**Abbie holding fresh carrots, straight from our garden**
What kind of food education are our children getting?
While my husband and I were berry picking a few weekends ago, we got into a discussion about whether kids actually have an idea of where food comes from and how grateful we are that ours have the privilege of being able to be a part of the process, as we tend to our family garden and buy from small, local farmers.
Unfortunately, I believe that for most kids their view of food is nothing more than the unrealistic, seasonless food available at the grocery store. Chicken comes in breast form, skinless, boneless, in a plastic wrapped package. Carrots come in the shape of baby carrots, in a plastic bag with a bunny on the front. Applesauce comes in individually wrapped containers covered in foil. Watermelon and strawberries grow in December. Milk comes in plastic jugs, and fluffy white "wonder" bread doesn't resemble the grains it originated from in the slightest.
In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle Barbara Kingsolver talks about a friend who didn't know that potato plants grow "up" (with the plant portion on the top, and the potatoes growing underground, along the roots). Quite frankly, until two years ago, neither did I. I couldn't have told you what a potato plant looked like or how it functioned in the slightest. I bet I'm not alone.
Children need an agricultural education. Regardless of whether they will be a food producer themselves or whether they will support the food industry through the choices they make and how they spend their dollars. They need to have the experience of visiting a farm, picking food from the ground or off the vine or fruit tree. To see a cow be milked, or to watch eggs be gathered from a hen house. To know that chickens actually walked around with a head, feet, skin, feathers and bones before they became our tasty dinner.
If we cease to offer this kind of education, how will our children ever know how to provide for themselves in a distraught economy? Will they have the confidence or the knowledge to be able to live in a self-sustainable way, especially if the conveniences that we are blessed to have access to are no longer available? If they were to end up in a circumstance where they needed to, would they be able to learn and use the skills necessary to raise their food from the ground up?
Quite frankly, would we have the ability to sustain ourselves? As adults, who have been raised in this era of the Supermarket, what will we do if there ever comes a time when the bounty that we currently know ceases to exist?
How do we give our kids this necessary education in "Where Food Comes From 101"?
- Shop at produce markets or farmers markets. See food that doesn't reside in large grocery stores, in plastic wrap or foil packages. Talk to the farmers and get to know them. Learn about the different seasons, and which foods grow at which times of the year.
- Take field trips to farms, or visit friends who live on hobby or larger farms. Many places offer dairy tours, pumpkin patch hay rides, apple u-pick, honey-bee tours, etc.
- Find more local sources of food for your family, and share these sources with your children. My children come with me to purchase our meat from a small family farm. They've also visited the friends who are organic egg farmers (from whom we purchase our eggs), and have actually walked up to say hi to the chickens. They know that our weekly jars of raw milk come from a cow named Belle who eats green grass in a small town nearby.
- Grow something! There is something tremendous about watching food grow from a seed, to a little seedling, to a larger plant, and end up on your dinner table. There is also enormous ownership involved, and it is such a thrill to children to eat the carrots or potatoes that they helped to grow! It can be as small as a few herbs or some potted peas or tomatoes on your porch, or as large as a backyard garden that helps to feed your family.
- Discuss it with your children as you make food. Ask them where they think it came from, or how it grows? When I've cooked whole chickens in the not-so-distant past, my 4 year old daughter and I have had wonderful discussions about how these chickens used to be alive, how they had heads and feet and feathers. She now knows that our family supports farmers who raise these chickens so that they can be happy and healthy, until they are ready to be killed so that we can eat them as our dinner and that God uses them to help our bodies grow strong. Don't hide the realities of how foods are raised, and the process of how they end up on our table.
Are you concerned about the level of awareness that this generation of children has when it comes to where their food really comes from? What are you doing to give your children a real food education?