Every spring I say the same thing, with much sighing and sad resignation: I wish we had a garden. I love the idea of walking out into my backyard to pick some vegetables for dinner. I love the idea of saving money on produce and eating healthier, homegrown foods. Gardens are beautiful. What’s not to love? Oh yeah, all the hard work that goes into it. The planning, the weeding, the protecting from children and animals. There is that…
Even with all that goes into having one, I’ve always wanted to have a vegetable garden at our home because you do get so much out of it. But alas, we’ve been unable to do so for one reason or another…one reason being that I have a horrific black thumb and can’t manage to keep anything green alive. I want my kids to experience gardening, to understand where food comes from and to appreciate fresh vegetables. It’s absolutely possible to do so, and I’m going to share how we’ve done it and I’d love for you to share your ideas in the comments!
Even if you can’t (or won’t!) have a full-fledged garden at your home, your kids can get a taste of gardening in these ways:
1. Read books about gardening! Kids will love to see gardening come to life on the pages of books, sometimes even with their favorite characters. Several months ago, we received this book as the month’s selection from Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library: Strega Nona’s Harvest by Tomie dePaola. In the book, children get a glimpse into the work involved in tending a vegetable garden. Strega Nona, the main character, shares her extra harvest with the townspeople, an idea we have embraced in our community (see #2 for more). Find more children’s books about gardening at Amazon.com! Do you have any favorite books about gardening?
2. Create or contribute to a community or food pantry garden. This spring, our church began a new food pantry garden ministry. Our church members did the work to create the garden space on our church’s property. We gathered all the supplies (many plants and seeds were donated), did lots of work picking out rocks from the dirt, planted seeds, weeded, and picked vegetables all summer. Every last vegetable we harvested went to our local food pantry. We hope to continue our garden ministry for years to come and it has been wonderful to see several generations working together for this cause, even those of us who don’t know the first thing about gardening! Even our kids regularly worked in the garden! Find a community garden near you at the American Community Gardening Association’s website.
3. Join a Community Supported Agriculture co-op. This isn’t something we’ve done YET but I’ve researched the CSAs in our area and there are many good ones to choose from. In a CSA, your family will purchase a part of the harvest from the farm of your choosing. Every CSA is different and you might be required to do some work (like packing boxes or helping with distributing) in order to maintain your membership, but you’ll also receive a large amount of fresh local vegetables and support local farmers. Click here to find a local CSA!
4. Visit a children’s garden. Locally, we have the Kentucky Children’s Garden at the University of Kentucky’s Arboretum. We had a meetup yesterday at the children’s garden with the mom’s group I coordinate. Admission is very inexpensive ($3 for age 2 and up, $10 for a family of 5) and you can purchase a seasonal family pass to enjoy it all year long for $50. The kids were able to catch butterflies, dig in a designated area, water flowers and vegetables in raised beds, play in a stream, plus countless other activities to get kids interested and excited about plantlife and the outdoors. My kids, 4 and 2, had so much fun getting dirty and wet, playing with all they had to offer. Do you have a children’s garden in your area?
A few photos from yesterday’s trip:
5. Start small…very small. Don’t have room, time, or any desire to dig up a corner of your yard for a vegetable garden? You could do a small herb garden and have your kids help with watering and turning the pots. There are simple and inexpensive kits available at most retail stores to get kids planting! Even without a small garden, you probably have flowers or other plants outside that your kids can help you water! At the Lexington Children’s Garden, the kids were able to use these awesome Fisher Price Fun-to-fill Watering Cans and buckets. The base attaches to a standard hose and kids just push the bucket onto the base to let it fill with water from the base! Even my 2 year old figured out how to work it! These are an older product but thanks to the power of Internet shopping, you can still get your hands on one!
6. Play games or apps that teach about gardening. Yes, you can get technology in on this with you! Whole Foods has a great iPhone/iPad app, Awesome Eats, that teaches kids about different types of foods. More and more kids are using iPhones and iPods – make sure they’re learning something while they play! There are board games about gardening (like Discovery Garden Game and My First Orchard) and lots of gardening toys available for kids. Even if you don’t have a “real” garden space, your kids can pretend! Starfall.com also has a game about recycling that my kids love to play.
7. Last but not least…Spend time outside! Yes, this is the most general item on the list, but it’s also the easiest one to do. Send your kids into the backyard to play. Go on hikes at state and national parks. Visit a wildlife reserve. Most of these places are free or cheap activities for your family and will get you moving, talking, and learning. There are many benefits to being outside in nature and you can read about them at Why Nature Rocks and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service!