When my two sisters and I were youngsters, my dad had a great idea. One warm May day, as the three of us stood in the grass of our big backyard watching and wondering what he was up to, he cut 15 six-foot lengths of molding left over from our recent basement remodel, stuck them into the warming dirt of our garden in three circles, and lashed the tops of each together with twine to make three “teepee” forms. Next, he tore open a packet of pole bean seeds and gave us each a small handful. He showed us how to plant them around each wooden stake, and then he watered the soil with the green garden hose, while we ran through the spray.
Every day, we went out to the backyard with my dad to check on our seeds. When the sprouts emerged, we cheered. He showed us how to pluck out the weeds and keep the soil moist. As the beans began to grow, in the impressively speedy way they tend to in the rich Iowa soil, something amazing happened. Without any prompting or guidance from us, vines sprouting leaves and bean pods began to wind around the wooden stakes until they reached the top. The leaves and tendrils grew thicker and denser, until one day, each of us could crawl inside our little green houses and be completely alone. I remember sitting in the cool dirt, quietly marveling at the way the vines filtered and freckled the bright July sun. It is one of my fondest childhood memories.
Sometimes I would pluck a tender raw bean and eat it. It tasted like spring to me — fresh and grassy. Or, I would collect them in a bowl and bring them into the kitchen, so my mother could make them for dinner. I didn’t even mind eating them too much — with a little butter. They tasted nothing like those mushy beans from the can we had to eat in the winter, and those fresh beans prompted me to try the garden carrots, lettuces and tomatoes, too.
There’s something about growing things that appeals to kids, and several casual studies suggest that when kids grow their own vegetables, they are more likely to eat vegetables. It was certainly true in my case. Decades later, my own son, who at 14 remains suspicious of most green things, finally became more open minded when his summer camp grew a vegetable garden.
If gardening is the way to get kids to eat more vegetables (not to mention spend more time with you), then why aren’t we all doing it? Even if you only have a small backyard plot, or room for a few containers on your deck or porch, you can get growing together.
Gardening with your kids gives them many gifts. They learn where food really comes from. They learn how to work together with others toward a common goal. They learn practical skills. They learn how fresh food tastes. They learn the feel and smell of wet dirt and mulch. And they learn that they have the power to take something as small and full of potential as a seed, and nurture it until it becomes everything it was meant to be. Just like you are doing with them.