There is nothing as gratifying as watching my son pick a strawberry out of the garden, wipe it off with his shirt, and take a juicy bite. I've been gardening with my 6-year-old son since he was 2, because I realized early in my parenting that food would be our key to health and well-being. So I was excited when I met TED-talk phenomenon Ron Finley.
Finley is the cofounder of L.A. Green Grounds, a nonprofit organization that brings gardening supplies and volunteers to the homes of Los Angeles residents. The group calls its garden creation events "dig-ins." But my admiration for Finley's efforts really took off when I learned about his mission to transform South Los Angeles by planting gardens in the strips of grass between the streets and the sidewalks and empty lots owned by the city. Having grown up in South Los Angeles myself, I see Finley's work as healing the people of the community.
As Earth Day approaches, I thought it was the perfect time to sit down with L.A. Green Grounds volunteer Nikki Parrish. Along with wisdom from Parrish, I culled Ron Finley's words as well to put together a list of 10 reasons to teach your children to garden.
1. Gardening Is an Educational Tool
By planting and harvesting food, children can learn to count, as well as learn the names of colors, fruits and vegetables. And of course, knowing how to grow food is a skill that will assist them through their entire life.
2. Children Become Acquainted With Nature
Gardening allows children to spend time in nature, being up close and personal with butterflies, ladybugs, worms, ants and spiders. Gardening allows children to get comfortable with soil, while learning that food comes from the earth and not a drive-through.
3. Kids Gain a Sense of Ownership and Responsibility
Gardening is a great way to teach your children ownership and responsibility. It's a good idea to get them their own tools, such as a shovel, a watering can and gloves. Allow kids to be in charge of their little patch of earth, which will require their watering, weeding and harvesting.
For parents who have a picky eater on their hands, one possible solution is gardening. When a child sees food develop from seeds, there's a great chance he'll eat what he's grown.
5. Together You Create a Legacy
Planting fruit trees in your yard with your children creates something that lasts into their adult years. The peach trees I planted as a child in my grandma's yard are still bearing fruit each summer. They are the most delicious peaches ever!
6. Gardening Is Empowering
Gardening teaches children that they can always produce the greatest resource they need to survive, which is food. And it bears repeating: it also teaches them that food does not come from a grocery store but from the earth.
7. "Growing Your Own Food Is Like Printing Your Own Money." —Ron Finley
Because gardening produces seeds and food that have a monetary value, gardening is like printing your own money. You—and your kids—will love that.
8. Gardening Provides an Understanding of Sustainable Living
Gardening teaches children not only how to sustain themselves and their environment, but also that resources are not infinite, and need to be cultivated. In addition, you model conservation with every trip to the outdoor garden in lieu of the grocery store.
By gardening, your children will learn what types of vegetables and fruits grow best during what season. Gardening teaches children that apples are ripe in the fall, while citrus fruit is best picked in winter or spring, depending on your location. Children who garden understand the rhythm of food and the seasons.
10. The Seeds You Plant Will Last a Lifetime
A relationship with the earth may inspire your son or daughter to become the next L.A. Green Grounds volunteer in the years ahead. No matter what, when you teach your child to connect with the planet, you foster a world that's just a teeny bit more in tune with itself.