Food Deserts, Kids & The Future of Sustainable Living


February 20, 2013

Like many a parent, I always assumed that learning about growing food was something best left for when kids were older. Wrong! A lesson learned on a simple outing to entertain a 3-year old with a budget of zero. Perhaps it all went down like it did because grandparents have more time to dream up creative outings than parents do. I knew it would be interesting for the wee tot, but she was besotted with the cute little sprouts. It was all I could do to stop her from hugging the emerging green bean filled trays one finds really early in the season at a garden center. The grower would not have found this cute at all.

The reason that we have food deserts in countries like the US and the UK is simply because three or four generations ago everyone quit growing fresh food because it was easier to buy it at the store. A practice that fell conveniently into place when manning factories moved so many people off the farm. Armed with a weekly paycheck, the majority of folks swiftly traded in their hoes for shopping carts and moved to the city to be close to plentiful employment opportunities.

Kids Love Indoor GardensNow we’ve entered the 360 zone where we are going into the future while scrambling to readopt practices long forgotten. Had you grown up on a farm, as a little one you would be busy helping mom and dad tend to the veggies, the chickens and the cows instead of watching cartoons and being programmed to the fact that you need be taken to Toys R Us to get the latest gadget or Disney princess toy. Changing tomorrow starts today, just as it happened 50 or 60 years ago. You don’t have to have land to flip things around either, not with modern growing methods.

Guess what! Not all forms of kid friendly entertainment are electronic or accompanied by video and music. Kids adore creative stuff and they love growing things. There is magic in a seed that rivals what they are watching on TV. A little water and attention and they are enthralled with what happens over a short span of time. You can start teaching them about where good food comes from as young as three and four years old. These are hugely formative years where who they will become farther along in the development cycle is being formed. This is the best time to get them growing. Just be prepared for mishaps, messes and oh no’s.

While you’re at it teach them about the cycles a plant goes through to give them food. Find easy to grow plants that they love the produce from. For many kids green beans are one of their faves. Simple, down to earth goodness that isn’t crunchy off the plate, is the perfect finger food and lacks all the exotic attraction we adults head for. They are simple to start even if you’re strapped for cash. You can grow the starters in a paper cup with holes poked in the bottom for drainage… as long as you use good potting mix.

Its a good late winter project when they are cooped up indoors. Start six because they will dump one or break off its head due to hugging the miracle. You can always pare down if the porch or balcony won’t let them finish growing the survivors to delicious rewards. If you select a bush type green bean like Blue Lake, you should have no problem finishing off their ‘crop’ in a  good sized flower pot aptly named their starter farm.  Teach the child how to check the soil for moisture every day. A good habit you can introduce as part of breakfast or dinner routines.

Grab a sunny windowsill or set them up with a simple grow light. You could also get this project going with a countertop hydro setup like the Aero Garden – but that would not teach them the important aspect of nurturing their crop like the more traditional method. Save the hydroponics for when they are older and let them learn lessons much like having a pet but without the hair, muddy footprints and need for being taken on a potty walk.

As pets go, plants are easy keepers. As childhood projects, establishing a tradition of growing food from seeds at an early age has the definite potential of turning a food desert on it’s head. Sustainable living has only become what mainstream views as an oddity because independent means of providing food for the table fell by the wayside decades ago. Even if you live in a heavily populated area like Chicago or London, you have the power to change the world of tomorrow simply by teaching your kids how to grow their own food and how much better it tastes than stuff from a can purchased in any store.

Image courtesy of Sylvar.

Tammy Clayton

Tammy Clayton

Contributing Writer at Garden Culture Magazine
Tammy has been immersed in the world of plants and growing since her first job as an assistant weeder at the tender age of 8. Heavily influenced by a former life as a landscape designer and nursery owner, she swears good looking plants follow her home.
Tammy Clayton

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