I was at a conference recently and one of the speakers was talking about how she was doing this science experiment with her kids that involved planting a seed in some soil. I’m not sure what the rest of her message was about, because this short anecdote got me thinking – When did growing food from seed stop becoming a life skill and start becoming a science experiment for our kids?

A few short generations ago, almost everyone had a veggie patch and kids were often given the arduous chore of weeding and watering so the plants would be able to grow big and strong and help the family to supplement their groceries when there wasn’t much else. When those vegetables ended up on the plate those kids from the past knew exactly where they had come from and appreciated the effort that had gone into growing them. They may still have complained about having to eat their greens, but they knew what they looked like on the plant.

These days it is different. People don’t have the same need to grow their own veggies, growing them is often relegated to the hobby category and gardening childpeople have much smaller gardens or even no space at all. Food in the stores is cheap – and clean and can even be purchased peeled and chopped too. Or it can be found in a jar with an assortment of ingredients that wouldn’t be recognised by those who sowed seeds in generations gone by. The connection to the source of food is being lost and planting seeds has become part of science classes. The knowledge and understanding that it is OK to have dirty veggies because they grow in dirt is slipping from the grasp of a new generation.

Teaching kids not only where their food comes from, but how to grow it for themselves is a life skill that will set them up for a healthy future. They will be able to determine good quality food for themselves, and in turn pass on the knowledge to a future generation, recreating fond memories of gardening together as a family.

But gardening with kids isn’t as straight forward as setting aside a corner of the garden for them and giving them some seeds and expecting them to get on with it. They will never manage it on their own. Gardening needs to be fun – and it can be.

Play in the Garden 300dpiI have just recently released a new book called Play in the Garden which about getting kids out into the garden, and out in the fresh air.  Not to be set up in a corner on their own, but gardening together as a family. One generation working alongside another to teach growing food, by growing food.  I have also introduced the fun factor into it as my boys really didn’t enjoy gardening and saw it as something Mum did. So I came up with a whole lot of great projects to get them out there and half the time they didn’t even realise they were learning, but I knew they were!

They learnt how beans grow as they raced each other to have the tallest one. They learnt what it takes to have a good healthy soil, although they just thought they were playing in mud. They learnt pest control techniques while getting paint all over the place! They got dirty, and wet and made mess and we had an amazing summer of fun, all the while they were learning valuable life lessons about their food.

There is an expression “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed himWhats that for a lifetime”. I think this also applies to our kids. If you feed them without the knowledge of where it comes from then they will eat anything. But if they know where it comes from, they will eat well, and healthy eating is something we all need to live.

And once your kids know a bit about where garden food comes from, you could take them out fishing or hunting, or to a local farm, to learn about where fresh meat comes from too. Then you can teach them how to cook it. For instance, kids love battered fish and chips, so you could take them fishing and then make our Battered fish and chips recipe right alongside them. Healthy and super-delicious and true knowledge they’ll take away for a lifetime.

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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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