Having an organic vegetable or herb garden and some fruit trees at your home is a wonderful avenue for engaging your family in a healthy, enjoyable and productive activity. What a joy to have food gardening children!
Bringing up children, especially when they are young, takes up a lot of time. It would be very easy to think that growing some of your own food would be too hard because your life is already full and to get food, all you need to do is jump into the car and go to the shop. Easier, yes, but not necessarily better for you or your family. There are many hidden jems in food gardening which provide benefits to families, in addition to the great tasting food.
Food gardening can be done to a scale that suits you and your available space, be it a simple herb box on your window sill or a big vegetable garden and orchard taking up what was once your lawn. Although your babies are not likely to work in your food garden, they can still be with you in a pusher, on your back or with your partner.
We have had four children and all of them have been involved in our food gardens, two of them from a very young age. Our oldest, who is now 23, is a biodynamic farmer in Europe and his interest started when he was a young teenager. Growing food has become a part of our children’s lives and I feel this is a wonderful legacy we have provided our children. There is no reason why the whole family cannot be involved, from toddlers to teenagers and grandparents.
In my own experience of working in food gardens with children from schools of a wide age range, the young children pick up their interest very quickly. As the child gets older and if they are heavy technology users, it takes longer for them to feel OK about being in the garden.
What are the hidden gems in the food garden for your family?
Connection to the soil has always been a vital part of our human experience. This connection nurtures our soul as well as our physical body. One only has to see a young child play in the dirt to appreciate they know the connection is good for them, without really needing to understand why. Food gardening is also a physical activity, which can be as active or as gentle as you want and its ideal for children of most ages, as you can select activities to suit their physical capacities.
Appreciation of nature
Developing a sense of awe and wonder for nature is a primary step in building a sense of personal responsibility for protecting our environment, no matter what your age. Food gardening, done with organic methods, demands that you appreciate all of nature in and around your garden. The birds, bees, butterflies, caterpillars, ants and other creepy crawlies in the compost heap are all part of the web of life in the garden, in addition to the billions of micro-organisms in healthy soil.
Appreciation of healthy food
Most “fresh” food sold these days has little taste because its grown with chemicals, picked to early and stored for too long. Is it any wonder that children don’t like fruit and vegies. But when they taste food out of your organic garden, they will know immediately that its good. Taste is a very good measure of nutritional quality. So without forcing them to “eat their veg”, let their taste buds do the convincing.
Food gardening provides a wonderful opportunity to do meaningful work as a team for people of any age. This sets a wonderful example for children of planning, care, attention and reward. Our 4 children have all worked in the garden with me over the years and our oldest who is 29 is now a biodynamic farmer. My wife Vicki often sits chatting with me in the garden in the afternoon when its cooler and better for planting. We all work together and share the rewards, healthy great tasting food.
Extending the family
Once you start gardening with your family, you will find that other families will notice and may want to join in with you. Then you can share the work, the produce and your children have more playmates. I was involved with a weekend gardening group some years ago in my local area and we met fortnightly on Saturday afternoons. Children often came, the adults enjoyed each other’s company while working together in the garden and we all brought food and drink to share afterwards.
I find that once you have a clear feeling for why you are in the food garden and the “why” does not just involve food or saving money from not buying food, then you will have a strong platform to keep going with your gardening efforts. Successful food gardening demands sustained effort and patience. Aim for a family of food gardening children. We have seen it work exceptionally well in our family.