Why gardening matters for kids

When I was a kid, I lived on a hobby farm; we had cows, sheep, and a large garden in which we grew a variety of vegetables.  These were the days before smart phones, smart appliances, and smart cars.  We were living in a 2-3 channel TV universe, and for a brief time the most interesting ring tone in the house was the one that identified that the call that was for you, not one of the neighbours on your party line.  But I’m not complaining, really.

I’m sure my mom remembers me complaining when we’d get home from school and find that she had a couple of bushels of beans for us to snap, or peas for us to shell.  That’s probably the last thing we wanted to do after school.  But we appreciated how great these vegetables tasted fresh, and later, when we pulled them from the freezer.  Most importantly, we learned how to grow our own food, and what it’s supposed to look like, taste like, and how it is supposed to nourish us.  We mimicked our parents by growing small gardens of our own (when we weren’t helping out in the main garden).

My first garden.  There are edibles in there somewhere.

Society has changed, though.  We spend more time indoors and connected to devices; we’re often detached from the natural environment in which we exist.  Fewer parents garden, and fewer children are educated about food production.  The term nature deficit disorder has been coined to explain some of the behavioural issues that may arise in a today’s housebound kids.  But it’s more than just behaviour.  It’s a matter of basic health, both ours and of the environment.  When we eat food that’s been contaminated by pesticides and other harmful chemicals, we’re exposing ourselves to a host of problems.  Most susceptible are the workers who produce this food, and children (unfortunately, in some countries, these groups are one and the same).

Children are especially susceptible to the harmful effects of pesticide residues due to their lower body mass, rapid development, and higher rates of consumption of affected products.  F FIn children, exposure to certain pesticides from residues in food can cause delayed development; disruptions to the reproductive, endocrine, and immune systems; certain types of cancer; and damage to other organs.  FPrenatal exposure to certain pesticides can affect cognitive development and behavior.  FSeveral studies have found that pesticide levels in children dropped to low or undetectable levels when test subjects consumed an organic  G diet.  (source)

In an effort to repeatedly mass produce on the same parcels of land, we’re putting ourselves at risk.

We can’t look at food the same way that we do shoes, and assume that what’s in the store is good for us.  The reality is that unless you are buying local and organic, there is a good change that you are ingesting harmful chemicals.  But unless one has grown one’s own food or researched food production, one may be detached from the process.  Food may just be another pair of shoes that one orders and assumes that if they’re the right size, they won’t cause blisters.

Studies show that children who are encouraged to garden appreciate ecology more and learn to respect their environment.  More importantly, they learn to enjoy a wider variety of fresh, healthy vegetables, and they make more informed food choices throughout their lives.  If you can, grow some food, either in your home, at your school, or in a community centre.  It’s not just the plants that may flourish.

Let’s get kids involved

Many of us are familiar with Canada’s Food Guide and its equivalents: http://hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/alt_format…. This guide, and various scientific studies, state that vegetables and fruits should make up a significant portion of a person’s diet, regardless of their age. Fruits and vegetables provide nutrients that are vital for your health and the maintenance of your body. They may reduce risk of stroke, certain types of cancer, heart diseases, and type-2 diabetes.
Despite this knowledge, though, we’re constantly falling short in our daily recommendations. A 2015 study indicated that 87 percent of Americans don’t meet recommendations for fruit consumption, and 91 percent don’t meet recommendations for vegetable consumption: http://www.livescience.com/51500-fr…. In fact, some studies show a decline in the consumption of vegetables and fruits.
But why are we so reluctant to eat what we need to properly fuel our bodies?

What we eat when we are young shapes what we crave when we are older

So what do we need to do, besides cut back on the sweets and snack foods and force ourselves to eat more veggies?

We need to get children involved in food preparation

Anyone who has ever known (or been) a child has witnessed the pride they exhibit when they accomplish something on their own. This , of course, extends to gardening.

It doesn’t have to be complicated

Here are some great tips on getting your kids involved: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardenin….

We can share what we learn and grow together

Your neighbours (or you) may not have enough space to grow plants. There may be gaps in one’s knowledge of healthy food choices, and in food preparation skills. Or, there may be issues with money and or time. But we can do this together. Invite your kids’ friends to try something from your garden, or to take home some plants to their families. Share seeds, vegetables, space, laughs, recipes. Start a community garden. Instill a craving for vegetables that will last a lifetime.
Make it fun.

An Easter idea

An idea for Easter (Sunday, April 16): In addition to giving your kids the usual chocolate eggs, give them something that will ‘hatch’: a package of seeds! Plant them outside if you live in a warmer climate, or start them indoors if you don’t.