Making a Case for Suburban Edible Gardens

Many of the children residing in the United States, if not all, are completely disconnected from their food source. In today’s modern world, children’s experiences with food is primarily limited to the grocery store, restaurants (typically fast food), school lunches and dinnertime meals at home. When children are hungry 9 times out of 10 they look in the pantry or cupboards hoping to curb their hunger and 9 times out of 10 seek out food that comes in a bag or a box. Very rarely is there time for baking, cooking or let alone gardening.

Getting children connected to their food source is a vital necessity to protect them from today’s heavily marketed and processed world of food. Through the use of t.v., computers, the Internet, smart phones and tablets, children have access to the adult world at their fingertips. Children are exposed to endless amounts of marketing by multi-billion dollar companies whose target audience consists of children and teens tempting them with a plethora of disguised chemically laden “food”. Ads not only promote the desirability of a company’s product but also deceptively claim that it is part of a healthy diet! Flashy ads and catchy tunes create a culture of product “must haves”. The true dependency comes from the ups and downs in blood sugar (these spikes in blood sugar can also raise the risk for Type II diabetes). Being that these highs are mostly from the breakdown of highly refined carbohydrates, and without nutrient density, hunger returns too quickly as the body continues to seek more food in the absence of nutrients. These highs and lows can also contribute to inattentiveness, hyperactivity and irritability found in some children after school time snacks or meals.

Furthermore, the salt, sugar and chemicals found in heavily processed and packaged foods dulls the palate by bringing out the flavors of the “processed” food. Once the body becomes all too familiar with these artificial flavors, these substances cause all other natural flavors to fade and/or lose their character. Meanwhile, the artificial flavors in processed foods over-stimulate taste buds so that they are less able to pick up on any of the subtleties in the food. Children who eat a large amount of processed foods find the taste of natural fruits and vegetables unappealing and sometimes nauseating. After cutting back on processed foods, natural foods might initially taste bland or not sweet enough. By slowly introducing more fruits and vegetables, the palate begins to appreciate the polyphenols (a class of phytochemicals more commonly known as antioxidants) which are responsible for the pungent and astringent flavors naturally found in fruits and vegetables. Eating a diet of nutrient rich foods not only satisfies hunger, but staves off the desire to eat too quickly.

Children learn best when encouraged to make connections. More often than not, they learn by watching, touching, feeling and exploring. This type of learning is not only limited to elementary age school children but can include pre-teens and teens as well. As children learn to develop a sense of the very food they eat, where it comes from and how to grow it, they develop a deeper understanding and newfound appreciation for that particular food. Children are naturally inquisitive, sensitive to living things, nurturing and sympathetic. It is not until they become deeply immersed in a culture that desensitizes, manipulates, brainwashes, targets and victimizes do they lose their genuineness. In other words, if left without a strong sense of connection to the earth, our children may become highly susceptible to the omnipresent falsehoods of mass consumerism and industry marketing not just with materialistic possessions but with food as well.

How Children Can Help and Become Connected….

By being involved in gardening children become a part of facilitating the food cycle. In doing so:

-They have the opportunity to make scientific observations either visually or with journals

-Develop a sense of responsibility by setting schedules (watering, weeding, harvesting, journaling)

-Develop a sense of importance. 
Children realize that the garden can not grow and mature without their care

-Develop a sense of nurturing through care-taking.
Children are responsible for completing the lifecycle from beginning to end by caring for plants. Caring for a living “thing” is best exemplified through providing food,water, shelter and even talking to plants

-By harvesting food from the garden…

Children are rewarded by the “fruits” of their labor. Typically fruit trees consisting of apples or citrus are the most ideal. Once harvested, children have the opportunity to make apple juice, applesauce, apple crisp or pie or simply just eating the freshest fruit available. Citrus trees are just as plentiful in their opportunity to create treats such as freshly squeezed orange juice, grapefruit juice, lemonade or limeade.

Leafy vegetables, green beans, snow peas, summer squash, cucumbers zucchini are all relatively easy to grow. Children have the opportunity to eat straight from the garden or can help by preparing salads, cutting and chopping larger vegetables for sautéing or salads. Children will find fresh garden vegetables quite delectable as they have a more distinct and unique flavor vs. conventional grown produce that has sat a week or longer till purchase. As a child, and with my children, we refer to garden vegetables as “garden candy”…especially tomatoes. Depending on where you live, leafy vegetables are also desired among rabbits and deer so extra care may be needed to protect these plants.

Berries are fairly easy to grow and can be used for fruit salads or eaten alone. There is much competition with birds and small animals with berries, so netting may need to be applied. With today’s excitement over
smoothies, fresh fruit may be mixed with spinach as spinach has a mild flavor and can be hidden easily in blended drinks.

Herbs are another great addition to a suburban edible garden and are also easily grown in cities. Try growing in either a window or on a roof-top deck. Herbs do not have a deep root structure (caution: never plant mint in the ground…it grows like a weed, is very aggressive and can suffocate the development of other herbs) and can happily live in pots. Some great herb choices are: rosemary, basil, cilantro, parsley, chives, thyme and mint (buyer beware!). Basil is a great addition to add to Italian dishes. Although astringent, children often love the taste!

The very essence of our existence does not come from the nutrition found in a box, but rather from the nutrients found in healthy soil, the chlorophyll obtained from plants and the life force that surrounds mother nature’s fruits and vegetables. No amount of fortified vitamins or minerals can replace the necessary trace elements which come solely from nature’s bounty.Photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography / CC BY

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