Community & Current Events

Why your kids should grow their own garden

Photo courtesy of Masterfile Image by: Photo courtesy of Masterfile Author: Canadian Living

Community & Current Events

Why your kids should grow their own garden

Marc: "We made kale chips and a butternut squash dip," said Teagan Elliott excitedly. "It's really good." This is a rare sentiment for a fifth-grader, conditioned to eschew vegetables of any kind unless enticed with the promise of dessert. But the empowering processes of growing and cooking their own food can apparently prompt even picky kids to reconsider.

Craig: The kids at Forest Grove Elementary in Burnaby, BC, planted and harvested their own garden last year for the third year in a row. In April, all 12 homeroom classes helped plant this year's crop of greens, beans, peas, garlic and squash. Garden club members meet every other Friday after school to get their green thumbs dirty, talk about crop rotation and compost, and reflect on the virtues required for a successful harvest: patience, cooperation and gratitude.

Marc: But the best part is the June cooking classes, in which the plants they're nurturing become the foods that nourish them. The kids learn about nutrition and food systems from local university students, and they're encouraged to bring the recipes home. "I made kale chips with olive oil and shallots for my grandma, and now she makes them, too," says Teagan's classmate, Alexa Bertram.

Craig: Gardening is a fantastic activity
 that gets kids outside and active, interacting with nature and their peers. "Competition is huge with kids this age," says Barb McMahon, the parental force behind the Forest Grove garden. These kids are used to competing in sports, school and social groups, but "the garden helps us shift to cooperation and working together toward a goal." Community spirit, environmental stewardship and other life values and skills are acquired when kids dig through the dirt. Perhaps most importantly, kids learn to appreciate the work that goes into producing the food they eat.

Marc: Kids typically gulp down a bowl of macaroni and cheese without a second thought. In fact, it's challenging for any of us to imagine the farmers behind our food when we're at the dinner table. After all, our food often travels thousands of kilometres and may be processed beyond recognition before it gets to our plates. That's why school and community gardens are essential to maintaining our connection to nature and healthy food, and to initiating new connections with our neighbours.
If you're looking to start a school garden, SchoolGardenNetwork.ca connects gardeners across Canada and offers loads of resources. If you don't have a backyard of your own, SharingBackyards.com has an interactive map that helps you connect with others willing to share. And check out OrganicGardening.com's guide to converting your lawn into an inviting and delicious edible garden.

Craig: At Forest Grove Elementary this fall, students will bring home bags of fresh produce, including the biggest hit: sunflower seeds. Siblings Haider and Zainab Mohammad will make their dad's favourite carrot soup, and Teagan Elliott might recreate last New Year's feast of asparagus wrapped in phyllo with 
Parmesan. Fresh food "tastes better, and makes you feel better," says Teagan. 
"Instead of buying it at the store, you feel proud that you grew it. Also, our garden vegetables don't go bad as fast." Not bad for a fifth-grader. 

For more advice from Marc and Craig, check out 8 ways to stop wasting food.
           

This story was originally titled "Growing Kids" in the June 2014 issue.
           
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Why your kids should grow their own garden

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