Teaching our children to grow their own food is a priceless skill, especially in this rapidly-changing world. But, they learn more than just how to put seeds into the dirt. There are many extremely important personal attributes that are cultivated while a child is elbow-deep in the soil.
Connection to the natural world. I can’t emphasize enough just how damaging our society’s detachment from the natural world is for our children. Kids are born with a natural draw to all things growing, and with care we can nurture that. The popularity of apps like FarmVille are a testament to that. Why not ditch the device and grow some things yourselves? No tap-and-swipe app can replace the satisfaction a child gets from putting a seedling into the soil and watching it grow. Kids who regularly play outside exhibit a decrease in ADHD behavior and aggression. There’s something in our children’s souls that is nurtured by the natural world, and we as parents have the opportunity to build on that from the beginning.
Dirt is good! We’ve had children visit our farm who were downright phobic of getting even slightly dirty. Studies have shown that kids raised in ‘pristine clean’ environments have inefficient immune systems. Our 6 children have been raised making mud pies in the garden and helping deliver baby animals; we have no allergies, no developmental delays, no ADD/ADHD and no autism diagnoses in our family. They’ve been getting their hands dirty since the very beginning; although there isn’t a definitive correlation we believe an active, dirt-friendly lifestyle has contributed a lot to this.
Patience. We live in a world of immediate gratification. Planting seeds doesn’t yield instant results, even planting larger seedlings requires time before they see the fruit (or vegetable) of their labors. Today’s children NEED to learn patience, with themselves and with the people and world around them. Gardening is a great way to encourage kids to watch, wait, and see their efforts pay off in a completely tangible way.
Symbiotic relationships. We grow an entirely organic garden, and use companion planting and beneficial insects to help our plants grow without fertilizer or pesticides. We plant marigolds with everything to help repel aphids, beetles and slugs. Not only are they beautiful flowers, they serve a very important purpose. Earthworms, bees, garden snakes, bullfrogs, garden spiders and other beneficials are welcomed into our garden to live alongside our plants and flourish. As our kids grow, this has been a basis for some very important life lessons for them; everything in life has a balance, a harmony, that they need to find. There will be people in their lives that help them grow, there will be people who are toxic to them. They need to know where the difference lies and how to ‘pull the weeds’ when necessary. Moderation in all things is imperative, finding their own balance is essential.
The reality of climate. Our last summer was unusually cold, and as a result our garden did very poorly. This was very disappointing to our older daughters, who couldn’t believe it when their beloved tomatoes failed to produce more than a few bitter, immature fruit by summer’s end. We talked about what such a summer would’ve meant for our ancestors, who had no grocery store shelves to fall back on. Doing our part to care for our planet in order to ensure our survival will be even more important for the next generation. One bad summer doesn’t necessarily signal doom, but it’s still an eye-opener. Lets raise our kids to be stewards of their planet instead of part of its continuing downfall.
Creativity. A garden bed is a blank canvas for a child to create their own masterpiece. We save old seed packets with just a few lonely seeds left and put them in a ziplock bag in the freezer at the end of planting. Then, we designate an area of next year’s garden as a free area for the kids to plant whatever they’d like. They can let their imaginations run wild and put their knowledge to use without affecting the rest of the harvest, and the leftover seeds are given purpose too. (Note: check with your local nursery/farm store to see when they discount their remaining seedlings at the end of the season. We know the manager of our local Tractor Supply, and often get flats of seedlings for free in late June. These are perfect for the kids’ garden.)
Healthy eating and diet diversity. What better way to encourage kids to eat more vegetables than to have them grow their own? Our kids love to plant, pick and help cook new things. We’re not big spinach eaters, but this year we’re growing a row to help us ‘learn’ to eat it. There are tons of fun varieties of different vegetables that can help children get interested in trying new things. Purple carrots, striped tomatoes, orange cauliflower and rainbow kale are just a few examples.
Responsibility. Gardening requires a certain maturity to do certain tasks. Our older kids are now able to use full-sized hoes, rakes, trimmers and spades to work in our garden and have had to learn how to do so safely. The younger kids look forward to when they’ll be allowed to do so too, but know they can’t until they can be trusted to use them properly. We’ve had a few cut toes and bumps from overzealous swings with the hoe, but no major injuries. Yet….
Industriousness. Repurposing isn’t just for Pinterest projects! Buying expensive bean trellises isn’t necessary when you have old roll-ends of chicken wire and leftover step-in stakes laying around. Start seedlings in egg cartons or yogurt containers, use milk jugs (with the bottoms cut off) to protect plants from frost. Teach your kids to utilize the resources at hand instead of purchasing new things. Encourage innovation and recycling instead of consumerism.
Connection to and appreciation for our ancestors. It’s so easy to forget that a time existed when people couldn’t just call out for pizza when the fridge was bare, and to ignore that that time might just come again. Our ancestors couldn’t just forget to weed their gardens- the survival of their families depended on it. The virtues of discipline, perseverance and self-reliance are all put into practice while growing our own food. Kids need this connection to the values of old to become well-rounded people. Heathen children can find a deeper connection to their folk soul through the craft and activities of their predecessors, and a deeper understanding of these virtues as well.
Strength. One of the most important things a child can learn is that they are capable of providing for themselves and being responsible for their own survival. An alarming state of apathy exists among young people today; an unfortunate willingness to be idle and let others provide their home, food and security for them. If things are ever going to improve in this country, we have the revive the desire to be successful and to work for the things we need in order to survive. Our children need to know that they are strong enough to pilot their futures, strong enough to take an active role in their survival. Hopefully, they will teach their children to do the same.