Inch by inch, row by row, gonna make this garden grow
All it takes is a rake and a hoe, and a piece of fertile ground…
These are the opening lines to the wonderful “Garden Song” by the late John Denver. The song is a beautiful tribute to the magic of gardening. It is also a not so subtle metaphor for parenting and nurturing your children.
Maybe that is because Denver understood the close relationship between the two – and how gardening with your kids can do everything from strengthening the family bond to teaching your kids respect and love for Mother Earth.
“Gardening provides families an opportunity to get together that does not revolve around screens, electronics, or technology,” says Trina Spillman, former Executive Director and Chef with Need to Feed. Need to Feed has created a community-based gardening initiative that supplies fresh fruits and vegetables to food pantries in Broward County Florida, who then distribute the produce to those in need.
The organization also provides outreach to at-risk kids through the benefits of gardening. But you don’t need to be “at risk” to enjoy the values of gardening with your kids. “It provides great exercise, just to be outdoors, and it teaches kids about where our food comes from. When you plant and grow something, see where it comes from and experience what it really tastes like, it just opens up a whole new world to kids,” says Trina.
Besides, kids are natural gardeners. Maybe it is because they love to get dirty, or maybe it’s just because they are that much closer to the ground! “We have preschoolers that come and garden with us, and love to get down in the dirt,” says Trina. “There are kid size and ‘kid-friendly’ tools you can get for them so they can enjoy gardening. I don’t think you can ever be too young to start gardening.”
Gardening with kids is more than just playing in the dirt, though. Gardening helps children learn valuable lessons about patience as they wait for their vegetables to grow. They learn about responsibility as they see just how much care is needed for the garden to thrive. And they even learn about loss when things don’t quite go right with the things they’ve planted.
“They learn about nurturing a life and what it takes to keep something alive,” says Trina. “I’ve seen grown men, my husband for example, who is a master gardener, brought to tears because his pumpkins didn’t ripen, or an iguana ate his oranges, so yes – it teaches kids the value of nurturing, and the wonder of seeing something they planted come to life, but it also teaches them about loss sometimes.”
But Trina says maybe one of the best lessons kids learn from gardening is not only that food doesn’t come “from the supermarket,” they begin to learn about making healthy food choices. “One of the really neat things is depending on what you plant, you can create an entire family meal based on the ingredients that you have grown yourself. For example, spaghetti squash, you can actually use that as a noodle substitute, add some peppers and onions, some tomatoes, and make a delicious, nutritious well-rounded meal, all from something that you have grown together as a family in your own garden.”
Ones to Grow On
So now that you know how valuable gardening with the family can be, what plants should you consider? Trina suggests tomatoes as a great place to start. “One of the things I suggest for anyone starting out is to get a plant that is essentially ‘kid proof’ because you really want your kids to have a great experience and see something grow.
Some form of tomatoes are indigenous just about everywhere in the country, they grow wild in many places. You can grow them from seeds or seedlings. One great lesson is to get some tomatoes from the store, or better yet, a local farmers market, eat them, and plant the seeds from the tomatoes. This way your kids really see the whole cycle from table to garden to table.”
Trina also stresses to go “all natural” in your home gardens, not only for health reasons but to teach your kids to respect the environment. “We are all natural in all of our community gardens. There are many ways to grow your home gardens with all natural fertilizers and natural pesticides without using any chemicals, you can check online, or ask any nursery about how to do so.”
From These Seeds
“Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.” It is an old expression, taken to mean that great things can come from small beginnings. Gardening is the perfect way to start your children on a path to good health, respect for the earth, and the rewards of patience and hard work.
So start a garden today with your sons and daughters, you may be surprised to find that what sprouts is more than fruits and vegetables!