Floridata Article

Grow More Veggies in 2009: Kids Can Help

Get kids out in the veggie patch. Photo by Ginny Stibolt
Ginny's grandkids harvesting a bunch of Christmas carrots from the garden. They had come down from Maryland for the holidays and were thrilled to go barefoot on Christmas.

Happy New Year! Now is the time when many folks make resolutions to lose weight, eat better, save money, exercise more, and spend quality time with their children. You can work on all of these resolutions with one activity: growing your own vegetables and getting the kids involved.

Here in northern Florida, you can start right now by planting some easy-to-grow cool-weather crops such as leaf lettuce, radishes, and carrots. Plant vegetables your family will enjoy first You may find, like we have, that your vegetable garden gets a little larger each year with one or two new crops to add variety. I just love that we never buy lettuce or carrots throughout the winter because we harvest plenty from our garden and we eat a lot(!) of salads.

Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Photo by Ginny Stibolt
Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Listen to my Animal. Vegetable, Miracle podcast.

I highly recommend, "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" 2007 by Barbara Kingsolver, a well-told tale of how she and her family lived mostly from their farm in Kentucky with some other local sources to fill in the gaps. Kingsolver may be best known for her novels, "Poisonwood Bible," "Prodigal Summer," "Bean Trees," and others. She uses her ability to spin a story to make this nonfiction account quite readable. Her education as an ecologist provides a rich learning experience, too.

This was a family-oriented project with all members of the family contributing to the effort and to this book. Kingsolver is the main farmer, cheese maker, and canner. The older daughter includes healthful recipes, while the younger daughter manages the chickens and their eggs. Husband, Stephen Hopp, fixes the daily bread and includes various sidebars on ecology, the business of agriculture, and more.

Get the Kids involved

One of the stories that Kingsolver relates in this book is when some urban kids on a field trip come to their farm.  Hopp pulled some carrots from the garden, which horrified the kids.  They wondered why he'd put them in the dirt.  Can't you just hear them gasping, "Eewww! Your carrots are in the dirt!"? He finally convinced them that they grew there when he washed the carrots and cut the tops off to demonstrate how they look in the grocery store. Then he asked them what other crops might be root crops.  One kid, who seemed to speak for the group, answered, "Spaghetti?"

More kids should be involved in growing veggies for many reasons, but maybe the most important part is so they know what they are eating and where it comes from. It's an important part of their education for better life-skills. So when the grandkids came for a Christmas visit this year I saved the harvesting chores for them. While they've been involved in 4H and agricultural fairs for years, their lot at home is too shady for a vegetable plot.

Pre-rinsing the carrots and turnips with rain barrel water. Photo by Ginny Stibolt
The grandkids pre-wash the carrots and turnips with rain barrel water over a bucket to catch the extra water.

So as folks were busy fixing a Christmas I took the grandkids out back and showed them how to choose the carrots and turnips that were ready.  The turnips ended up in the butternut squash soup, the turnip greens were steamed and served with some vinegar, and the carrots graced the finger vegetable plate and added a fresh crunchiness to the dinner. The kids were surprised that these carrots didn't need to be peeled and at how sweet they were.  These were Burpee's Sweet Treat Carrots.

The next day we harvested some leaf lettuce, other greens, onion greens, and some thinnings from a new crop of turnips for a yummy pear salad.

The kids were happy to have an 80-degree day for Christmas where they could go barefooted all day instead of bundling up like they would have done for the much colder Mid-Atlantic region where they live.

Pouring the pre-wash water onto the compost pile. Photo by Ginny Stibolt
Granddaughter Olivia pours the wash water onto the compost pile.

Resolve to Get the Kids Involved in Veggies in 2009

So save money, eat healthier, lose weight, become a locavore. (Listen to my podcast: Locavore.) Grow your own vegetables either on your property or start a community garden at the kids' school or church lot. As you get the kids involved in growing veggies this year, send me your stories and photos and I'll share your experiences here. Have a bountiful New Year.

Ginny Stibolt moved to northeastern Florida in 2004 and even though she's a botanist and lifelong gardener, Florida gardening was a shock. She started writing The Adventures of a Transplanted Gardener columns for the Times Union newspaper in Jacksonville. This is one of those columns archived here on Floridata.com for your enjoyment. Now she's written three Florida garden books published by University Press of Florida: Sustainable Gardening for Florida, 2009; Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida with Melissa Contreras, 2013, and The Art of Maintaining a Florida Native Landscape, 2015. Check out her blog for the latest news and articles: www.GreenGardeningMatters.com

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