Give your kid a green thumb
A few weeks ago, in a fit of optimism, I shoved some some bean and peas seeds into my autumn garden. There may be time for one more crop before the first frost, and with Hurricane Ike sending rain all the way up our way, it may be wet enough too. It's not so much that we need another round of veggie crops, it's that growing these two particular foods this summer has actually turned my kids on to eating vegetables... you know... as a food group.
When I was a kid, my mom used to joke that the peas never actually made it to the stove top. That's because we'd eat them right out of the garden or feast on them while we shelled them for dinner. Our vegetables came from the garden, fruit from local orchards, our eggs from my aunt's chicken coop, and our meat from a local farmer. But somewhere between now and then, something important about how we feed ourselves got lost. It's my intention to find it again with my own kids.Kids today know where food comes from... the supermarket. A banana, a mango, exotic starfruit, pineapple -- anything their heart (or stomach) desires can be picked up at a moment's notice, often at a very low cost. This is wonderful in terms of experience. Who doesn't like to see their toddler sink into a sweet chunk of pineapple for the very first time? But in some ways, this convenient system we've set up has actually separated our children from the process of growing food, and I think they're missing out on a very valuable lesson.
Our own experiment started a few years ago with a few strawberry plants in the backyard. We planted them one summer, then had to wait a whole year for them to bear fruit. We watched impatiently every day the following spring, waiting for the green berries to get just a little brighter. One morning, we headed out with our bucket to harvest our hard-won crop, only to find that the birds had stolen every last one. My then three-year-old was devastated, as was I. But what an important lesson we had learned. We went to a local strawberry farm to take the sting off, and the next year we invested in some floating row covers.
That tiny strawberry patched has grown to about 6 times it's original size and sits next to a large vegetable garden and herb bed as well. As this growing season comes to a close, consider these ideas for teaching your little one a love for gardening when planting time comes around again:
- Grow something. Anything: Not every yard can hold a vegetable garden, and not every family has a yard. Many veggies and herbs can be easily grown in containers on a patio or deck. An herb garden looks nice on a windowsill and provides flavor to homemade cooking. Even in the winter months, kids can hone their gardening skills with these indoor gardening ideas.
- Visit your local farmer's market: Ok, so you don't have a green thumb. I get it. But you still have to eat, right? Skip past those homogeneous veggies you find at the supermarket and see what your local farmer has to offer. Chances are he or she has some varieties that are new to your and your kids -- purple carrots, tiny little eggplants, little yellow tomatoes. Letting kids pick out their own veggies at the farmer's market is a great way to entice them to actually eat them, and they may get a lesson in agriculture while they're there.
- Join a CSA: This was perhaps our most economical decision of the year, and a great learning experience for the kids. When you join a CSA, you pay a local farmer for a share of his or her crops up front, usually in the spring. Then, for the next 18-20 weeks or so, you get a weekly crate filled with fresh grown veggies, fruit, and sometimes flowers. CSA farms often have harvesting or work parties too, where families can get together and pitch in at the farm.
- Build a root-view garden: Teach kids that plants grow up... and down with this see-thru mini-garden. Don't forget to read the book Tops and Bottoms at the same time!
- Sprout! Sprouting activities are a great way to teach kids about how seeds start. And when kids are done learning, they can eat their experiment. Just be sure to eat up on sprout safety, since they've been associated with food-borne illness.
- Visit a pumpkin farm this fall: The growing season may be coming to an end, but the harvest is still in full swing. The pumpkin farm is a great hands-on outing that allows children to see a farm in action. Don't forget to roast those pumpkin seeds after you're done with your jack o'lantern for an additional lesson in the different ways we can use the food we grow.
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