June 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Farm to Table: The Food We Eat, the World We Live In

How does food get to your plate? These well-written and handsomely illustrated stories and factual texts answer that question while emphasizing the importance of sustainable cultivation practices; the superior taste and nutritional value of locally grown, in-season produce; and the role that all growers play as stewards of the earth. From how individual families and farmers enjoy nurturing, preparing, and consuming food to the idea that all people deserve access to fresh and healthful fruits and vegetables, the books also convey a strong sense of community celebration and social responsibility. Serve these titles up as part of units on life science, health and nutrition, community workers, ecology, and the conservation of natural resources.

Where Does Food Come From?

beforeweeatReady to dig into a mouthwatering meal, a family pauses to give thanks “to all the folks we’ll never meet/who helped provide this food we eat.” In Pat Brisson’s Before We Eat (Tilbury House, 2014; K-Gr 4), crisply cadenced rhymes describe the diligent and dedicated individuals who are responsible for bringing food to the table, from farmers and fishermen, to packers and truck drivers, to grocery store clerks. Also acknowledging “…the ones who bought this food,/the ones who teach me gratitude,” the book ends with a meal shared outdoors under the stars. Mary

Azarian’s sparkling woodcut prints depict farmers of varying ages and ethnicities hand-tending lush-green fields, well-cared for livestock, a store displaying locally grown produce, and other engaging scenes. This eye- and ear-catching read-aloud makes a wonderful discussion-starter for exploring how food is produced, acquired, and appreciated.

tomarkettomarketNikki McClure takes readers To Market, To Market (Abrams, 2011; Gr 1-4)—the bustling Olympia Farmers Market in to be exact—to learn about the growers and makers who sell their wares. As a mother and son shop, handsome cut-paper illustrations and detailed text introduce each artisan and describe the labor and care that go into creating their product.

Michael tends an orchard of 400 Akane apple trees, raised from scions grafted onto rootstocks; it’s too late for lettuce, but Colin and Genine’s deep green kale has been grown in well-nurtured soil “dark and crumbly like chocolate cake” and hand-picked; Steve’s salmon was bought fresh from local fishers and smoked over an alder wood fire; Benjamin’s honey has been carefully collected and poured into jars; Jessie and James have mixed, kneaded, and baked “juicy, oozy” blueberry turnovers; Yukie’s napkins were dyed using traditional Japanese methods; and Heather’s goat cheese has been lovingly crafted and wrapped in oak leaves. Each informative segment ends with a heartfelt “thank you,” and the final spread shows the boy and his family sharing a meal made from their purchases.

Down on the Farm

UpWeGrowDeborah Hodge and Brian Harris’s Up We Grow (Kids Can, 2010; K-Gr 4) blends accessible narrative and lovely photos to depict a year’s worth of happenings at a small sustainable farm. Arranged by season, the book follows the efforts of a group of farmers who own and operate the land as they plow and plant, nurture the “living dirt” by composting and mulching, provide livestock with healthy food and room to roam, hoe weeds and pick off pests, harvest ripe and juicy produce, sell their wares at a local farmers market, and plan for the following year.

From the installation of a water-saving drip irrigation hose to seed saving, environmentally friendly practices are integrated into the farm’s daily operations. Interactive text (“Juicy peaches, crunchy carrots or sweet, ripe cherries. What’s your favorite summer food?”) and magnetic photos help readers to make the connection between the tasks described and the food they eat. Depicting farmers (and their children) working in collaboration, a feast celebrating summer’s bounty, or growers interacting with their customers at a market stocked with affordable and fresh foods, the book also conveys how knowledge is shared, community is forged, and the importance of caretaking the earth is communicated.

FarmerWillAllenIn Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table (Readers to Eaters, 2013; Gr 2-5), Jacqueline Briggs Martin introduces a community activist with the insight, skill, and persistence to transform an abandoned city lot into a fully functioning, eco-friendly farm. After playing pro-basketball abroad, Will moved to Milwaukee where he noticed that “fresh vegetables were as scarce in the city as trout in the desert,” and vowed to act on his belief that “everyone, everywhere, [has] a right to good food.” The text digs in to describe how he revived the polluted soil with composting, red wiggler worms, and the help of neighborhood kids; expanded production by filling greenhouses from floor to ceiling; taught community members to become urban farmers; and began to spread his knowhow—and his worms—worldwide.

Eric-Shabazz Larkin’s buoyant artwork interprets both Allen’s fingers-in-the-dirt efforts and his vision (the final spread shows a New York City skyscape speckled with rooftop gardens and the Statue of Liberty clasping an uplifted bunch of radishes in one hand and a basket of fresh-picked veggies in the other). More info and images are available at the Growing Power website.

Grow It…Anywhere!

old manhattanBased on the traditional song, Susan Lendroth and Kate Endle’s Old Manhattan Has Some Farms (Charlesbridge, 2014; K-Gr 4) offers an accessible (and toe-tapping) introduction to various types of urban farming. Verses highlight food-producing patches in New York City (“On a high-rise here,/in a backyard there—/climbing up, hanging down,/spreading green all over town…E-I-E-I-GROW!”), empty lots in Atlanta transformed into garden plots by hard work (and earthworms), rooftop herb beds in Chicago, beehives atop a Toronto opera house, hydroponics inside a Seattle home, and compost bins in the White House vegetable garden. The final stanza invites readers to start their own farm (and create their own lyrics).

The color-drenched paintings show a mix of multi-ethnic children and adults enthusiastically tending plants, and an appended spread provides a bit more information about each type of cultivation and the benefits of urban farming (plants clean the air, help cool a city, and, best of all, produce fresh delicious food).

the patchwork gardenWritten in Spanish and English, Diane de Anda and Oksana Kemarskaya’s The Patchwork Garden/Pedacitos de huerto (Piñata, 2013; K-Gr 4) tells how a young girl, with the support of her grandmother, brings about a transformation in their inner-city neighborhood. Itching to grow—and eat—fresh vegetables, Toña asks permission to cultivate an abandoned spot of dirt behind the church (“Ah…beautiful and healthy,” proclaims Father Anselmo), weeds and fertilizes the soil, and plants and tends seeds. Abuela helps her throughout, and before long, the small square is lush with “lacy carrot tops in rows, vines of squash curling on the ground,” and other blooms.

When Toña’s classmates and their parents express their yearning to have gardens of their own, the thoughtful girl comes up with a solution. Identifying “little patches of empty land” throughout the neighborhood (in the park, near businesses, etc. ), she gets the go-ahead, writes down the locations on cards, and distributes them to interested kids at school, thus launching The Patchwork Garden Club. At harvest time, a delighted “Mmmm” fills the now-greener streets, as children bite into “the sweetest tomatoes they had ever tasted.” Gouache paintings twinkling with warmth depict Toña’s hard work, enthusiasm, and affection for her grandmother as well as the city setting. This warmhearted inter-generational tale makes an accessible introduction to the concept of urban-based community gardens.

gardentotableKatherine Hengel’s Garden to Table: A Kid’s Guide to Planting, Growing, and Preparing Food (Mighty Media Pr., 2014; Gr 3-6) provides step-by-step instructions for cultivating basil, carrots, green beans, leaf lettuce, potatoes, and tomatoes in container gardens. After introducing the highlighted produce (including photos of colorful varieties), each chapter briefly discusses how to prepare the soil and sow seeds, the stages of growth (including fertilizing, thinning, etc.), harvest and storage, and common questions (“Why are there spots on my leaves?”).

Ranging from hearty soups to yummy desserts, several kid-tempting recipes utilizing the fresh ingredient end each section, effectively bringing home the garden-to-table concept. Cooking terms are defined at the book’s beginning, and a photo glossary introduces ingredients and kitchen tools. Full-color close-up photos illustrate each phase of planting and preparing, while also depicting a bounty of fresh produce and delicious-looking dishes. Use this appealingly presented and user friendly guide as a classroom resource.

Cook It

bring me someBorn in Freetown, VA, a farming community established by her grandfather and two other emancipated slaves, pioneering professional chef and cookbook author Edna Lewis (1916-2006) grew up with an appreciation for the taste of Southern regional cuisine and locally grown, seasonal foods. Robin Gourley traces the roots of Lewis’s focus on field-fresh ingredients and dedication to “preserving traditional methods of growing and preparing foods” with a story based on her childhood.

Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie (Clarion, 2009; Gr 1-4) pairs verdant watercolor paintings with text flavored by rhythmic chants, rhyming songs, and folk sayings. From the wild strawberries of spring (to bake into shortcake) through to autumn’s rooftop-pinging bounty of pecans and walnuts (nut-butter cookies and walnut bread), Edna and her family gather nature’s gifts and plant, care for, and harvest crops on their lovingly tended farm. As each sun-ripened fruit or just-off-the-vine vegetable is picked, the smiling girl envisions the delectable dish that will be created that evening (five recipes are appended), while surplus from the harvest is canned, jarred, pickled, and stowed away for winter. In addition to an array of palatable produce, the pages are permeated with a powerful sense of family affection and community, wisdom passed down from one generation to the next, hard work rewarded, and the important connection between grower and land.

AliceWatersTripMartin’s Alice Waters and the Trip to Delicious (Readers to Eaters, 2014; Gr 2-5) introduces a groundbreaking chef and food activist and her passion for ensuring that all kids have access to and “…know the taste of good food.” Beginning with three-year-old Alice donning a lettuce-leaf skirt, radish bracelets, strawberry necklace, and asparagus crown for a costume contest (she won first prize), this lively picture book biography tells the story of a true foodie, tracing her later studies in France (where she “learned wonderful food was like a symphony that woke people up, made them happier”), the beginnings of her restaurant in Berkeley, CA, in 1971 (Chez Panisse serves tasty meals that rely on fresh, local ingredients), and her founding of the Edible Schoolyard Project in 1995 (students plant, cultivate, cook, and delight in a healthful “vegetable symphony”). Hayelin Choi’s effervescent illustrations work with the upbeat text to trumpet Waters’s enthusiasm for empowering kids with the awareness and knowledge to “care about the soil, care about farmers, care about everyone having enough to eat” and to change the world.

Choose several of these titles and have students extract the main ideas and make comparisons. How do the illustrations add to the text? Introduce and discuss the basic concepts of sustainable farming and its focus on techniques that safeguard the environment (natural fertilizers, crop rotation, conservation tillage, seed saving, etc.); protect public health (by avoiding hazardous pesticides and toxins); build vibrant communities (by supporting farm workers, bolstering local and regional economies, and forging connections with city dwellers); and uphold animal welfare. Ask children seek out examples of sustainable farming in the various texts and cite examples. What are the benefits of growing, purchasing, and consuming local, in-season produce? Bring the farm to your classroom by starting a small container-growing project, identifying what produce is currently in season (start with a visit to the “Sustainable Table” website and its state-by-state seasonal food guide, preparing a meal that features fresh ingredients, or assembling a cookbook of family favorite recipes submitted by students.

The Common Core State Standards below are a sampling of those referenced in the above books and classroom activities:

Rl 1.1. Ask and answer questions about key details in a text.

RI 1.9. Identify basic similarities and differences between two texts on the same topic (e.g., in illustrations, descriptions, or procedures).

RI 2.6. Identify the main topic of a text, including what the author wants to answer, explain, or describe.

Rl 2.9. Compare and contrast the most important points presented by two texts on the same topic.

Rl 3.7. Use information gained from illustrations…and the words in a text to demonstrate understanding of the text.

RI 3.9. Compare and contrast the most important points and key details presented in two texts on the same topic.


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Joy Fleishhacker About Joy Fleishhacker

Joy Fleishhacker is a librarian, former SLJ staffer, and freelance editor and writer who works at the Pikes Peak Library District in southern Colorado.



  1. Great list for little gardeners!
    For older readers, check out the Seed Savers series. http://seedsaversseries.com