Farming your school supplies

By Brandie Piper

We already know that everything we eat began with a farmer. But did you know crops aren’t just used for food? Among other things, some are closely tied to back-to-school supplies.

Here’s a look at how some common crops contribute to the production of some school supplies:


Crayons are a staple school supply for many elementary school children, and it doesn’t take many soybeans to produce a large number of crayons. One acre of soybeans (about 40 bushels) can make 82,368 crayons. That means a pack of 24 crayons for 3,432 students.

According to the North Carolina Soybean Producers Association, petroleum used in some crayons has been replaced with soy oil, which is non-toxic.

Soy can also be used in inks used for black newsprint, color newsprint, and screen printing.


Cotton is one of the most versatile crops. It can be used to make clothing, currency, home furnishings, medical supplies, and industrial supplies.

Most students love wearing t-shirts and jeans to school, and cotton farmers have us covered (pun intended) for school when it comes to clothing. The National Cotton Council says one bale of cotton (480 pounds) can make 1,217 adult-size t-shirts. The same amount of cotton can be used to make 215 pairs of jeans.


When you think of lunchtime at school, one of the first things that come to mind is a classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich packed in a brown paper bag. Have you ever wondered how much wheat it takes to make the bread for a sandwich?

The National Association of Wheat Growers says one bushel of wheat weighs about 60 pounds, which can make 60 pounds of whole wheat flour. Sixty pounds of whole wheat flour can make about 3,780 pieces of bread, which can make 1,890 sandwiches.

Hardcover books

Many students have a textbook for each class and use notebooks or loose-leaf paper for writing. That paper comes from trees, and there are tree farms all around the world. A full cord of wood, which measures 4 feet wide, 4 feet high, and 8 feet long, can make942 one-hundred-page hardcover textbooks.

According to the Technological Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry (TAPPI), the same amount of wood can also be used to make up to 2,000 pounds of paper.

Though it takes a lot of trees to make paper and books, the goal of the American Forest & Paper Association is to “keep forests plentiful” through sustainable forestry practices, which includes harvesting trees, consistent replanting of trees, and preventing the land from being developed.

Farmers are connected to nearly every aspect of our lives. Not only do they feed and clothe us, they play an important role when it’s time to send kids back to school.

Published Aug. 5, 2015 on

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