Off the Shelf: Agriculture in the American Heartland

Agriculture is one of the leading industries in the world, and perhaps the most important for the future of the planet.  If nothing changes between today and the year 2050, farmers will have to grow 60-70% more food in order to meet the challenges of feeding the growing planet. We visit the farms and factories where the foodstuffs begin to make their way to your dinner table, learning how consumer demands are changing production techniques to ensure humane treatment of animals, sanitary conditions, and healthier food.

Learning Objectives

Understand the basic operations of large and small farms, and the economics behind growing food

Demonstrate a nuanced understanding of the tradeoffs between organic and commercial food production

Understand the culture of farming and how it relates to the development of communities in the Midwest of the United States

Places and Activities

This program is flexible, and can be offered in 3, 5, or 7 day itineraries.

Heartland Alliance works to promote human rights and dignity by providing services and promoting solutions that increase participation, which leads to a more just society.
During our visit to this organization, students will learn about two of their ongoing programs: Chicago FarmWorks, a 2.6 acre urban farm, in the East Garfield Park neighborhood that distributes high quality produce to people in need, while providing full-time jobs to people that are facing employment barriers; and Harvest Commons, a supportive housing system that offers residents the opportunity to volunteer on their on site farm.
This experience will allow students to learn about how farming can serve as a method to increase access to healthy food and support food equity.

City Farm is one of Chicago’s oldest sustainable urban farm. As students tour the premises, they will learn about their innovative practices in the use of compost and clay to adequate any urban space into an operating farm. As part of this visit, the group will discuss how cities can benefit from urban agriculture, and will receive key insights to later compare this business model to traditional and industrial farming.

Students will visit two small scale organic farms: Mint Creek, an organic-pasture based livestock and poultry farm, raising premium meats for the Chicago area; and Angelic Organics, a certified organic farm growing nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables, while educating people about healthy living. During their half-day working session at each of these farms, students will understand the meaning of ‘organic’, exploring the additional processes and efforts undertaken on these farms to provide healthier options for the consumers.
Our visit will invite our students to explore their food selection processes at home, while questioning their knowledge of the ‘story’ behind the products they consume.

Students will work as volunteers in a commercial farm, assisting with farm work and learning how the smaller processes learned earlier are conducted on a larger scale. This insider’s look will be the opportunity to obtain first-hand information about supply chains, the economics behind the food industry, and different quality and control processes that provide added value to the food we consume every day.

As we hear perspectives on land management and large-scale agriculture, students will be able to explore the benefits of mass production, as well as the hardships of America’s food giants on local businesses .

Our focus will shift to high-tech, as we explore the livestock industry. Students will take a tour of a local meat production plant; they will have the chance to learn about the internal processes, and understand the various challenges involved in this industry. The visit will open up space for discussion of the realities of animal welfare and food processing in our supply chains.

A visit to a local Dairy Production Farm will allow the students to gather additional information on land management, as well as the diversified options available within the farming business. Students will explore the concept of animal husbandry, and will be able to identify the differences, if any, between farms dedicated exclusively for eggs and dairy and those who raise animals for meat and fiber too.
Additionally, students will learn about Community Supported Agriculture, to understand how this partnership between farms and communities serve as a growth and support mechanism for both parties.

To expand our understanding of the supply chain, we will visit a Warehousing complex. These third-party providers play a crucial role, serving as a link between the farmers, the processors, the retailers and the final consumers.
Students will learn about the rigorous guidelines that need to be followed on this system to secure proper health and sanitation standards, ultimately protecting the food that we eat. We will also learn about the transportation system and all the logistics involved in taking end products to the retailers around the country.
As we expand our knowledge of the system, we will be able to understand where some of the major costs in agriculture come from, and discuss the risks and challenges undertaken by these organizations.

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