I believe that those of us who work with young children have a responsibility to ensure they get the lots of opportunities to garden and grow food. The global pandemic and recent weather events have shown us more than ever that supply chains can easily become disrupted and access to readily available food can become difficult and expensive.
Knowing how to grow fruit and vegetables can be the key to ensuring there will always be food on the table.
I recently read a book that was set in the East End of London during WW2 when food supply was very short. During this time many people, including children, got involved in growing food in allotments so there was enough food for the local community. This reinforced to me that involving children in growing food is helping to prepare them for the future and whatever it might bring. If they know how to grow food, at least they will never be hungry.
When children do not get opportunities to garden and grow food, we run the risk of them not knowing where food comes from. We are now 2-3 generations away from when everyone had a vegetable garden in their back yard and grew much of their own food. As housing becomes more dense and sections become smaller there is less space for having a vegetable garden. Supermarkets and other fruit and vegetable markets have filled this gap, and now it is easy to go to the shop and buy what we need.
However, this convenience can lead to children not understanding that their food has to be grown first before they eat it - a little bit like thinking you just have to put your card in a machine and you can have money. There is no comprehension of what goes on for that food (or money) to get to them.
Growing food at home or on in early childhood settings with children connects them to the food system. They learn the whole process:
- Preparing the soil
- Sowing the seeds
- Raising the seedlings
- Caring for the plants
- Harvesting the produce
- Possibly saving seed for next season
Involving children in gardening connects them with nature and learning that there is work involved in growing food so that it can end up on their plate.
They learn that:
- plants need care to grow and thrive
- plants need to be grown where they can get enough sunshine
- plants need to be watered and fertilised to produce food
- you can’t grow the same vegetables all year round
Gardening teaches children about seasons and growing and eating seasonal food.
Growing their own vegetables can also introduce children to variety. When we leave the vegetable supply to supermarkets, we become used to food being a particular colour, size or shape. However, when we grow our own vegetables we learn that they come in all shapes, sizes and colours.
A tomato doesn’t have to be red. It can be yellow, black, or orange.
A carrot doesn’t have to be orange. It can be purple, yellow, or white.
And they don’t have to be all the same size and shape. When we grow our own food, we discover that they come in all shapes and sizes depending on the variety and the growing conditions.
When we connect children to their food through being involved in growing it themselves, they are more likely to eat it…and try new vegetables. There is magic in going out to the garden and choosing what they want to eat because they have grown it. Even if they don’t like it, they will often still try it.
In addition, to knowing how their food is produced, gardening has an added benefit for their health.
Gardening gets them outside and moving. They are digging, watering, and planting.
And, eating the food they have grown is more nutritious as it is often organic or at least spray free. They are eating it straight from the garden, so the nutrient and mineral levels are higher than vegetables purchased at the supermarket.
And home-grown food is much tastier than the mass-produced vegetables we buy in the supermarket.
It is important that we take time to connect children to where their food comes from through involving them in regular gardening experiences. If we can introduce children to growing their own food during their early childhood years, they will take these skills with them throughout their lives, and future generations will know where their food comes from.
If you have enjoyed this blog post, why not see my post titled: Using the Garden to Support Well-being in Children
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