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New York Agriculture in the Classroom

Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix

Lesson Plan

An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

Grade Level
3 - 5

Students explore organic and conventional farming practices by analyzing multimedia texts to investigate the differences between conventionally and organically grown apples. Grades 3-5

Estimated Time
1 hour
Materials Needed

Activity 1: Claims and Evidence

Activity 2: Organic and Conventional Farming


antibiotic: a medicine that inhibits the growth of or destroys microorganisms

biodiversity: diversity among and within plant and animal species in an environment

biological control: the use of natural enemies and biotechnology (including predators, parasites, pathogens, competitors) to contain or control pests

conservation: the wise use of resources, to conserve them for use by present and future generations

conventional farming: a system of farming practices that may include the use of genetically modified organisms, synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and other chemical and biological inputs

cultural control: a method of controlling pests by manipulating the environment to make it less favorable for the pest

fertilizer: any material of natural or synthetic origin that is applied to soils or plant tissues to supply one or more nutrients essential to plant growth

genetic engineering: the process of directly modifying an organism's genes using biotechnology to produce desired traits

ionizing radiation: radiation consisting of particles, X-rays, or gamma rays with sufficient energy to cause ionization in the medium through which it passes; used in agriculture to reduce or eliminate microorganisms and insects

natural resources: materials or substances such as minerals, forests, water, and fertile land that occur in nature and can be used for economic gain

organic farming: the production of food without the use of synthetic chemicals, antibiotics or synthetic hormones

pesticide: a chemical that is used to control an organism living and growing where it is not wanted

synthetic: made by chemical synthesis, especially to imitate a natural product

Did You Know?
  • 100 species of commercial apples and over 2,500 varieties are grown in the United States.1
  • Apples are a member of the rose family.2
  • Apples are grown commercially in 36 states.1
Background Agricultural Connections

Apples are the second most consumed fruit in the United States. On average, Americans consume 27 pounds of apples (fresh, canned, frozen, dried, or juiced) a year.3 Because apple orchards attract numerous insects and diseases that cause damage to vegetation and fruit, both organic and conventional producers employ a variety of pest management practices to prevent, monitor, and eradicate pests.

Organic production is defined as "an ecological production system that integrates cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster resource cycling, ecological balance, and biodiversity."4 Many inputs and practices commonly used in agriculture are prohibited by the national organic standards implemented in 2002 by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Certified organic fruits are required to be produced without using most conventional synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, genetic engineering, ionizing radiation, antibiotics, and sewage sludge. Conservation of natural resources and biodiversity is mandatory. Any pesticides used must be included in the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances for use in organic production. USDA-accredited certifiers review farm applications and inspectors conduct annual on-site inspections of organic orchards. Farm records track all management practices and materials used in organic production, and organic farms must have an "organic farm plan" available to the public upon request.4

Conventional orchards use many of the same biological and cultural controls used by organic growers. In addition, conventional producers are permitted to use Restricted Use Pesticides (RUP) as part of their pest management program. A pesticide is classified as restricted if it requires specific application methods to prevent harm to humans or the environment. RUP pesticides are not available to the general public and may only be used by United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) certified applicators who have the knowledge and training to use them safely and effectively. Strict rules exist to control how much and which pesticides can be used on farms. Withdrawal restrictions prohibit pesticides from being applied immediately before harvest, minimizing the risk of carryover to the food supply. USDA's Pesticide Data Program (PDP) rigorously tests domestic and imported foods for pesticide residues to ensure that the U.S. food supply is safe. 

  1. Lead a class discussion about apples. Use the following questions to guide the discussion:
    • Have you ever heard the saying, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away?"
    • How many of you really do eat one apple every day?
    • Do you think eating an apple every day really makes a difference?
    • Have you ever been to an apple orchard? What did you notice while you were there?
    • How many apple orchards do you think there are in our state?
    • Do you eat organic foods at home? What kind(s)? What do you think makes organic foods different from conventionally produced foods?
Explore and Explain

Activity 1: Claims and Evidence

  1. Explain to the students that "An apple a day keeps the doctor away," is a popular phrase that makes a claim. A claim is a strong opinion. Ask the students, "Is there really evidence that apples have health benefits?"
  2. Watch the video An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away. Ask the students to consider the claim that is being made in the video and listen for any evidence that is used to back up the claim.
  3. After watching the movie, ask the students to answer the following questions in their journal or on a sheet of paper.
    • What claim is being made? (An apple a day does keep the doctor away.)
    • What evidence is used to support each claim? (100-year-old Edna eats an apple a day and is still alive. Ten years of research by Horticulture Australia deduced that eating apples with the skin reduces diabetes, cholesterol, and asthma and regulates metabolism.)
    • Is the evidence strong enough to support the claim? Why or why not?
  4. Invite the students to share their answers with the class.

Activity 2: Organic and Conventional Farming

  1. Watch the Give it a Minute: Organic & Conventional Farming video.
  2. Using the information from the video and the Background Agricultural Connections, discuss the differences between organic and conventionally grown food.
  3. Organize the students into small groups. Provide each group with a Pest Management Card. Ask the students to read the information as a group and decide whether or not the management practice is organic, conventional, or both. Draw a large, two-circle Venn diagram on the board with one circle labeled "conventional," one circle labeled "organic," and the overlapped section labeled "both." Ask each group to share their conclusions with the class by placing their card on the Venn diagram. Note that all of the conventional cards should be placed in the circle labeled "conventional," and all other cards should be placed in the overlapped section labeled "both." Lead a discussion about how conventional orchards use many of the same pest management controls as organic growers and, in addition, are permitted to use Restricted Use Pesticides. 
  4. Using information from the Evaluating Online Resources article, discuss the importance of evaluating and how to determine the credibility of online content. Handout out two articles, one article from each list, to each group. Explain to the students that the articles were found online and make different claims about organic and conventional food. Ask the students to consider the credibility of the information in the articles.

    List 1:
    Organic vs Regular Apples 
    Five Reasons to Eat Organic Apples: Pesticides, Healthy Communities, and You 
    Organic farming is on the rise in the U.S.

    List 2:
    Organic Foods: Are they safer? More Nutritious? 
    Organic Shmorganic: Conventional fruits and vegetables are perfectly healthy for kids 
    Should You Go Organic? 
  5. After reading the articles, have each student answer the following questions in their journals for each of the articles their group read.
    • Who is the author?
    • Is the author a reliable source? Why or why not?
    • What claim is being made?
    • What evidence is used to support the claim?
    • Is the author credible? Why or why not?
    • What does the article make you wonder about?
  6. Ask each student to draw their own conclusion about organic and conventionally grown food and write a statement in their journals.  
  • Continue researching apples, and have the students write a business letter to their school administrator or a business to persuade them to purchase conventional and/or organic apples. Research the cost difference in purchasing or growing conventional and organic apples. Make bar graphs comparing conventional and organic apples. Students can compare the amount of apples purchased, the amount of pesticides used, or the shelf life of the apples. Additional information and activities can be found on the Organic Kids website. 

  • View the How Does It Grow?: Apples video to explore grafting, pollination, pest management, and harvesting on an apple orchard.


After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:

  • Organic farming uses natural sources for nutrients and pest control.
  • Conventional farming uses synthetic and natural sources for nutrients and pest control.
  • Organic and conventional producers in the United States employ a variety of pest management practices approved by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to prevent, monitor, and eradicate pests.

Pest Management Card photo credits Jack Kelly Clark, UC Statewide IPM Project

Patricia Heldt
Minnesota Agriculture in the Classroom
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