Geography - Seeds of enquiry

Apples provide inspiration for a geographical investigation

Geography and food is a divine combination and the possibilities are endless. Even a seemingly straightforward item of food such as the humble apple has stories to tell a willing geography detective. Where did it come from? How did it get here? Why was it grown there (place, climate, soil)? Who grew it? How and why? Who harvested it? Who makes money from it? Who eats it? What impact does growing it have on the environment? Ask students to brainstorm some useful questions and you have the beginnings of a geographical enquiry.

Apples feature in British food and culture at all times of the year, though the decline of orchards over the past decades has reduced the annual harvest considerably. Changing land use is an important geographical concept and you can compare old and new maps and other sources of documented evidence to unravel this detective story. You could even visit a local farm or ask farmers to answer questions. A reversal of this decline has taken place in recent years in an effort to save species of fruit and bolster wildlife. Orchards are rich, diverse areas of land with environmental, economic and social value, it seems.

Visit your local supermarket or bring in a selection of packaged and loose fruit. Compare the varieties of apple, countries of origin and the prices, noting the time of year. Is there much difference, for example, between the cost of apples grown in New Zealand and the UK?

You could work out the food miles - the distance travelled by food from source to plate - and find out what the label "locally produced" actually means. We tend to think that locally sourced food is best, but is this always true? What about the communities in other countries who rely on trade to make a living? And which uses less energy: importing fresh food or refrigerating our own locally produced food to use out of season? Developing countries such as Kenya use far less carbon-intensive farming methods than the UK, illustrating how a simple reliance on food miles alone can be misleading.

Setting up real investigations in the classroom with active enquiry at their heart requires creative and critical thinking. Geography involves recognising and identifying important factors, such as interdependence, that help us to better understand the complex world in which we live. It is a fruitful subject.

Dr Paula Owens is a primary curriculum development leader for the Geographical Association, an author and an educational consultant and trainer


If the world were an apple: try this activity that uses an apple to show how much of the world is available to grow food. bit.lyK5R3JS

Mission: Explore Food by the Geography Collective is out in hardback now: bit.lyd36srx

Find out more about community orchards and Apple Day here: bit.lyYDydYR.

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