By: Julie Swank
Warm summer days have finally arrived in Northern Vermont and it’s been a fun family project to get our garden started for the year. My son has been lugging buckets of water to his favorite plants and helping plant seeds…everywhere. If you’ve spent any time with a toddler, you know that you can’t always plan where the plants and holes end up in your garden, but the time spent exploring and learning about plants is endlessly worth any of the garden “surprises” that happen along the way.
After many years of teaching in the garden and on the farm, I’m convinced kids will eat almost anything if they get a chance to grow it themselves. Even a bold-flavored radish can be enticing when picked glowing and colorful from the ground yourself. This vegetable devouring transformation doesn’t always happen overnight. Something happens organically (pardon the pun) as time passes in the garden and kids watch these amazing living things turn sunlight, water, and soil into something they can eat and enjoy. Spending time tucking a seed into the earth, waiting for the sprout to grow, to watching the kale grow up and unfurl curly leaves – who says plants aren’t magic?
Connecting food through stories and books is another way to inspire healthful food adventures. My son and I have been enjoying a book about a father and son making a pizza with ingredients they harvest in their garden. It still amazes me how even pre-literate kids can remember so many details from books. If that story involves characters eating a new tasty crunchy vegetable, all the better!
Theme gardens or beds are a great way to connect the dots for little ones to understand how food grows from the ground. If you haven’t planted your garden yet, consider popping in some starts or seeds that you can cook together later into a tasty treat with your little helpers. Then read a story in the shade on a warm day after all that hard work – what could be better? Here are my favorite pairings for garden plantings based around meals and some stories to go along!
Stir fry bed: Pac choi, carrots, broccoli, napa cabbage, peas, and beans. The Ugly Vegetables by Grace Lin. Don’t let the title fool you, this is a veggie-positive story!
Salsa bed: Tomatoes, tomatillos, onions, and cilantro. Add a jalapeño pepper plant to the mix if you have really brave kiddos – they’re one of the mildest chiles.
Green is a Chile Pepper, by Roseanne Greenfield Thong
Salad bed: Lettuces, green mixes, radishes, edible flowers (calendula, nasturtium, viola, pansies, Bachelor’s button).
Jack’s Garden by Henry Cole or Up in the Garden Down in the Dirt by Kate Messner (a Vermont author!) have beautiful pictures and descriptions of the cycle of a garden through the seasons.
Pizza garden – Tomatoes, peppers, basil, onions. If you can find wheat seeds, plant a row or strip for the “crust.”
Pizza Day by Melissa Iwai
Check out your local library or bookstore to find these books. Happy summer gardening, reading, and eating!
Julie Swank is a farmer, a school garden and nutrition educator, and most recently a mom, which has put all of her skills to the test to keep her busy two-year-old healthy and fed. She loves to connect people to their food by sharing advice from the kitchen and getting hands in the soil on the farm. You can find her in the kitchen cooking meals for her son’s preschool, Four Seasons of Early Learning, and tending gardens in Greensboro, VT.