|From The Mennobrarian|
"Not one 6 year old student could identify a tomato or potato until associated with ketchup and fries... frightening!"
The above quote was made by an observer at a recent education initiative where public school children were introduced to real food. I don't know what to think about that, except it makes me sad. Yes, I know that today in the modern world we are far removed from our agrarian roots, and no, I don't expect that we should all return to them and live a life of self sufficiency- a concept that is somewhat delusional, and at it's worst, selfish. But as an information broker by trade, I never fail to be appalled by ignorance.
That being said, I was excited (and maybe a little complimented) when my dear friend Patty told me that she wanted to bring her four children, a 12 year old, 10 year old, and set of six-year-old twins, over for a visit one day in early summer so they can experience something outside of the suburbs. Patty and I are good enough friends that she doesn't have to wait for an invitation. Well. I surely don't think of our house as field trip material. Quite the opposite- it's a complete work zone and with nails, saws, and dogs, we're even cautious about adults coming over at this stage. It's just chaos.
"I don't understand. What do you want them to see?" I asked. After more poking, it became clear. Patty was seeking to show her children a connection to where food comes from.
So initially, there was this nervous feeling about it, which was soon replaced by joy for an opportunity to show the children something basic like where spinach comes from. And wouldn't it be wonderful to have them over in June to pick strawberries? Maybe some berries would even make it into a basket instead of their mouths! And perhaps we could make arrangements to take them over to see the neighbor's pigs, climb the mulberry tree, and send them home with little jars of jam. Doesn't that sound like a good time?
Sometimes when I hear parents express frustration at their children who won't eat certain things, I admit it seems a little foreign to me. Growing up, I ate whatever an adult put in front of me, and those around me did the same. There was no discussion, and never a negotiation. Perhaps we just weren't smart enough to make a bargain, or else just plain hungry and didn't care what we ate. Last summer, I gave Patty a pint of cherry tomatoes, which she took home and turned her back on for a second. When she turned around, the pint was empty, having been gobbled by her foursome in less than a minute. Patty was amazed to see her children delight in raw vegetables, but I think it was the children teaching that adults a lesson. Things always taste better when they are lovingly grown by you or someone you know. Love is a nutrient, and an extra taste beyond the sweet and salty.
There are quite a few things I don't grow at home because someone local grows it better than I could, or have the space to do it. But we do try to be mindful of who is growing what, so we keep a connection to our food. Take chicken, for instance. I don't have space for chickens, and there are people who farm them so much better than I could. You don't want to go chicken shopping with me- it takes all day. The chicken in grocery stores does not taste like chicken to me, and huge chicken operations send out a red flag that there is some intensive farming going on that will result in a chicken bred for the grocery store. So chicken shopping means driving out to a couple of farms that I trust, asking questions, and packing the cooler. But at least I'm getting quality chicken.
So. For those of you who have been thinking about cultivating a closer connection to your food this year in the form of a garden or whatever, these are my tips for starting at home:
- Be realistic about your time and space. Don't try to grow something difficult or exotic if you can't find the time or advice needed to grow it successfully.
- Look in your pantry and freezer to see what your family does eat, and grow that instead. Mostly everyone uses canned tomatoes and corn, crops that are relatively easy to grow and don't require an enormous amount of space.
- Be mindful of nearby opportunities to buy from local farmers. If you know of a farmstand that churns out seasonal fresh lettuce or raspberries, consider buying instead of growing, unless these are things you use daily.
- Grow things you use daily.
- If you're going to grow more than you can use (peppers and beans come to mind) know ahead of time how you will preserve them, or else have a plan for giving them away. You don't want food, or your hard work, to go to waste.
- Plan your space ahead of time. Learn about what plants will take up the most space, and plant accordingly. If you don't have a lot of space, consider doing a small herb garden or exploring container gardening.
If you have any other ideas, feel free to post them in the comments. We call all grow by helping each other.