Lesson 1: What is climate change? How do food systems interact with climate systems?

Farm-Educator Guide [to prepare for this lesson, see the following resources]

  • How Global Warming Works video (versions between 52s and 5 min)

  • Visual Representation of CO2 levels (right).

  • Greenhouse effect definition: Greenhouse Effect definition: The Greenhouse effect is "an atmospheric heating phenomenon, caused by shortwave solar radiation being readily transmitted inward through the earth's atmosphere but longer wavelength infrared radiation (heat) less readily transmitted outward, owing to its absorption by atmospheric carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane, and other gases." Global warming is caused by the additional greenhouse effect, beyond what is normal for Earth's atmosphere, due to the addition of greenhouse gases from human activity.   Analogies: Earth wearing a blanket (greenhouse effect), Earth catching a fever (additional greenhouse effect). 

  • Center for Ecoliteracy’s “Understanding Food and Climate” interactive guide

  • Write a “Climate Story” for the Farm- how has the farm interacted with or been affected by climate change? See examples and guidelines for writing climate stories here.

  • Feel free to explore other food carbon footprint calculators or charts to explore the relative carbon emissions, on average, from different fruits, vegetables, and other food products. For example, see this BBC article, and the chart in this article (showing that field grown fruits and veggies have the lowest footprint).

  • For additional resources to prepare for these lessons, see “Supplemental Materials” page.


  • Student journals (students can make their own from found materials, if time)


  • Warm Up: Student reflection (written or oral). When have you heard people talking about climate change before? What do you already know about it? What positive things or solutions can you do personally to minimize negative consequences of climate change? Tell us your “climate story,” or how you think climate change impacts your life (and/or your family, community).

    • The theme of this day/week will be both understanding the problem of climate change, and practicing local solutions that farms can implement to mitigate climate change.

    • Share farm’s climate story.

  • Mini Lesson: What is climate change: brief lesson and overview of the science.

    • Clarify global warming vs. climate change- “Global warming refers to the surface temperature on the earth. Climate change refers to the many changes that will occur with increases in temperature and greenhouse gases” (Paul Hawken, Drawdown). Give examples.

    • Clarify weather vs. climate.  (Weather = local, small time horizon, forecasts. Climate = regional or global, long time horizon- decades to centuries- models and predictions).

    • Evidence: Sea level rise, rising average global temperatures, rising CO2 levels, changes in weather patterns and predictability, extreme events like droughts, hurricanes and wildfires; changes in seasonality. Show videos or graphs if desired (* see supplementary materials)

    • Farms and climate change: historically farming has contributed as a major source of CO2, N2O and methane emissions (all Greenhouse Gases) by tilling the soil and manufacturing chemical fertilizers/pesticides, but farms also have the potential to reverse the process of climate change through certain practices we’ll be talking about on the farm this week. [Define term “Agroecology,” students write down in journals.]

    • Certain foods contribute more to climate change than other foods. See Carbon Footprint of different food items in the graphic below. Depending on knowledge/age level of the group, engage in a conversation about the most carbon intensive foods and what goes into that number (growing feed for animals, using synthetic/chemical Nitrogren fertilizers, manufacturing pesticides). Discuss how grassfed meat and organic foods are automatically lower in emissions and could even have a negative emissions impact, depending on the system in place, due to elimination of pesticide use, and “free” fertilizer from animal manure, plus other “ecosystem services” that grazing animals provide.

  • Activity 1: Look at this week’s weather forecast. What does that mean for the farm and the activities we’ll be doing?

  • Activity 2: Discuss and prepare for day/week activities according to weather forecast. Orientation to tools/equipment/projects to be completed on farm.

  • Wrap-up: Debrief. What do you know about how the seasons and weather patterns have been changing here over the past several years?