Child in a vegetable garden

Young Flora learns and explores in her mother's garden. (Photo: Solara Goldwynn)

Many kids today think food originates at the grocery store…

Massive shifts in global food production systems, the commodification of crops and scientific innovations in bioengineering and genetically modified organisms have made it harder to know where food comes from, exactly what we’re eating and how it will affect our bodies and the environment. This disconnect has led to health and social issues, including increases in childhood obesity, diabetes and food waste.

But you can be a part of the new agricultural movement taking root: rooftop farms, shared neighbourhood gardens and crops grown in yards. These initiatives support food security and sovereignty, strengthen communities, reconnect us to sources and provide easy access to fresh nourishment.

Why organic?

Growing and eating organic foods reduces your exposure to harmful synthetic pesticides and chemicals and the unknown risks associated with genetically modified organisms. Organic crops often contain higher levels of antioxidants, enzymes, vitamins, minerals and micronutrients. Organic animal products don’t contain unnecessary hormones, antibiotics and drugs. Growing organic reduces pollution, improves and protects water quality, maintains soil health, helps preserve local crop varieties and promotes agricultural diversity.

Growing it yourself

Starting your own urban farm is a great way to connect children to food, communities and ecosystems. Gardening is weather, photosynthesis, soil composition and decomposition in action — a hands-on science lesson!

Eight benefits for young farmers       

A Rasmussen College article lists how gardening benefits children:

Healthier food

Half the fun of growing food is getting to eat it. Studies show that kids involved in school gardening programs gain an increased preference for fruits and vegetables. Research also links growing food to preventing obesity and other health problems. Families growing their own food prepare more meals at home — even adults eat more fresh produce!

Exercise outside

Gardening is fun, easy exercise. An hour of gardening burns 250 to 500 calories! Time outside also provides sensory stimulation, fresh air and vitamin D.

Less screen time

In our increasingly technological world, planting and harvesting provides a much-needed opportunity for children to engage with the natural world.

Emotional boost

Used as a therapeutic tool to address and prevent depression and anxiety, gardening has a positive impact on emotional reactions, mood and social behaviour.

Time with family

Planting, harvesting and preparing food together gives families time to connect, communicate, team-build and cultivate a sense of purpose, strategy and achievement.

Improved focus and memory

Consistent gardening improves alertness, cognitive abilities and memory. According to an American Journal of Public Health study, being in outdoor green space helps reduce the symptoms of attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder in children, during outdoor time and for the rest of the day.

Analytical skills

Planting a garden requires reasoning, initiation, planning and organization. Before planting, let kids choose what plants will grow best in your space, taking into consideration your family’s nutritional needs and preferences. Calculate how many seeds and seedlings you’ll need. As your garden grows, keep a journal to make observations and measure growth.

Improved immunity

In Let Them Eat Dirt, microbiologists Marie-Claire Arrieta and Brett Finlay explain how development of a healthy gut microbiome in early years is crucial to lifelong health. Their suggestion for getting exposure to healthy microbes? Farming and playing in the dirt! Exposure to microbes kick-starts the immune system and helps prevent disease in later life. Immune systems can’t fight infections efficiently without them.

Grow your own young farmers!

1. Frequent local farmers markets

These often include live music and play areas — a casual place to build positive associations with planting and farming and pique your kids’ interest in growing food. Let them “do research” by choosing fruits and vegetables they’re most interesting in trying. Encourage them to ask farmers questions about crops and how to grow them.

2. Visit a local organic farm

Go online to connect with farms nearby. Many hold workshops, open houses and “you-pick” opportunities that offer a rich sensory and tactile learning experience and provide lasting memories. Many farms also have animals to pet.

3. Grow at home

Experiment! Many crops that are easy to grow produce quickly and give a high return on investment. Good starter crops for children: lettuce/mesclun, radishes, carrots, potatoes, zucchini, strawberries (look for an “ever-bearing” variety) and (if you have the space) pumpkins and watermelons. If you have a patio, try small raised beds, a leaning trellis or pots. For windowsills, choose herbs or small vegetables. Indoors, try dwarf vegetable varieties, lemons, mandarins or microgreens.

4. Cultivate community connections

To expand your family’s growing abilities, get into your local community garden. Connect with neighbours and work together to plant your boulevard or roundabout. Look for workshops at schools, community centres and gardening associations, and programs that let you help harvest local crops in other people’s gardens — even provide a share of the yield.

Happy farming!