As a kid growing up in the inner suburbs of Sydney, one of my favourite past-times was venturing around in Dad’s veggie garden through spring and summer. Watching the plants grow from seedlings to big towering plants.
As they grew bigger and bigger, the garden became alive and I would wonder around it, watching the insects, grubs, and birds go about their day eating, roaming around and fighting each other. As the weather warmed up I would wait around with excitement, impatiently checking a couple times a day (hoping that would make them grow faster) for the fruits to grow, picking and eating fruits as they just ripened, and even trying my luck on some of the unripened ones.
I remember at the end of each harvest my Dad would keep a few of the fruits from each plant and collect them for seeds. These would then go on to be used for next springs crops.
During winter the garden lay as a barren wasteland of dirt and cuttings turned on itself.
As the weather warmed up, Dad got busy to work bringing all those dormant seeds he had collected from last harvest to life.
And such was my upbringing and growing up around a vegie garden.
Little did I know that this basic and seamlessly normal curiosity of an activity would build and form the foundation to how I relate to health and wellness years on.
About half a year ago, I had the pleasure of having a chat with a lady at our local community garden working bee day. She was an early primary school teacher and we got in to a passionate conversation about children’s health and wellness.
One thing that completely blew me away was the growing number of children that do not have a basic understanding of where food comes from. Telling me how children in her class believed that milk comes from the supermarket in a bottle in the fridge, and beyond that they are not aware of where it comes from.
Sure I hear of schools and have even seen at my local primary school where they have a communal veggie garden that the students look after and tend to. However there seems to be only few and very far between the what is out there and how many schools student have access to this.
I didn’t think much more of this, and went back in to the health world of lecturing.
Over the coming months the same conversations would come up with friends and colleagues who also work in childhood education.
Which got me seeing that there is a more underlying issue going on. How many children and how common it is that children are not even aware of where food comes from?
Yes they may be aware of what fruit or vegetable is what, but they lack the understanding of where it comes from.
I seriously thought that this was something that only existed in the US & UK, but I’m beginning to see this also happens here, in my own backyard, in my country of Australia.
As I mulled on this looking at why this was going on, all that was coming up were the memories of my early childhood around Dad’s and Granddad’s veggie gardens.
And I kept thinking what has this got to do with anything?
What I realised was that those years, unbeknownst to me, helped in developing a special relationship and understanding with food. They were the training years in having me understand the magic of where food comes from and how it comes to be.
Seeing Dad collecting the seeds from a ripe tomato. Drying them out.
Then in the next spring sticking these seeds in to a Styrofoam box full of soil and watering them. Over the next week, I’d see little shoots come out of the foam box and grow up to be little young plants.
Once they were big enough to leave their nest, Dad would then move them out into the garden, where they grew and grew as high as the sky (really about 1 and a half to 2 meters, but they looked massive as a kid), where they then produced and abundance of sweet, juicy tasty cherry tomatoes.
This simple activity that I did with my Dad helped my understand the cycle of where food comes from and how we can grow more of it. Where a tomato came from, the time, patience, care and nurturing it took to make those tomatoes super yummy, among the many other fruits and vegetables he had growing in his garden.
The art of growing our own food, which I’m sure a lot of us have been around growing up, is becoming a lost art and activity that Dads and Mums do with their kids.
Sure enough we can watch it on YouTube, TV or grow some food on Minecraft. Kids will conceptually understand where food comes from. But what they are missing out on is the connection, realisation and experience that comes with doing it themselves.
When I remember what I did as a kid, my strongest and most vivid memories were the ones with my family. I can say that a lot of what I learned at school I’ve forgotten, but it’s the activities, the holidays these events I did with my family that remain the strongest.
As any parent would only want the best for their children. This is something that you can easily do and take on as an activity that not only gets your children engaged, outdoors and have them remember it for a lifetime. But this also educates them and helps build a healthier and happier relationship with food.
I invite you to go out there and rekindle you inner green thumb gardener. Have fun with it and if this is something new to you, visit your local nursery they will be more than glad to help you out to get started on your gardening adventure.
And your kids will absolutely love it.
By Shaheen Fakhry
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