I grew up in farm country, and even though I now live in the suburbs, I want to give my three kids some of the same experiences that I had growing up. Can you suggest some farm related activities that we could do over the summer?
Rocky Hill, Conn.
Hi Clara! Right on! This is an excellent question. Summer is probably the best time to touch, feel and taste the benefits of food from the farm. I mean don't strawberries taste better when they are hot from the sun and are just a little dirty? Or carrots, don't they snap a little louder when they come straight from the garden? Add it all together and you have to think: "What kids don't love sweets, dirt and fun noises?" Off to the farm we go! Depending on your resources (space, time and money) there are a couple of ways to go here and of course, feel free to mix and match as we go.
Home gardening projects: Do you already have a garden? Or a backyard? If so, portion off a section that is just for the kids. Help them pick out seeds or seedlings at your local garden store. Look for things that they already like to eat or for their favorite flower. Mix and match between herbs, veggies and flowers. If you don't have the space for a garden, gather a couple of terracotta pots or even plastic buckets for an indoor container garden. If you use something that wasn't designed for plants, make sure to make holes for drainage and something to catch runoff water.
Make the garden part of your daily routine. Check it out every morning. Clear out weeds, water when necessary. If your children are old enough, have them keep a journal or sketchbook of the progress that their plants make through the season. Help them notice how the colors change as the garden develops, the shapes of the leaves and whether the plants look different in the morning than they do at noon. And, whenever possible, taste things! It won't hurt to pull up a carrot a little early.
When harvest season rolls around, brainstorm recipes with your children so that they can help prepare meals with the food they have grown. Salads are an easy start. Add edible flowers for a kick - squash blossoms are my favorite. Pizza is also a great way to use up all your veggies. Saute them with garlic and herbs, spread on a pizza shell and add cheese. I get hungry just thinking about it!
Weekly farmers market visits: If time and space are short, you might consider a weekly farmers market visit with your kids instead. By going every week, you will be able to help your kids notice what foods come into season as the summer unfolds. They will start to recognize farmers from week to week and ask questions about the food that they are buying. If they are old enough, give them each some money to gather things from your shopping list. This will help them engage with the farmers and take pride in the foods that you take home.
Pick it yourself: Nothing gives one appreciation for the work of a farmer more than harvesting pound after pound of strawberries in the summer sun. Take your kids to a farm where you can pick your own fruit. The harder you work, the better it tastes! At least that is how I remember my summer trips berry picking with my Grandmother. Don't worry if you pick more than you can eat in a week. Have your kids help you clean and process the fruits for the freezer or for jam. This way you can enjoy the fruits of your labor all year round! They might complain about the work at the time but strawberry pancakes in December will be worth it.
Farm schools and camps: There are many teaching farms that have summer day or over night programs for children to spend time on a working farm, learning about everything from animal care to growing vegetables. Activities, length and cost do vary depending on which age group might be appropriate for your kids. One of my co-workers sends her six-year old to Drumlin Farm Summer Day Camp in Lincoln, Ma and we hear rave reviews about the program. This one might be too far for you but when I google "farm camps" or "farm schools" I see all kinds of resources. If you work through the summer, this might be a good option for you and your kids.
You are clearly on the right track if you want to teach your kids about where food comes from at an early age. Your efforts will give them a deep relationship with food that could last a lifetime. However, this was a tough one for me, since I don't have any kids. So, I had to spend some time consulting with our resident Mom on staff. As a result, this column is Laura suggested and Mom approved!