Everything that we eat has nutrients. They are needed for strong teeth and bones, strong heart and blood vessels, and help your brain and nerves work. These nutrients come from the food we eat. We get these from the plants that grow, and the animals that we eat that eat the plants. Most soils have a large supply of nutrients in them, and they get taken up by plants when plants absorb water. Soils need to be healthy to grow large quantities of plants, and animals need plants to grow strong.

Nutrients get into the soil many different ways: from decomposed animal waste and dead plants, the atmosphere, weathering of rocks and bacteria conversions.  When soils are used to grow foods, the soils need to be kept healthy, as a lot of nutrients are taken up by plants and not replaced. Nutrients need to be added to replace what is taken out, and the best way to do this is test the soil. Too many nutrients, and it pollutes streams and groundwater, and too little, the plants may die.

This lesson plan is appropriate for grades 4+. There are three different powerpoints that are downloadable for this lesson, Soil is the Ultimate Nutrient, which refers to how all soil is jam packed with nutrients, including Nitrogen, Calcium, and Potassium. The PowerPoint You Eat Dirt! Takes the students through a hamburger, and how the entire cheeseburger relates back to the soil. The third presentation is called Soils Need Food too, and talks about how soils need to be recharged if they are used for continuous food production.


Soil, Food and Health - Soil is the Ultimate Nutrient

Soil, Food and Health - You Eat Dirt!

Soil, Food and Health - Soil Needs Food Too


Lesson Objectives:


1) Identify nutrients that plants get from soils

  • Which mineral nutrients are important to plants?

  • ​How do plants get these nutrients? à plant roots take up water in the soil (soil water), nutrients are in soil water. 

  • Which nutrients in soil water come from organic materials in soil…from minerals in soil?


2)  How do nutrients in plants provide nutrients to people?

  • Which nutrients needed by people?

  • What does a “nutrition label” tell you?

  • Where do animals used in human food get their nutrients

​3)  Describe how plants tell us their nutrient needs

  • Plant nutrient deficiency symptoms

  • Soils can be tested for their nutrient content

​4).  How do we add nutrients to soil?

  • Fertilizer nutrients

  • Organic nutrients


Glossary of terms:

In current glossary:

  • Compost

  • Deficiency

  • Fertility

  • Fertilizer

  • Macronutrients

  • Minerals

  • Nitrogen

  • Nutrients

  • Phosphorus

  • Potassium

  • Uptake


Other glossary words:

  • Calcium

  • Iron

  • Magnesium

  • Micronutrients

  • Soil testing


Activities or information:

1) Nutrients in soils:

2) Nutrients needed by people:


3) Plant nutrient deficiency symptoms:


4) Nutrients sources


Study Questions:

1) Which plant nutrients are macro- and micronutrients and why are they classified this way?

2) Which nutrients are essential for plants and people?

3) Which nutrients primarily come from organic matter and/or mineral materials in soil?

4) How does a plant indicate that it might be deficient in nitrogen? (describe visual symptoms for other nutrients).

5) How can I test the soil for its ability to provide nutrients to plants?

6) What is contained in a bag of fertilizer? (e.g. 18-10-5)

7) How do composts provide nutrients to plants?