Pizza teaches students about food origins in Grand Forks County

Special assignment connects youngsters with ingredients from the farm

Grand Forks farmer Beau Bateman teaches Century Elementary students about the growing cycle of sugarbeet plants during Tuesday's Special Assignment Pizza event at Sharon Lutheran Church. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Most fourth-graders probably could name the parts of a pizza. But it’s likely that few of them know the roots of the crust, sauce and toppings.

That's because, though agriculture is one of North Dakota’s main industries, many of the state’s students don’t have a direct, or even indirect, connection with farmers, said Carrie Knutson, NDSU extension agent, Grand Forks County.

In an effort to re-establish the connection, each spring for the past 29 years, NDSU Extension and North Dakota Farm Bureau have sponsored Experience Agriculture: Special Assignment Pizza. During Special Assignment Pizza, students from Grand Forks, Pembina and Walsh counties gather to learn about the rural origins of the ingredients.

Kids’ disconnection from farming has grown wider since Special Assignment Pizza began in 1991, said Kris Batemen, a member of Grand Forks County Farm Bureau.

“So many of them equate food and eating with restaurants and grocery stores,” she said. For example, they may know that flour is used to make pizza crust, but not that flour is made with wheat.


This week, more than 900 students are participating in Special Assignment Pizza at Sharon Lutheran Church in Grand Forks.

On Tuesday afternoon, students from Century Elementary in Grand Forks rotated through seven rooms divided into the themes of nutrition, dairy products, vegetables, sugar, beef and pork, wheat and oil.

Pizza is a good way to teach students, that without farmers, the food, typically a favorite of fourth-graders, wouldn’t exist, Knutson said.

Along with learning where the pizza ingredients come from, volunteers also taught the students how farmers raised some of the foods that make up a pizza.

Bateman’s husband, Beau Bateman, gave the students a lesson on sugar.


“I grow sugar beets,” he told the students, explaining that the plant is one of two in the United States from which sugar is grown. While sugar beets grow underground, with only the tops visible, sugar cane grows to 10 feet tall, as high as a basketball hoop, Bateman said.

Though sugar isn’t visible on the pizza, it’s important because it helps the pie taste better and aids in preservation, Bateman told the students.


Bateman, a sugar beet farmer, also gave the students a micro-agronomy lesson, explaining to them how he plants the crop, protects it from getting sick and uses a drone to watch it while it grows.

“The plants that we eat grow way faster than the humans who eat them,” he said, noting that if the students grew as fast as a sugar beet does in five months, they would be as big as a house when they were adults.

A few doors down, students learned that some pizza toppings originate from an animal.

Beef, for example, comes from cows, a volunteer told the children.

“What are some food cows eat?” she asked.

“Grass,” answered a student.

“Hay,” said another.

After the children finished the rotation through the pizza ingredients, Knutson gathered them to ask what they learned. One thing, in particular, stuck with one fourth-grader.


“I learned that we always get milk from cows, not chocolate cows,” she said.

Century Elementary students feel crops grown in North Dakota during Tuesday's Special Assignment Pizza event at Sharon Lutheran Church. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Ann is a journalism veteran with nearly 40 years of reporting and editing experiences on a variety of topics including agriculture and business. Story ideas or questions can be sent to Ann by email at: or phone at: 218-779-8093.
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