Target Grade Level / Age Range:



30 minutes


Students will compare tools used in a school garden and those used in modern agriculture.


  • Chart paper
  • A selection of garden tools. Could include:
    • Shovel
    • Trowel
    • Hoe
    • Rake
    • Gloves
    • Watering can
    • Hose
    • Hand held sprayer
    • Roto-tiller

Suggested Companion Resources:

  • Tools for the Garden by Mari Schuh
  • From the Garden by Michael Dahl
  • Gardening for Nutrition by Florida Agriculture in the Classroom
  • In the Garden with Dr. Carver by Susan Grigsby


  • Shovel: a tool with a broad flat blade and typically upturned sides for digging or moving soil
  • Trowel: a small handheld tool with a curved scoop for lifting plants or earth.
  • Hoe: a garden tool that has a flat blade on a long handle
  • Rake: a toothed bar fixed to a handle used for loosening soil, light weeding and leveling
  • Rototiller: gas powered tiller used to cultivate soil
  • Planter: agriculture implement towed behind a tractor used for sowing crops in a field
  • Combine: machine that harvest grain crops: reaping, threshing, and winnowing
  • Sprayer: agriculture implement used to apply liquid herbicides, insecticides, and fertilizers

Background – Agricultural Connections:

Gardens are like very small scale farms where many commodities are grown. Most farms today are at least 300 acres, and are focused on 2-3 main crops as opposed to many different types of produce. Even many Iowa vegetable farmers who grow multiple types of produce will use greenhouses to grow crops.

Aside from scale, a large difference between farms and gardens are the tools that are used to grow the crops. A gardener will mostly grow crops using hand tools, such as hoes, rototillers, trowels, hand sprayers or dusters, or shovels or spades. A gardener will use their hands quite a bit, because most crops are planted, weeded and harvested by hand. Seeds come in small packets.

For farmers, there are pieces of machinery that allow agriculture to be much more efficient. Tractors pull tillage equipment through fields to turn the dirt the way a roto tiller would and remove weeds the way a hoe would. Tractors also pull planters, which drop seeds individually the way a hand would, but much faster. They can cover up to 48 rows at a time! Planters are tilled by farmers with big bags of seed or seed tenders that can hold around 16 million seeds. Instead of hand-spraying for weeds, insects or disease, farmers use large sprayers to get rid of pesky pests by the acre. Big combines harvest corn and soybeans up to 16 rows at a time, and many produce crops are harvested mechanically also.

Interest Approach or Motivator:

                Ask students to think about what makes a school garden different than a farm. Have students raise their hands to share ideas. Then, decide as a class what the most correct answer presented by students is.


  • Set up 2-3 pieces of chart paper in a place students can see. Explain to students that there a many differences between gardens and farms. Many schools have school gardens that students can easily connect to in order to understand the common procedures for growing food.
  • Ask students what the first step in producing a plant crop is. Students should suggest that first, the seed must be planted. Ask students:
    • How does a gardener plant seeds? What tools does he or she use?
    • Is this similar or different than what an Iowa crop farmer might do?
    • What tools might a farmer use to plant seeds?
    • Possible solutions might include:



Tools: shovel, gloves, rake, hoe, hose, watering can, etc.

Tools: tractor planter, combine, coveralls, sprayer, irrigation pipe


  • Record correct student answers for question A on one piece of chart paper and answers for question B on another to create a T-chart for comparison.
  • Repeat steps 2 and 3 for removing weeds and pests, overturning the soil, and harvesting crops. Students should now have a list of tools and methods gardeners use to grow crops and a list of tools and methods farmers use to grow crops.



Weeds: hoe, pull by hand, spray with handheld sprayer

Weeds: till the soil with tractor, spray with large scale machine sprayer

Pests: Treat aphids with ladybugs, spray for insects with small handheld sprayer, hang soap to deter deer, cages to deter rabbits

Pests: treat aphids with ladybugs, large mechanical sprayer to chemically treat fungi, insects, and weeds.

Overturn soil: rototiller, hoe, rake

Overturn soil: most farmers don’t overturn soil any more. They use planters that create a trough for the seed to land on. This minimum tillage practice is better for the environment

Harvest: pick by hand, shovel to dig up root vegetables like potatoes, knife to cut lettuce or other vegetables

Harvest: Large mechanical combines do all of the harvesting tasks as they move across the field. The automatically cut the corn stalk, remove the ear, chop the stalk, thresh the cob to remove the corn kernels, and then funnel the corn kernels to a bin for transportation.



  • Return students to the initial question that was asked: what makes a garden different than a farm? Have a class discussion about the tools and why farmers may need larger and more productive tools than gardeners.


Extension Activities:


  • Have students write a short story about what they would plant in their garden. Be sure they include the tools that they would use in their story.



Adapted from Lisa Johnson, Polk County


Kelsey Faivre

Organization Affiliation:

Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation

Agriculture Literacy Outcomes:

  • Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Outcomes
    • Recognize and identify examples of simple tools and machines used in agricultural settings (e.g., levers, screws, pulley, wedge, auger, grinder, gears, etc.)
  • Culture, Society, Economy and Geography Outcomes
    • Identify plants and animals grown or raised locally that are used for food, clothing, shelter, and landscapes
    • Discuss what a farmer does.

Iowa Core Standards:


  • K-2-ETS1-1. Ask questions, make observations, and gather information about a situation people want to change to define a simple problem that can be solved through the development of a new or improved object or tool.


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