Kids are apparently more likely to eat vegetables when they have grown them themselves. The National Trust's 'grow your own' survey of 1,000 kids aged 8-12 found that almost two-thirds would rather eat their own home-grown fruit and vegetables than those bought from the supermarket. Naturally, this entails having their own gardening space, which, according to the research, a majority of the kids also want. Lest we parents feel we've completely misread our fussy offspring, the survey also revealed the lengths kids will go to NOT to eat vegetables - with hiding, binning and feeding them to the dog amongst the most routine.
Somewhat bolstered by this information, I invited my son to join me in planting a vegetable garden. As a five-year-old, he is at a ripe age to begin gardening, full of enthusiasm and curiosity. 'Give me something to do!' he shouted. I did, and he turned out to be a very good helper and we made a good team digging holes, planting and watering.
While he jumped at the chance to get his hands dirty, I factored in his short attention span by planting seedlings, which, for a first time grower, makes the experience more rewarding in the short term. With seedlings, you bypass the tricky bit of germinating a seed and can notice results pretty much overnight. I got a Children's Garden pack from Cornwall-based Rocket Gardens, which includes 10 different vegetable seedlings, as well as strawberries and tomatoes. The box is delivered to your door, with seedlings safely nestled in layers of straw, so you can get planting straight away.
It helps to start small. It is a valuable enough lesson to learn about where your food actually comes from, and if you can get kids to experiment with new vegetables all the better, but you can't go wrong growing vegetables your kids already like - be it potatoes, sweet corn, or tomatoes.
After the mucking in, comes the real work. I try to keep up the momentum with a routine of watering and general garden maintenance. At five years old, he won't eat home-grown lettuce, but he can correctly identify beetroot and pumpkin seedlings. Success?
When it comes to explaining the finer points of photosynthesis and pollination and seed dispersal, there is an excellent book called Kids in the Garden by Elizabeth McCorquodale that has been a useful guide - and good bedtime reading as well. It has short, accessible explanations, with pictures, on the most important elements of nature's work. The book also includes double-page spreads on individual vegetables, with tips on planting, harvesting and eating.
Why not expose kids to food growing on days out? The National Trust's Food Glorious Food campaign includes a 'great seed giveaway' during the summer when 170 million free seeds will be given away at family events across the UK. You can search for the nearest growers/farms and event dates from June to December on the website.
The Growing Schools website has a fantastic search function on 'places to visit' that will tell you the farms, eco centres, woodlands, nature reserves and more in any given distance from your postcode.
The Roots and Shoots garden in London's Kennington runs beekeeping training sessions with the London Beekeepers Association and have children's bee suits to take small groups into the apiary when visiting.
What kind of food messages does your child pick up while at school? The Soil Association's Food For Life Partnership aims to transform 'school food culture' and now works with over 2,000 schools - both inner city and around the country - that have developed even extensive gardens out of concrete roots. Often it starts with a couple of dedicated people - be they parents, grandparents, a head teacher, a school cook or a member of the local community - if you've got that, you are half way there.
The Soil Association has just secured funding to establish farmers' markets in over 30 school playgrounds in Shropshire and Wales - providing hands-on educational experience while also providing fresh local produce for communities and creating new markets for local producers. It hopes to run similar projects in other parts of the country.
Cool it Schools created by artist and mum Jane Langley engages school kids by combining art and environmental issues. Her latest project is the Concrete Jungle - a partnership with the National History Museum that invites schools across the UK to join the campaign and create wildlife gardens in their school grounds in a bid to create the UK's largest wildlife garden.
The Concrete Jungle teacher's pack can be found on the website, which has links to all the UK conservation trusts. Cool it Schools also provides a free online showcases for schools to document their gardens and display artwork too. Registered schools submit the dimensions of their gardens and these will be automatically added together so everyone can observe the expansion of the 'Concrete Jungle'.
The Growing Schools website was designed to help teachers in their 'outdoor curriculum' activities.
Kids can virtually connect with other gardeners through Natural England's the Big Wildlife Garden.
As companies beef up their community responsibility efforts, school gardening has come up high on the list of employee involvement activities. Veolia Environmental Services sponsors a wide range of school gardening initiatives, including the Wild Green Schools Project, with the London Wildlife Trust where a school with the winning garden design receives a £10,000 wildlife garden. Deadline for entries is June 24th.
Rocket Gardens have teamed up with BT, which has a volunteer force of over 10,000 on hand to help schools build raised beds, turn over ground and get involved in other garden work. BT is also sponsoring a free Autumn Garden seedling pack from Rocket Gardens for the first 500 schools to sign up its Spring Garden pack. For an outlay of £49, Rocket Garden owner Mike Kitchen reckons the garden will provide £250 of food over the course of the season. Saving money - very adult inspiration.
Ecologist readers can purchase Kids in the Garden with a 40 per cent discount by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org quoting ‘Ecologist Offer' as the subject of their email. The book will be sent out with an invoice.
Matilda Lee is the Ecologist's Community Affairs Editor
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