Feeding Your Family: Garden Magic

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By Larissa Phillips

When I was a child, I thought my grandparents were so boring. All they wanted to talk about was gardening. They used to write me letters at camp about their garden! At Thanksgiving, we would drive 15 hours to see my grandfather, and the first thing we'd have to do was go look at his garden. At 92 years old, he was still putting in tomatoes, zucchini and peas by himself.

Back then, I didn't want to talk about gardening, and I certainly didn't want to pull weeds. But I sure did love spending time among the plants, plucking beans to gnaw on as I wandered through the tangled vines, eating my fill of cherry tomatoes, sitting in the sun and hunting for strawberries in our giant strawberry patch.

Gardens are magical places for children - and they're also fantastic places for learning about food. My grandfather always said the best way to teach children to eat vegetables was to garden with them. Last summer my 2-year-old daughter made a convincing claim on this theory. She would eat as many green beans and cherry tomatoes as she could find, and paid almost hourly visits to her grandmother's fledgling blueberry patch, wondering if more berries had ripened since her last visit.

To further this impulse, we head up to my mother's house in the country every spring, to plant our summer garden. My mother and I do the bulk of the planting, while my kids zoom around the yard, chasing butterflies, playing soccer and, occasionally, wandering into the garden for a few minutes of planting. I used to wonder if I was letting them off the hook too easily. But according to the National Gardening Association, this is a good approach. Here are some other tips for growing a good batch of garden-lovers:

  • Show your children how much you love gardening by cultivating your own enjoyment in your garden.

  • Let your kids help choose what to plant - by picking out the seedlings or seed packets at the nursery.

  • Add interest and drama to your garden with fast-growing vines like snap peas and unusual plants like red carrots or striped tomatoes.

  • Have Fun. Allow for developmentally appropriate activities: kids may prefer plain old digging, or hunting for worms, to the focused job of weeding or planting an entire bed.

  • Celebrate your harvest with a special place at your table. It is deeply satisfying - for grown-ups and kids - to harvest what they've grown.

  • No room for a real garden? Look for a community garden in your area, or use the space you have - a sunny window or a front porch - to plant a pot of cherry tomatoes or a window box of salad greens.

For more information about gardening with kids, check out the kids' section of the National Gardening Association's Web site.

Happy planting!