April 30, 2012 — Catawba River District Voices

“Who has a vegetable garden at home?”

One hand raised up out of the 60 students gathered around me at a local middle school.

“Raise your hand if your grandparents have a vegetable garden.”

A third of the students raised their hands.

This is the typical response I’ve received to these questions I’ve asked in over 10 years of field trips, camps, and school outings. The lack of garden opportunities crosses all racial, educational and economic lines. The majority of children today have not been exposed to hands-on learning regarding healthy food choices, especially in regards to fruits and vegetables. Most children have not seen – much less experienced – picking a tomato off a vine or pulling an onion out of the soil.

One of my favorite activities to offer to families who have come for a visit to our farm is a game of “What is it?” I’ll guide the participants around our garden and ask them what the plant produces. Strawberries are usually guessed correctly, especially if there is fruit on the stems. Tomatoes are another giveaway if there is something red peeking out. Others are tougher to guess.  Peppers and beans take a while to get a correct answer, and asparagus is almost always a question mark. I’ve even had a medical doctor who toured our farm amazed at the sight of a broccoli plant.
Another interesting comment I hear time and time again on tours is, “My grandmother grew beans,” or “My grandparents raised chickens. We’d have one for Sunday supper.”
Raising food, whether it is vegetables or meat or eggs, has skipped a generation or even two generations. As our families have gotten busier with jobs and activities, time to spend out in a garden has disappeared.  With more urban settings to live in, land for gardens is scarcer as well.
While there are lots of farmers markets popping up around the area, and people are  flocking to them for good tasting produce, nothing beats picking your own vegetables. Children (and adults) who are picky about eating produce will take another look and taste when they have picked a tomato off a vine. Personally, I hate peas. My mom always had the canned peas to offer. Makes me shudder just thinking about them.  When it’s time to harvest our own peas, you can find me eating a lot of them right in the garden. Amazing taste!
I could go on and on about the advantages of gardening, but I’ve got some work to do out in the strawberry patch right now.  So let’s summarize:
Gardening is becoming a lost art. Don’t let it become a thing of our grandparent’s age.  Children and adults can learn so much from growing their food.  I haven’t even touched on the science you can learn, the benefit of exercise and fresh air, or the relaxation and quietness that goes along with gardening.
Happy planting!

About Jeffie and Chris Hardin – The Hardins left suburban life in 2001 for an 8-acre farm near Mountain Island Lake. Now the Hardins and their children seek to grow half of their family’s food and help others grow food, too.