By Kristin Frazier
I grew up with a large garden. My parents had both been raised on farms, and so for us it was as natural as could be to grow our own food. Summers during my childhood were spent digging in the dirt, shelling peas, snapping beans, and picking tomatoes – first in that backyard garden, and then on the farm we moved to when I was in middle school. It was a wonderful way to grow up, and some of my strongest memories are centered around the food that we grew.
My own children don’t have a garden of their own (we have lots of trees, and no sunlight), but – thanks to my parents – they’ve also grown up playing in the dirt. When we visit the farm, everyone is expected to work. Oftentimes we’ve barely had a chance to unload our suitcases before we head to the garden to see what’s growing or harvest veggies for dinner. The reward for a weekend of helping Grandma and Grampa is a carload of produce to take home for ourselves, which is always appreciated.
Perhaps I was naïve, I always assumed that most people understood where their food came from.
Then my girls went to school, and I found out just how wrong I was.
I spent a large amount of time volunteering in our elementary school. This enabled me to build great relationships with our teachers, and it also gave me a front-row seat to the goings on in the classroom. Over time it became apparent that my own family’s diet was anything but the norm.
Here’s some of what I noticed:
- School lunches offer a lot more variety than they did when I was a kid, but students don’t always make the best choices when putting things on their plates.
- Both of my children were teased for bringing in lunchboxes full of fresh foods.
- Our schools are drenched in sugar – often it’s used for either individual or classroom rewards.
- The healthy foods that teachers asked us to provide for class parties were passed over by the children for the many, many sugary treats that were also brought in – often in quantities considerably higher than those requested.
- Parent lunches and field trips always consisted of fast food and junk food. (For many families, this is a treat for the occasion.)
I do not believe in labeling foods as either good or bad or in restricting foods unless there is a specific health concern such as a food allergy. What I do believe is that kids don’t get enough credit when it comes to food. So often we believe that we must give them ‘kid friendly’ foods because they don’t like ‘healthy’ choices like fresh veggies. Unfortunately, it becomes a cycle – we don’t offer them fruits and veggies…so they don’t like fruits and veggies…so we don’t offer them fruits and veggies – and that contributes to many of the things I noticed in our school.
So how do we change this? There are lots of great ideas out there, but I think we should start by teaching children about where their food comes from…. which brings me back to what I learned when I began helping in our school.
I was really shocked the first time I asked a child where her food came from because she answered me by saying, “the store.” Upon further questioning, it was clear that she didn’t understand that her apple had grown in a tree. If you’ve spent time with children, you’ll know – as I discovered – that this is common.
The good news is that this is something we can fix. The even better news is that if you take a child out into a garden and let them get their hands dirty – if you show them where their food comes from and involve them in growing it – they get excited about trying vegetables! I’ve seen it in my own children – and I’ve seen it in many others.
One of the things that drew me to CCUA was the educational work that we do with children. During my first week on staff, I accompanied our PLANTS program staff to one of our local elementary schools for a lesson in making salad with greens they had grown in their tower garden. The kids were clearly excited, and knew it would be a special day. We led them through a discussion of how plants grow before breaking them into teams to harvest the greens, wash them, spin the water out, tear them into pieces, and make a dressing. Once the salad was put together, the students went back to their desks and so they could try the salad. At first, we gave them small proportions – just enough to taste – but it wasn’t long before they started asking for seconds, thirds, even fourths! (The teachers decided to share the salad with other classrooms, or they may have finished it.) Even the most skeptical had enjoyed their salad. The lesson was a success.
Learning about where food comes from, participating in growing food, and having the opportunity to try new things…. these are key in creating life-long healthy habits and a love of veggies! It’s my dream that every child gets to experience the magic of a garden at least once in their life, and I believe CCUA’s PLANTS program is doing a wonderful job in making sure that happens.
Besides…there’s nothing quite so good as peas fresh off the vine!