. By having a look at a day in his work life, we learn about the increase in local food producers and distributors.  This is a valuable lens through which to examine sustainable food consumption in your own communities. 

Featured Vocabulary

  • local - belonging or coming from a particular area or neighborhood; in the context of food, local is defined as an area within 100 to 150 miles of driving distance from which food can be delivered and distributed by a farmer or producer
  • locavore - someone who eats exclusively locally grown foodsustainable – products that conserve an ecological balance of natural resources
  • USDA – United States Department of Agriculture; created in 1862, this federal department administers programs that provide services to farmers

Warm Up

Invite students to flip through magazines and clip an advertisement about food, then do a freewrite analysis of it, using the reproducible A Picture is Worth a 1,000 Words. In the classroom, select and share a chronological slideshow from the wide selection of war era food posters from the National Agricultural Library. Ask students to consider and discuss how these messages are similar to or different than our culture’s current relationship with food consumption and production.  Have students share the clippings they collected and compare them with the images in the slideshow. What message do the various posters send? What is the philosophy of food consumption and distribution that is promoted by each? 

Discussion Questions

Have students watch the video while taking notes on the following. Afterwards, use the following questions to assess comprehension and prompt discussion:  

  • The video alludes to the fact that technological innovation has transformed the way we eat. What examples can you think of? 
  • “Small producers are making a comeback,” according to the film’s narrator. In your own community, what small producers can you think of? 
  • How many pounds of shellfish were consumed in 2010?
  • Is this number surprising?
  • Why or why not? 
  • What factors make it difficult for producers to keep up with the demand for seafood such as clams? 


Assign students (or have them select from) one of the following community-based research projects to trace the history of and locate the presence of local food sources in their communities.

Interview elderly persons or old timers in your community. Are there traditional foods that used to be popular that have disappeared in our fast food culture? Collect and illustrate recipes using the website as inspiration. 

Visit a farmer’s market and conduct an interview with one or more vendors. What types of agriculture are natural to your environment? Does your area have a history of farming a specific fruit, vegetable, fish, or fowl? Create a podcast/vodcast using a free tool such as 

Make a map of road-side food stands, farmers markets, U-pick farms, and other local food producers and distributors using Google Maps or Google Earth. 

Survey local supermarkets and grocery stores to see what kinds of foods come from local sources versus long-distances and calculate the distances of various foods. (Teachers: You could divide classes into different food groups - meat/shellfish, produce, dairy.) Afterwards, create an infographic using one of the tools mentioned in this article

Survey intake of food at home on a given day, making sure to read packaging closely. Pay attention to the following questions: Where does food come from? Fruits? Vegetables? Packaged foods? Then, create a visual food journal inspired by the USDA’s MyPlate which is a new version of the Food Pyramid. 

Going Further

Share student projects by creating a multimedia classroom exhibit around the theme of Eating Local. 




6. Understands essential concepts about nutrition and diet

7. Knows how to maintain and promote personal health

Language Arts

1. Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process3. Uses grammatical and mechanical conventions in written compositions

4. Gathers and uses information for research purposes

5. Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process

7. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts

8. Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes

Agricultural Education

1. Understands the connections between agriculture and society

4. Understands how knowledge and skills related to consumer and resources management affect the well-being of individuals, families and society

12. Understands how knowledge and skills related to nutrition and food affect the well-being of individuals, families and society

13. Understands important concepts and skills related to careers in food production and services

American History 

31. Understands economic, social and cultural developments in the contemporary United States

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