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Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future Unveils Free High School Food System Curriculum

The Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) has launched an easy-to-use, standards-aligned, 17-lesson food system curriculum for teachers

Aug 09, 2016

Food is tied to almost everything we do. It’s there when we are celebrating, when we are sad, and increasingly when we are on the go. Yet ask a teen where their cheeseburger or carrot sticks come from and you may be surprised by how little knowledge we are feeding our kids about what they eat.

To fill this gap, the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) developed FoodSpan, a free downloadable curriculum for grades 9-12. FoodSpan is packed with lessons spanning topics from agriculture to climate change to food safety and access to healthy food.

“Younger generations will inherit the stewardship of our food system. The curriculum helps prepare them for that role, empowering them with practical, cross-disciplinary skills that apply to the real world,” said Brent Kim, MHS, a co-developer of the curriculum and a program officer with the CLF, which is based at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

FoodSpan draws from a cross section of subjects including, science, social studies, health and family and consumer sciences and is aligned with national educations standards for each one.  Created specifically for high school students, lessons and activities are thoroughly referenced and have been created by experts in their respective fields. The content is designed to be classroom-ready, with lessons that can be taught in any order or used stand-alone. Lesson activities can be easily integrated into existing classroom instruction.  

With more than 100 activities, the curriculum is unique in its multidisciplinary approach to teaching the food system. Many other curricula focus on nutrition or one aspect of food, such as food safety. During their exploration of the food system, students using the FoodSpan curriculum will learn about topics such as:

  • The environmental impacts of various farming methods
  • Risks faced by workers along the food supply chain
  • How food labels and food marketing impact our purchases
  • The causes and effects of hunger and food insecurity
  • How food policy impacts all of these issues

FoodSpan works to address a critical knowledge gap in U.S. curricula,” says Kim, Program Officer, Food Production and Public Health Program at the CLF. “We’ve found that the public has a growing interest in the food system and its impacts on public health and the environment, yet students seem to lack an understanding of these connections. FoodSpan will help students become both informed consumers and engaged food citizens.”

FoodSpan lessons are inquiry-based and include a social media component to keep teens engaged and allow for knowledge sharing and collaborative learning. The curriculum boasts a variety of resources to support learning:

  • Two solutions-oriented documentary films that are short enough (about 35 minutes) to fit within a classroom period, and include a discussion guide to spur post-screening conversations or debates.
  • Our food system primer, a digest of bite-sized readings about big ideas from across the food system.
  • The Food Citizen Action Project, a culminating experience in which students identify a food system problem and design a plan to address it.  
  • Compelling visuals, such as image slides and a FoodSpan infographic that provides a visual road map for the entire curriculum.
  • At the end of each lesson plan, there are extension activities designed for those teachers and students who want to dive deeper into a topic. Extensions can be used as homework assignments or long-term projects.

Teachers who reviewed FoodSpan liked the interdisciplinary and hands-on nature of the material. One activity has students take on the role of public health investigators and respond to a foodborne illness outbreak. A teacher who reviewed the program called it “an amazingly comprehensive and important curriculum.”

Johns Hopkins Center for Livable Future media contact: Natalie Wood-Wright at 443-287-2771 or

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health media contact: Barbara Benham 410-614-6029 or