Where Does Your Food Come From?
1-12 depending on chosen level of detail
Difficulty of Project
Easy to Difficult depending on chosen level of detail
Cost (Approximate Cost of completing the project)
Less than $10
Approximate Time Required to Complete the Project
Initial assessment may take one hour. Older students wishing to trace the full supply chain of a food or drink product may require two or three weeks.
To enhance awareness of local food production and food sourcing.
Optional: To examine the supply chain between the raw materials and our table.
- Whatever food and/or drink is currently in your kitchen.
- Access to a computer with internet connection.
- Paper and writing utensil
Most Americans purchase their food and drinks in a grocery, or other similar, store. We often factor in the taste and value when making a purchasing decision but determining where the products originated from can be much more difficult. Many packaged food and beverage items will list the address of a production facility but this may differ from the location where the ingredients were sourced.
Many agricultural areas across the United States are encouraging surrounding communities to purchase locally grown products. This supports the regional economy by transferring money directly to the growers and sustaining jobs. Many locally grown foods and drinks do not contain certain additives needed to preserve items during shipping and storage. This experiment examines the source of food and drinks you typically consume and encourages you to explore locally available food and drink products.
- What foods and drinks to you commonly consume?
- Where do you think these come from? Have you met the people who make any of these items?
- After you’ve mapped your food sources, which items traveled the farthest to get to your table? Where did they come from? Which items took the shortest trip? Where did they come from?
- Were there any surprises in your research? (For example, the ‘Idaho Potatoes’ were not actually grown in Idaho they were just packaged there. Or the California almonds were grown locally but shipped to Oregon for packaging before traveling back to your grocery store.)
- What food and drink items are locally grown and/or produced? How often do you consume these items? Are there any of these items that could replace other products currently in your kitchen?
- Do you think it is important to purchase and/or consume local food products? Why or why not?
- Pretend as if you are preparing a meal at home and place any and all ingredients on your table at once. Include condiments, drinks, deserts, etc.
- Draw a 3-column table either on a piece of paper or on the computer. List the names of all food and drink items in one column.
- One at a time, record where each item came from. If the item is unpackaged, record the town where it came from. For example, if you bought peaches from a stand at the farmer’s market record the town where the peach farm is located. If the item is packaged, search the container for a packaging address and record this. If you cannot find an address, research the manufacturer and record an the address of the closest production facility.
- Lower grades may want to stop here and examine the closest and farthest places their food comes from. They may not know where some of these towns or countries are located.
- Calculate the distance between the locations listed in column 2 of your table and your home. Record this distance (in miles) in column 3.
- Create a map with your home at the center and many lines pointing to your food sources.
- For middle and high school students, continue tracing the supply chains. For example, your orange juice may have been packaged in Texas but upon further research you find that the oranges were grown in South America. Your frozen egg rolls and sauce were packaged in California but the egg rolls were produced in Washington and the sauce packet was shipped from China.
- Identify the food and/or drink product that has traveled the shortest distance to get to your table. Identify the food and/or drink product that has traveled the farthest to get to your table.
- Examine food grown within 100 miles of your home. Is it locally available at farmer’s markets or is it sold to large vendors such as grocery stores?
- List any opportunities for substituting a local product for one that currently travels a long distance to your table.
National Resources Defense Council – Eat Local Food Search
Warning is hereby given that not all Project Ideas are appropriate for all individuals or in all circumstances. Implementation of any Science Project Idea should be undertaken only in appropriate settings and with appropriate parental or other supervision. Reading and following the safety precautions of all materials used in a project is the sole responsibility of each individual. For further information, consult your state’s handbook of Science Safety.