Back in the day our parents and grandparents were fortunate enough to live the quarter-acre dream. They had backyards big enough to have a large garden to supplement the family meals, a few fruit trees and plenty of lawn left over for active kids to romp and play until the sun went down.

Times have changed, however, and our lives are fast paced and our backyards are much smaller. What lawns we do have rarely see kids playing on it as the lure of the screen is too great. The days whiz by so fast we barely notice what is occurring in our own backyards. Looking back to a simpler time is done nostalgically, through rose coloured glasses and seen as a bygone era.

For our parents and grandparents gardening was more than a hobby, it was a way of life. It was just what you did in order to get by. But with that also came all the advantages that would be found in any garden, regardless of the size or reason. The fresh air and exercise is great to counteract the sedimentary nature of our lives, often spent sitting for long periods. The contact with the soil itself is beneficial to build up immunity and even improve emotional well-being. Kids grew up knowing where their food came from and often they were called upon to help out as part of their chores.

My own grandfather had a very large garden and there were grape vines in the glasshouse and we would always sneak down to that part of the garden to pinch the grapes. The apple trees were prolific and I still remember the smell of the apples that were stored above the shed to last the winter months.

The pumpkins he grew were huge – well they seemed that way to my small eyes, and meals eaten around Grandad’s table were always lovingly made with the freshest vegetables. I especially remember with great fondness helping to shell peas with my Grandad for the Christmas meal. I only wish I’d asked him more questions about his garden. Paid more attention and learnt at his knee. I was far too busy being one of those kids who frolicked about on his daisy-speckled lawn well past the twilight when we were called in for dinner.

These are fond memories and I intend to pass these kinds of memories on to my children and my future grandchildren by encouraging them to help in the garden. This is something families can so easily do together.

Next time you find time to be with your Mum, Dad or Grandparents, talk to them and find out if growing food was part of their lives at any stage in the years gone by. Ask them about their fondest memories. Find out as many hints and tips for growing a great crop. Invite them to help you with your garden and share the bounty.

Back in the day we celebrated a good harvest by sharing fresh produce with our family, friends and neighbours. Whole communities were made this way.

Growing food is a life-skill once taken for granted and now it’s in danger of being forgotten. A garden today may not be on the same scale as the old days, but a fresh tomato still tastes as good as it always did.

A few strawberry plants in a container on a balcony, or a raised bed in the back yard, will bring such joy and reward for the entire family across the generations. What better way to celebrate our parents than to emulate some of the simple pleasures they experienced when they grew great food to feed their families.

This coming spring I encourage you to make the time to get outdoors and create a veggie patch that will give back to you so much more than just the abundant crops. Grow some food, just like they did in the old days, and celebrate the harvest.

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Sarah O’Neil lives on a small 3 acre lifestyle block. The family moved from the big city to the country in 2007. Sarah has published 3 books, including The Good Life, four glorious seasons in my country garden. She's also an award-winning blogger, winning a Yates Vegie Growing Challenge and still writes regularly. Visit Sarah’s website at sarahthegardener.co.nz.

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