Reader Contribution By Marc Thoma
Are you wondering “why should children learn to grow their own food?” Depending on their age, they are probably busy with school, after-school activities and sports. Or for that matter why should you as a parent make an effort yourself to grow healthy and fresh food at home as a role model for your children? After all, we have grocery stores everywhere. And vending machines and corner stores. Lots of food available. Nobody needs to go hungry, right?
A child’s nutrition is very important in their early years as their bodies develop. Why stuff them full of produce that is laden with chemicals, processed food and nutrient deficient foods? Most processed food is high in salt, sugar and preservatives. And if they start off in life eating what we call “junk food” and food with empty calories, they will continue into their adult lives. And later experience health problems such as obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and even cancer.
Children Especially Need Fresh Whole Foods
An apple straight off the tree, a handful of raspberries picked and still warm from the sun, a salad made from fresh lettuce and tomatoes picked just minutes ago or a carrot pulled out of the ground that actually smells like a carrot!
If you are lucky, you may have farmer’s markets in your area that you can go to every weekend. But that can get very expensive as organic produce is usually priced higher than conventional non-organic. And it takes time to drive to the market, find parking and then make your way through the hordes of people that are trying to get their fresh produce in the few hours that the market is open.
So what is the alternative?
Growing Your Own Food
It is possible on a small scale, regardless of time, space, money and knowledge. And encouraging your children to grow their own food is one of the best things you can do as a parent. It teaches them responsibility for a living thing, that vegetables can taste good and that they can become more self sufficient and not reliant on big food companies.
Sure, they won’t likely be able to grow all the food they need, but every time they eat from their own garden they are putting food in their growing and developing bodies that is healthier and fresher than anything you can get at the store. And fewer trips to the store mean less environmental pollution from cars.
But let’s look at some of the myths that people have with growing their own vegetables and fruit. And unfortunately that gets passed down to children and why many children do not grow food themselves.
Myth #1: It takes up too much space.
You can grow a lot of food in just a few containers. You don’t need the acres of row gardens that commercial growers use. Growing in recycled pails/buckets from catering places works well. Or you could buy some plastic storage bins (with the bonus that the lids can double as drip trays underneath the bin). In both cases make sure to drill some drainage holes. My favourite container to plant up has a few lettuce plants, a tomato plant and a few green onion stalks. This can be placed close to your kitchen door so that you can grab a few lettuce leaves, a tomato and some green onion for a tasty salad or sandwich topping.
If you want something more ascetically pleasing you can also build an inexpensive, attractive and sturdy raised bed or planter box. For the cost of a shopping basket full of produce you can have a great place to grow fresh vegetables.
Myth #2: It takes too much time.
So do a lot of other things in our lives. It is really a matter of priorities and a mindset shift to what you value most in life. The health of your family should be a priority if you are a parent. When you think of all the time spent on “time-wasters” that don’t produce any results that improve your life, you have more time than you think. It’s a matter of priorities: eating well and contributing to the world’s food supply or binge watching the latest Netflix series/watching cat videos on FaceBook?
There are ways to make garden maintenance easier and thus take less time. Routines are key to squeeze in some gardening into our busy lives. Maybe set aside 15-30 minutes when your child comes home from school (practical life skills homework!) or right after dinner to go out and tend to the vegetable garden. Maybe you’ll find something tasty for the next day’s breakfast or lunch! Also try and set aside an hour each weekend where you go out into the garden and do a few light tasks.
And you can save time by setting up a watering system, mulching heavily to avoid having to weed and growing from seed (to avoid multiple trips to the nursery or garden centre to buy transplants).
Myth #3: It costs too much money.
Have you seen the cost of most organic produce? And the prices are always fluctuating due to natural disasters, drought and market demand. So buying a few seeds or some transplants or soil or fertilizer that sets you back less than $100 will likely save you more than that on groceries.
You can also save money by reusing food containers (properly washed) to grow your seedlings or store harvested fruit and cherry tomatoes. Use chopsticks for digging holes and separating transplants. Use newspaper and cardboard for mulch. Get free wood chips from your local arborist to use as mulch.
And if you save seeds from your best producing plants, you won’t need to buy them every year. Stop buying one or two expensive special coffees at Starbucks (make coffee at home and bring it in a reusable travel mug) or the pricy takeout salads (you’ll be able to make your own soon!) and you will have enough money to grow healthy food for your family.
Myth #4: The food we buy is better quality
Maybe the apples you buy in the store are pristine. And the lettuce has no holes in it. However have you ever thought how that produce got into that perfect state? In most cases it has been sprayed with chemical pesticides so that the produce doesn’t get eaten by pests.
So if you truly want to control what goes on your produce and then into your family’s bodies, the only way is to grow your own. Sure, maybe your lettuce has some bites out of it from a slug or snail or your apples have some holes from worms. These are all indicators that your produce is not chemically laden otherwise these “pests” would not be eating your food.
Disfigured fruit for instance can be used to make applesauce, jams, jellies or juices. And when you have an abundance of your own lettuce, discarding the odd leaf that has been chewed on is easier than doing so with organic lettuce that you paid a premium for at the store.
Myth #5: I don’t know how to start
There are so many resources available to learn how to grow your own food.
• seed catalogues
• Facebook groups
• local nursery or garden centre
• local garden clubs
• local workshops and training
• local Master Gardener groups
• neighbours, family and friends
• local horticultural centres
• government and university extensions (if you live in the US)
And finally there is your experience that you will gain by simply doing. By just experimenting and trying something out, you learn valuable lessons from your successes and failures. And your kids will too when they grow their own food!