Read any advice on raising good eaters and you’ll see some variation of “involve kids in growing food.” Conventional wisdom tells us this is because children are more likely to try something they’ve grown (or picked), enticed by the intimacy and novelty of it all. And it’s true, if not an actual guarantee. But there are other reasons we should expose kids to food in its natural state.
Raising good eaters isn’t just about getting kids to eat good food. It’s also about teaching kids to understand why we make the food choices we do, how those choices affect our bodies and the environment, and, importantly, how that food got on our plates in the first place.
Whether we’re planting-tending-harvesting ourselves, or just reaping the bounty (at farmers markets, CSAs, U-pick farms), we’re helping kids appreciate the work and care behind every tomato, apple, egg and quart of milk. Today they’re picking strawberries straight from the fields. Tomorrow they’re shopping for themselves. And if we’ve done our jobs, then choosing sustainable-organic-local-ethical will be, for them, just the way it is.
For years, my husband and I purposely chose a CSA with a field-work requirement so our daughter could see a vegetable farm in action. We’ve made a point of visiting working farms with animals, too. And while I love any farmers’ market kid club, I particularly liked the year that one local market gave kids a “Wedge Veg Passport” on which mini market-goers drew a picture of the fruit or vegetable of the week, then visited the featured farmer for a sample before heading back to the market manager’s table for a passport stamp. Not only did the passports encourage kids to learn about and taste the food — they encouraged kids to talk to the farmer.
For me, that’s just as important as the food itself — putting a face on our food, in every sense of that word. The farmer, the chicken, the cow, the pig, whoever and whatever made our food possible. Showing children real food comes from somewhere, not just from some place.
This post first appeared in the summer 2013 issue of New York Organic News, the quarterly magazine of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York. It’s the inaugural piece for my “Food Literacy” column, which will run each issue.