Homegrown with Heart Column – April 2020

A good way to get kids to eat their vegetables is for the kids to grow them themselves! Getting a child’s hands into the warm earth is like playtime.  Having them watch the magical growth of placing the seed into the ground, lovingly watering it, and watching it actually form into food, makes them much more likely to want to taste “their” homegrown food, no matter what it is.

Many educational facilities now have schoolyard gardens, starting all the way from preschools to colleges. Alice Waters, the celebrated chef from Chez Panisse, was instrumental in starting her Edible Schoolyard Project many years ago and providing an example for others to follow. Teaching gardening is now an important part of numerous schools’ curriculums.

There is no better place though, to start learning about growing food than at home, even it if is just one pot on the windowsill. An easy starting place is with herbs. They are fast growing and easy to grow.  Herbs require no special fertilizers, in fact most herbs don’t really like too much fertilizing. You could plant three or four different herbs for a lovely indoor garden that you and your children or grandchildren can tend to.  Make sure you plant varieties you will actual use.  A good starting point is a few different mints, basil, oregano, rosemary, and parsley.

Another benefit of growing herbs is that many are host plants for different butterflies. If you are planting outdoors, the children will be able to see butterflies grow from an egg all the way to a full grown butterfly.

After mastering herbs, it’s easy to move to growing fruits and vegetables.  There are so many facets to gardening that touch every bit of learning from science, to math, to art, to history. The basics of living on this earth revolve around food and learning the basics of gardening. Teaching about nutrition is central to their understanding about why it is important to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables and use a MacDonald’s Happy Meal only as an occasional treat, if at all.

Learning about sustainability is central to learning about gardening. Organic gardening is also a problem solving adventure. What can you do in sustainable, healthy way to deal with pests? What can you add to your soil and ecosystem to make your plants healthier, which in turn, makes you healthier?

Composting is a significant part of sustainable gardening. Learning to take what we would normally throw away as food scraps and turning it into rich soil.  And what little boy would not want to learn about vermicomposting with worms?

Taking it a step further, learning how to preserve our bounty, whether through freezing, canning, or fermenting is an important skill to have in today’s world. Those seemingly lost arts are roaring back to life as we realize our agricultural limitations and the increased value of self-sufficiency.

What I love most about gardening with my children and grandchildren is the quiet time together.  Working with your hands in nature naturally promotes closeness and time to just talk, without all those screens staring at you.  It is a bonding experience without really trying.  Then as a natural follow-up, taking your fresh fruits and vegetables into the house and preparing a meal together, sharing old family recipes and creating a heritage moment. That’s the real magic of gardening!

 

A Midwesterner by birth, but a Floridian for the past almost 40 years, Debbi Benedict has been a longtime magazine columnist and an even longer edible landscaping enthusiast. Her definition of an edible landscape is, “Food for myself; the birds, bees, and butterflies; and most importantly, for my soul.” As a young girl, her love of the lore and accessibility of herbs started her on her gardening journey. Upon her move to Florida, her gardening world exploded as she was introduced to the magical tastes of tropical fruit trees and the value of native plants. Now her quarter acre yard, known as Benhaven Farm, flourishes with over 100 fruit trees, shrubs, and vines, and an unknown number of native flowering plants.

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