Youth Engagement

Food Systems Lab created a series of closed loop food system lesson plans to take students through a journey on the cycle of food, from how it grows to how it composts. These lesson plans were piloted at an elementary school in Toronto. The content was designed for middle school students, but can be adapted for elementary and high schools. We welcome feedback and new ideas to expand these lesson plans to more topics and age groups.

IdeasTeachers' ActivityStudent Activities
Dirt: A UniverseBig Ideas:
· Why is dirt important for us?
· Is soil renewable, how much soil are we losing in Toronto?
· How do you keep soil healthy?
· Soil types in Toronto?
· What is in a tablespoon of soil? (talk about fungus, bacteria, bugs etc)
· What is soil erosion and what is the impact?

Discuss with the students about the role of dirt, as the foundation of food and civilization.
Learning about the different types of dirt.

Materials needed:
· Bucket
· Container with lid (e.g yogurt container)
· Digging tool (small hand shovel for sand)
· Labelling supplies for dirt samples (marker, label stickers)

Try to find different types of dirt:
· Hard packed
· Loose soil
· Gravel
· Sand
· Clay

Encourage students to discuss what they observed with the dirt samples.

Play a Game: Plants vs. Dirt (pun on Plants vs. Zombies)
Match the plants with the best soil types. Show pictures of plants and talk about how different plants are best grown in certain types of soil.
Gather some dirt samples in the container from different parts of the school.

Put each type of dirt in its own container and label where you found it.

Write out the type of dirt, its texture and colour.

Release any living creatures you find in your dirt samples.

Play the “Plants vs. Dirt” and match the plants with the best soil type.

Discuss about dirt samples and keep the samples for the next session.

Celebrate Toronto’s Urban Agriculture Day! (September 15th 2017)
Compost Café!Plan a field trip to nearby café and pick up some coffee ground.

1. Integrate learning from first lesson about keeping soil healthy
2. What is in a coffee that makes the soil healthy?

Activities: Measure soil PH with baking soda and vinegar/ or with cabbage waste

Source: soil-ph-without-a-kit/

Compare the soil mixed with coffee ground and the other soil samples you collected
Travel to coffee shop

Making a PH test baking soda and vinegar solutions

Document the PH level and observe the experiment

Compare the different soil samples: sandy, clay, loose
All My Relations & The Three SistersIndigenous “All My Relations” teaching Potential guest speaker: First Story Toronto?

What is the philosophy of “All My Relations”?

1. What is a medicine wheel?
2. What are the three sisters? (corn, bean and squash)
3. Why is it good to plant the three sisters?
4. What type of soil is good for the three sister
5. What does wasting food mean in the context of “All My Relations”?

1. Plant the three sisters (sprout it)
2. Draw a medicine wheel
3. On another sheet of paper write a short essay who are your relations far and wide? (include human and non-human relations). What does it mean when you waste food?
Learn about the important role of human and non-human relations in the Indigenous philosophy of “All My Relations”

Learn the story about “the three sisters”

Draw a medicine wheel

Write a short essay about your relations (human and non-human) and explain what food wasting means in the context of “All My Relations”
Track your Food WasteLearn all about avoidable, non-avoidable and potentially avoidable food waste

In Class: Categorize the Food Waste

Get the students to sort and discuss what is avoidable, non-avoidable and potentially avoidable food waste. Depending on cultural background, it would also be interesting to figure out the differences.

1. Pictures of egg shell, apple core, orange peel, broccoli stalk, chicken
bone, fish head, potato skin etc
2. Have a hand out with categories:
avoidable, non-avoidable, and potentially avoidable food waste
1. Have students sort and discuss why they categorized the food into a particular category.
2. Discuss whether the categories can move around. For example, broccoli stalk , potato skin can actually be eaten if cooked differently (get them to think creatively)

Activities: Food Waste Diary

Keep a food diary for one week and track your lunch waste:

1. Handout with a table where students can write out anything they wasted in the 5 days.
2. They need to categorize if it was avoidable, non-avoidable and potentially avoidable
3. How can they reduce their food waste?
Categorize food waste into the different categories

Discuss reasons for the category choice

Think about how some food waste categories can be moved around to prevent food waste

Fill out the food waste diary

Categorize the food that was wasted during lunch

Figure a plan to reduce the waste for the following week.
Mission: Food Waste ReductionGet students to individually or in a group come up with a food waste awareness campaign for the school.


Watch video on Best Before Date:


Create a fun and educational poster! (Post at School Lunchroom as a Gallery)

1. Markers
2. Bristol board, or poster paper
3. Glue
4. Arts and crafts materials

Food Packaging Analysis

1. Analyze best before dates on food
packaging. Students can be asked to
bring one food packaging with a BBD
2. How does the best before date labelling
contribute to food waste

In the class:
1. Discuss different ways to reduce food
waste: meal planning, portioning,
repurposing, sharing
2. Discuss best before dates and food safety

Outside of the class:

1. Students will get a certificate/ stickers
for speaking to at least 5 people about reducing food waste (document who the spoke to, and write up their experience)
Make a poster that will encourage fellow students at the school to waste less food

Analyze food packaging and document the best before date. Is it clear?

Answer the question of how best before date labelling contribute to food waste?
Why Should I Care? Environmental, Economic and Social Impact of Food WasteEnvironmental, Economic, Social Impact of Food Waste

Food Journey: Watch the Video
“The Extraordinary Life and Times of Strawberry “ UZBrS8

Environmental impact of wasted food

Activity: Strawberry tasting

Answer questions

1. When the strawberries were wasted what other resources were wasted?
2. What are the different stages of the food supply chain that the strawberry passed through (farm, retail, home)
3. Draw a strawberry supply chain
4. How can you save the strawberries for being wasted?
5. What can strawberries be made into?

Learn about eco-foot print, long-distance and short-distance food supply chain.
Watch the video Taste the strawberries

Answer the questions about the strawberry journey

Document the different stages of the food supply chain

Learn about eco-footprint, and compare long-distance and short-distance of food supply chain
Worms, Worms, Worms
(How to vermicompost)
How can food scraps be sustainably managed in a circular economy (closed loop food system)?

Guest Speaker: Tammara Soma (Food Systems Lab, University of Toronto) TBC

Activities: Learn how to vermicompost


1. Old newspapers (ripped up)
2. Water
3. Food scraps (chopped up apple
skin, broccoli, carrot skin)
4. Rubber bin (poke holes)
5. Red wigglers worm


1. What are the role of worms in the food system?
2. How do you use vermicompost?
Rip up the newspapers

Spray the water on the ripped up newspaper

Poke the rubber bins and make breathing holes for the worm

Put the chopped food in one side of the bin

Put the worms in the bin under the newspapers

Discuss the role of worms and the use of vermicompost
Letter CampaignDevelop a letter writing and or social media campaign to get the attention of policymakers.


1. Write a letter to your City Councillor and the Mayor
2. In the letter include the following
· Why is food waste an important issue
· What the students hope for Toronto
· Ideas on reducing food waste
Write a letter

Include important information that you have learned about food waste

Provide solutions and ideas on how Toronto can reduce food waste based on a circular economy/ closed loop food system