Growing Healthy Kids in the Garden

The children’s garden at the Knowlesville Art and Nature Centre has been a central part of our summer nature programs since we started in 2009.  The children travel past the frog pond, through the fern thicket and the magical mossy cedar grove, out into the open field to the South Knowlesville Community Garden and orchard.  There the children that are part of our summer and school programs have a sizeable garden that is more often than not a tangle of weeds and flowers and veggies.  As one of the adult volunteers involved with the garden, I often sit myself down to weed as we venture out, but the children are less concerned and place themselves in the sunflower house with handfuls of snap peas, wild strawberries and edible flowers and enter into their world of play.

Not that the children don’t help with the weeding as well but they tend to like a purpose for the weeding, not just pulling out plants to let them die.  Early this spring as we first ventured out into the garden, we found stinging nettle and mullein growing in our garden patch.  We definitely didn’t want the nettle to stay in our garden, but nettle is a very nutritious plant that has a special property of helping people with allergies reduce their symptoms naturally.   So we set about learning how to carefully pick up the nettles without being stung and we transplanted the nettle to their own bed outside of the garden where they could grow together and be harvested regularly so that they wouldn’t spread.  We also transplanted the mullein plants to a spot near the outhouse.  The children noticed the soft leaves of the mullein and we all hoped that the plants would enjoy their new spots out of the gardens.

As the summer heat rises, we head to shade of the forest and waterfalls and brooks where the air is cooler and we can play in the water.  Every time we return to the garden we are amazed how big everything has grown and although we spend less time there now, we return with our basket full of kale, peas, radishes and raspberries.  We are still waiting for our giant sunflowers to bloom, the carrots to fill out and the tomatoes to ripen, but it won’t be long now.

This year, as part of the Community Food Action Program, we added three raised garden beds on the south side of our community centre.  We planted these much latter than our field garden but they are now bursting with veggies, flowers and fruits.  We also planted some blueberry bushes, a cherry tree and two pear trees.  The blueberries already have fruit ripening and the gardens are so handy that it is much easier to nibble a sour sorrel leaf or add some savoury basil to a sandwich or make garden pesto as a group when the harvest is so close at hand.

Fatima Rahhali, an experienced organic gardener and mom of one of our regular kids who participate in the nature programs, has taken on the role of ‘healthy snack mama’.  With the children she prepares simple snacks that use the fresh garden produce in neat ways that the kids really enjoy.  We’ve made kale chips, pesto, raspberry sorbet and garden rice wraps.  The children love the chance to cut the veggies and prepare the foods.  Sometimes the tastes are a little different, but all have been ready to at least try and in the process expand the repertoire for their taste buds.

Making and sharing food together is at the foundation of all cultural traditions in the world.  It is only in recent generations that we see a major shift away from home cooked towards processed and prepared foods coming from the store.  In a recent study it was found that only 18% of Canadian families share at least one home cooked meal per day.  This might be a sign of the times, where convenience trumps all in our over-scheduled, busy lives; but the fact remains that we are all healthier when we eat unprocessed real food.  Children benefit greatly not only from eating fresh vegetables, but in the actual act of preparing the food.  Perhaps through the simple act of children tending gardens and preparing food, we are ensuring that the next generation will know where food comes from and how to make the most of the harvest.

Sincerely Tegan Wong-Daugherty

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