In Our Back Yard
Most of us don’t have acres and acres of land available for our children to explore on a daily basis or the time to explore it. Children are in school most of the day, then busy with homework, sports and other after school programs not to mention devices. It’s becoming rare to see children playing outside.
That’s why it’s our job to create that outdoor experience for them and bring nature closer to their and our daily life. Here are few ways you can do that:
Find a farm to adopt: build a relationship with the farmers, ask them how you can best support their work, find out if there are volunteer opportunities.
Go for a walk and ask questions about what you see, smell and hear. Stop to investigate a tree, rub your fingers over the bark, look for birds or nests, point out the various parts of plants and search for signs of seasonal change.
Go fruit and vegetable picking as often as you can. Pick apples in the fall, look for farms that offer berry picking, seek out farms that offer vegetable harvests.
If you do have a small garden or back yard set up a corner for your children to explore the soil. This should be a spot you are OK with being messy. A few jars, spoons and egg cartons for sorting discoveries are a good way to start.
It is so easy to go to the market and pick up our regular products any time of the year - milk, yogurt, pasta, apples, berries tomatoes and avocado, or even order groceries online, and they just show up by our door step, packaged, sometimes already cut up and ready to be used. This is the era we live in. No complaining here. But there is something missing; where did that tomato come from, again? Mexico? And the berries? California? Florida? Who picked them? Where were they processed or packaged? It is easy in this age of convenience to forget how our food is grown, the seasonality of our food, and the people that are involved in getting it to our table.
The best way to make that connection is to start growing plants and food at home. It sounds daunting but can be as easy as sprouting beans in a plastic baggie to see how a seed grows into a sprout. Growing food at home builds an appreciation for food that can result in better food choices and willingness to try new foods. You and your family will enjoy it on so many levels.
There is such a joy in watching a seed sprout, a plant grow and an excitement to see a fruit ripen. If you have ever eaten something that you grew at home – you know that it just tastes better!
The New York Botanical Garden has great resources for teachers – much of which can be applied to a home garden.
If you are looking for a book that will help you get started with a home garden, we really like Barbara Damrosch’s The Garden Primer.
If They Pick It...
If you have ever watched the excitement and awe in the eyes of a child who has pulled a carrot from the ground for the first time – you know the power of exposing children to where their food comes from.
Children who understand how food is grown and what season it grows can make better food choices. They understand that food tastes better when you have been involved in growing, harvesting or cooking it.
There are so many farms today that welcome visitors to participate in harvests. Sites like http://www.pickyourown.org can help you to find local farms. Visit a farmers market and talk to the farmers. Find out what they are excited about on their farm. Ask what worries them and how consumers can help. Ask if there are opportunities at their farm or at other farms for volunteering. There is nothing more rewarding than the meal you create after a day of helping on a farm.
We love everything about http://www.localfoodswheel.com. Look for the food wheel for your region and use it to figure out what is in season. A fun activity is to have kids find their birthday month on the wheel and imagine a perfect celebration meal using only the food that is in season at that time.
The wonderful poet Wendell Berry has said that
“A significant part of the pleasure of eating is in one's accurate consciousness of the lives and the world from which food comes.The pleasure of eating, then, may be the best available standard of our health. And this pleasure, I think, is pretty fully available to the urban consumer who will make the necessary effort.”