Teaching Children the Value of Food with a Home Garden

The American Backyard Garden isn't as old as you think; in fact, it was more of a war effort that stuck around than something that has always been part of our tradition.  As the child of a farmer, and now an acreage owner, I have been striving to make the family garden as commonplace as the television.

One of the reasons we take our garden so seriously is the savings; you just can't buy tomatoes as cheap as you can grow them.  One other reason we take such care with our harvest is so that the kids understand the value of food.  It doesn't matter if you buy it at the store or slave over a plot in your yard - much goes into producing and preparing food; it shouldn't be taken lightly!

Our kids are now very involved in this year's garden planning.  Here are some of the ways we've had them help out, along with the lessons they are learning as a result:

1.  What will we grow?  Last year, we grew some interesting veggies in our garden, and they did very well.  We weren't so fond of eating many of them, however, including the okra and Japanese eggplant. Because they took up so much room in the garden, and provided so little return, we will not be growing these varieties again this year.  We decided to ask the kids what they liked to eat, as well as what they liked to harvest.  Since they all agreed that green beans and little cherry tomatoes are as fun to pick as they are to cook, we will be adding them to our bare spots in 2013's garden.

2.  Where will we plant?  Plotting a garden takes more work than many people realize.  Plants need to be strategically paired up to reduce disease and ward off pests.  Shade and watering needs have to be factored in, as well.  While all of this planning takes an afternoon of sitting down with pen and paper, it's also a very good job for kids to help with.  They can label your garden plan, draw in plants, and use map skills to measure things to scale.  It's a good lesson for any child who is interested in a planning career someday!

3.  Who will help?  The hard work of preparing the soil is usually done by my husband with the roto-tiller.  After that, it's a family affair of planting the seeds, adding mulch, and labeling the rows. What seems like the hardest work is over, but the real effort soon begins!  If we don't enlist the help of every family member to keep maintaining our garden, things can quickly grow out of control.  We try to make a list of chores that each child can do based on age and ability, and then assign them daily and weekly chores that fit.  On a day that rains, for example, there may be little to be done, and we can spend the day playing or canning or cooking.  When watering, weeding, and harvesting needs done, everyone will be pitching in!

So far this, year, we have plotted our garden, purchased seeds, and ordered seedlings for arrival during the warmer months.  So much of the work has been done, and the year has barely started.  I'm hoping that continuing the tradition of the family garden not only provides my family with healthy, natural food choices and a lower grocery bill -- it will teach them the true value of a job well done and what we eat each day!

(Linked up to Eco-Kids Linky)