Bring the Kidz!
By James Neeland
Let them see where it’s grown
Let them feel the soil it’s grown in
Let them become a friend of the earth
“Uncle Jimmy, look at the pumpkins ” shouted both my nephew Brandon and niece Brianna in unison. As we entered the farm, the two tykes ran straight toward the mountains of orange, yellow, white, green and multi-colored gourds that seemed to pass into infinity, limited only by one’s capacity to see from one end of the farm to the other. The kids’ mom, my sister Lorraine, and my partner Kenneth were, truth-be-told, as equally enthralled and amazed as were the wee ones. Truth-be- told-twice, so was I.
We grabbed, prodded, inspected, ooh’ed and ahh’ed over dozens of shapes and colors. Each gourd, each squash, each pumpkin gave off its own aroma. Each one had its own tactile map to explore: some full of bumps with skin hard-as-brick, others smooth like sanded-wood with skin so delicate that barely the thumb of a four-year-old was enough to pierce it. And each one told a story. Each had a relationship to the other, not to mention to the other crops grown on the farm.
Like corn. Like cabbage. Like apples ….
As the flesh of pumpkin can be made into pie, torte and mousse, so can the rich, succulent meat of apple be transformed into pie, sauce, butter, juice, cider. No, Brianna, we shouldn’t eat apple seeds. Yes, I know we can eat pumpkin seeds, but that’s different! An introduction to the earth.
Now you know where that pie came from, kids.
You can see now that the juice box had a forerunner.
Probably the best (not to mention easy and enjoyable) way to influence children in their appreciation of food is to show them where it came from. This is not a cue to navigate the aisles of MegaloMart, open 24 hours, where kids piled into the cart can dazzle at the pretty boxes of sugared-cereal so thoughtfully placed at their eye level. No. Can it be any wonder that children have such a disconnect to their bodies when their whole idea of nourishment has been hijacked by industries who desire these young people to view themselves as mice pulling levers? Hungry? B O I N G ! Out pops a treat! From where did it originate? Dunno! Hey, it’s there! What’s it made of? Dunno! Hey, IT’S THERE!!! As far as supermarkets go, they’re a great convenience and a marvelous source of abundance, particularly with the advent of markets that cater to people craving organics, stocked with items that could only have been found in specialty or health food stores, barely ten years ago. Kudos to supply-and-demand. However, there exists another, a more fundamental, manner in which we can expose both ourselves and our children to the origins of nourishment.
Trade-in your coupon-clipping shears for gardening shears. Don’t garden? Neither do I. But we can still get dirty.
This article is targeted towards families, but, let’s face it, anyone can and should partake of the advice.
As young as possible, children should be taken to a farm, to a food co-op, to a neighbor’s garden. They should be shown how supper began. Mom’s a great cook. Dad is, too! Each of them can rely on a recipe book that is as vast and varied as the earth is wide. Get in the dirt. Smell it. Feel it. Roll-up the sleeves, and really do it. Pick your own. Become a friend to your local growers. Does your town have access to a community-supported-agriculture group ? Get to know it. If you reside in an urban area, there must be a food co-op around. If you can’t find one, research local farms. Make some calls, and ask to visit. Again, progress is great, and it pushes things along. Dandy. By farm, though, I am speaking of the local, small, appropriate-scale-tech variety. The idea is to witness crops “in action”, not as science projects guarded behind fine wire mesh, best to prevent their genetically-altered-egos from contaminating virgin acres of corn, beans, wheat and tomato nearby. Keep it simple. Remember that the number of small family-run farms is dwindling (as you read this.) There may actually not be that many years left to visit one. Breaking ground with your children should start today, the younger the better.
Another thing that children may take-away from their farm experience is a value I call “pride in reckoning.” When a person reckons with the soil, when he/she has a chance to see it, maybe even work it, his/her values change. Gone is the disconnect between food and body, between food and mind. No longer can a person be numb to the value of food, and the value of harvesting food, when that person understands, appreciates where it came from. We’ve all heard the cliches: tortilla chips don’t grow on trees …. and on and on. Well, make that mean something. Take pride in the fact that you have reckoned with the earth. There is nothing metaphysical about getting down-and-dirty with the soil. There is no new-age philosophy to adopt here. It’s all pretty basic. Pretty easy. Pretty natural.
The more often children are exposed to something, the more it will stick. Visit a farm, pick some veggies and fruit. Repeat.
Seeing how produce is grown can also expose young minds to ideas of labor equality and resource allotment. Go easy, though. Agribusiness subsidies will take lotsa’ time, but seeing how a family lives, divides labor and capital is, pardon, kid stuff.
Then comes the next phase, the obvious follow-up to an afternoon of rosy cheeks brought on by picking rosy veggies and fruit. It’s time to cook. Not only will you have introduced your children to real food grown in real places, harvested by real people, bringing them into the kitchen to help prepare the food demonstrates for them the cyclical nature of life. Those fresh potatoes are washed, peeled and placed into the pot to boil. Alongside, there shall be a bountiful salad with many hues of green. The whole grain bread is sliced. Tomatoes picked right-off-the-vine are chopped with onion and herbs to make sauce. And so it goes. Make kitchen time as meaningful as meal time. Each dish has a place and a history. Have fun with the prep work, and assign names to each dish: Tommy’s broccoli buffet (all ya’ can ea !); Regina’s cauliflower cous-cous confetti; Michael’s mangia marinara sauce, gracing Olivia’s thick-cut squash ringo’s. When dinner is ready to be served, not only will your children feel pride in what they have created, they should also be ravenous after such a day of harvest, hauling and hot stoves.
- High-quality pasta with beans and tomato sauce.
- Raw vegetable plate with creamy ( vegan ) dressing.
- Corn and more corn. On the cob ( every kid’s delight ) or shucked. Vegan butter-style spread, cracked black pepper and salt.
- What kid ever tried to hide his potatoes under his spinach ? Think of all the ways in which spuds can be prepared.
- Rice, cous-cous, millet, quinoa with tons of savory roasted vegetables.
- Endless options ……
Remember that appreciation of food does not end with dessert. A little clean-up, helping parents with the dishes, arranging the table, all these things continue to explain, in real time, how the cycle works. Too many kids race away from the table after eating, with little regard for or appreciation of the meal they just consumed or the people responsible for providing it. Let alone who’s going to be stuck cleaning-up after them. Change that, beginning as early as possible. It goes without saying that, after supper, TV can wait. In my opinion, there are few things more cynical than having a child gulp-down his high fat, high salt, processed meal, only to fly from the dinner table, land in front of the boob-tube where he/she is going to be bombarded (as in blasted from every angle possible) by commercial enticements and seductions for even more crap food. Ironic? There’s a cycle working there, too, only in the opposite direction. An overweight, unappreciative kid has been molded by forces that not only assisted in (some would argue caused) the shape of things (pardon the pun) but also lay the foundation for further neglect and value-empty behavior. On the lighter side of the moon, you have a chance to demonstrate another cycle, the positive cycle, the values-enhancing, responsibility-embracing and care-driven cycle. Beginning with food, the bond that binds. From earth to pot to table. From table to child to healthy body and mind. From parent to child to child becoming parent raising healthy children.
It can begin with something as humble as one apple.
Right off the tree.