On a recent road trip through the countryside, I saw farms decked out in the colors of late autumn and fields dotted with bales of grain. With Thanksgiving being observed this week in the United States, my thoughts turned to celebrations of the harvest season.
As a child, I didn’t understand what was being celebrated, other than an appreciation for the delicious food on the table. After all, I didn’t grow up on a farm and everything I ate could be found – seemingly by magic – at the grocery store.
One way to help young urban and suburban students gain an understanding is to have them closely examine harvest-related photographs from the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Color Photographs collection. They say a picture is worth a thousand words: It wasn’t until I looked closely at the photo on the left that I had my first inkling of how it might feel – literally – to work in the fields.
Here are some teaching ideas for your classroom:
- Analyze “Day-laborers picking cotton near Clarksdale, Miss.” using the Primary Source Analysis Tool. Select questions from the Analyzing Photographs and Prints Teacher’s Guide to focus students’ observations and critical thinking.
- As a whole class, examine “Children gathering potatoes on a large farm, vicinity of Caribou, Aroostook County, Me”. Then have students work in pairs to compare the above photo with another photo of children gathering potatoes. Have students speculate about what life was like in the potato field. Ask them whether they think potatoes are still harvested by hand today. How could they find out?
- Have older students compare Currier & Ives’ “Harvesting the Last Load” with one of the Farm Security Administration (FSA) photographs. Ask, what do you think was the creator’s purpose for each item, and for what audience?
After looking at dozens of Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Color Photographs, I have a deeper appreciation for those who plant and harvest the crops for the rest of us. How do you think the FSA images might make a difference in your classroom or library?