Is there anything more natural than a child in a garden? There is such wonder, such delight to be found. Such messes to make. And good things to eat. Every season brings with it new delights.
I have been gardening with my children since they were born. I would put them in a carrier and go out and tend the garden. Of course, some things had to wait until they were napping, but you would be surprised at how much you can do with a baby on your back.
They loved it. The movement, the fresh air, seeing new things, being close to mama. Sometimes I would just wander around the garden looking at things and thinking while I carried them.
I also would set them loose to crawl in the garden, keeping a close eye on them. They loved to go after the strawberries, even when they were still white. Once they learned what was good to eat, they would go back every chance they got.
As a toddler, Graysen could strip the gooseberries off the thorny bush with his tiny fingers like an expert. And I could hardly get the Juneberries in the house because he ate them so fast.
Then he discovered the cucumbers. He liked to pick them and eat them like an apple. Cherry tomatoes didn't stand a chance. He was also generous and liked to share what he picked with me and any other kids who came by.
We had a small sandbox in the garden where he could dig to his heart's content while I worked nearby. He loved to play with water from the rain catchment barrels.
As he and his brother got older they started helping more in the garden. Planting seeds inside, learning to transplant, and of course, harvesting.
My kids have always loved to eat veggies, berries, and fruit. When children participate in the growing of something, they are so much more willing, excited even, to eat it.
Plus the food tastes better when it is freshly harvested. As soon as the food is harvested it starts to deteriorate in flavor and nutrition. Some things store better than others. Lettuce, for instance, has a milky white sap that holds it's flavor and nutrients. The sap dries up within 24 hours of harvest.
Broccoli is a "heavy breather" meaning that it respires faster and therefore deteriorates faster. Which is why millions of kids don't like broccoli. Fresh broccoli is actually sweet and tender, it is not supposed to taste like bitter cardboard like the stuff in the store.
My kids know fresh is better and steer clear of the store-bought veggies at gatherings. I don't mind them being a bit picky. They know what real food is supposed to taste like and they won't settle for less.
I used to teach gardening to kids in disadvantaged neighborhoods in Austin, Texas's East side. We were harvesting kohlrabi and one of the young kids had grabbed one and was chowing it down. An elder from the neighborhood was watching and said that there must be something in that kohlrabi that the child needs. Some nutrient that has been missing in her diet. Very young kids seem to have a kind of intuitive way of eating that is sometimes conditioned out of them.
Besides the nutrients, fresh food from the garden is loaded with beneficial bacteria, the same kinds that live in our guts, on our skin, and all over our whole body that keep us healthy. Touching the dirt, microbes sink into the skin.
Processed foods don't have any kind of bacteria, and most vegetables in the super market are actually irradiated, killing all bacteria on them to keep them from going bad. The food is dead and will not support the life inside us.
Gardening is something that kids can participate in from a very young age. They love to be a help and work alongside their parents, grandparents, or teachers. When it is a partnership, they feel like they have ownership over the garden, instead of being directed on what to do. It is best when they can participate in the planning and decision making.
Kids are also naturals with animals. My boys do most of the chicken chores. Feeding, collecting eggs, and observing them. They know the chickens much better than I do. They can wrangle them and pick them up, and are always first to notice if something is wrong with one of them.
This kind of observing and nurturing of animals and plants develops empathy in them.
They also participate in the butchering of the animals when it is time. It's important for them to know where their meat comes from, to appreciate the life that is lost so that we can be nourished. And to know all the work that goes into it.
And, of course, they participate in the cooking and preparing of the food as well. So when the pot of chicken soup arrives at the table, they have helped with every aspect of it, from the planning to the harvesting and cooking. Do you think they would refuse to eat it? Not a chance.
I once had a group of homeschoolers at my house and we decided to make some good old fashioned stone soup. I had them all go out into the garden and find something to put in it. They each chopped their own ingredients. We washed a nice stone and put it in the bottom of the pot and then filled it up with garden veggies and broth. The kids loved it. They all ate second helpings.
This is our life every day. We make amazing food out of humble ingredients. We invite friends over and everyone brings something to contribute. We eat like royalty. And we are nourished in more ways than one.