Can gardening change a kid’s life? Monica Velgos, mother of Silas Nahan, the grand prize winner of KidsGardening’s 2017 KidsGarden Month video contest, certainly thinks so. She saw first-hand the many positive changes that gardening brought for 13-year-old Silas, even given the challenges of growing plants in an urban backyard in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
He had been introduced to growing things at his elementary school garden, but his interest really took off when his mom happened to bring home a few packets of seeds in May 2016 for Silas and his sister to plant in a couple of containers in the backyard. As his mom says, “The carrots sprouted, the wildflowers grew, and he got excited. He wanted to grow more.”
“Silas now likes to set goals,” she notes. “Besides planning what he wants to grow, sometimes months in advance, he also tries to improve his grades. He will talk about the number of books he wants to read over the summer, the points he wants to reach with online math. After a summer of gardening on his own and participation in the local CitySprouts middle school gardening program, he ended up getting mostly As. This was new for him. Perhaps having a deep focus like gardening set the course for him wanting to go deeply into other subjects, too.”
She also has noticed that growing vegetables in his garden has translated into healthier eating habits overall. Silas invented a green chicken taco filled with homegrown herbs, scallions, and fresh greens like kale and sorrel, in addition to chicken and mashed avocado. He asks his mom to include kale and poblano peppers from his garden in burritos, to put homegrown lettuce on turkey burgers, and to include broccoli and carrots with family meals.
The garden has become a second living room, says Monica, one that the entire family enjoys for its pleasant atmosphere, not just its harvest. Silas checks out things in the garden each morning, and again in the afternoon. “In the evenings he can spend up to two hours transplanting, moving plants around, and filling new pots." His parents and sister often join him. “We go down there too, it’s fun to watch, and he loves to narrate as he works,” she says.
Silas’s gardening enthusiasm is contagious. His sister has become interested in native species and now cultivates a garden area of her own, filled with native flowering plants to attract bees and birds, along with a little oasis where they can drink. “There are many more birds in the yards now, because of all the greenery. Watching the birds adds to the fun! Both kids feel a lot of responsibility now toward their plants and the creatures who visit them. They celebrate every bee.”
Monica also notes the important lessons that the sense of ownership of a garden provides for a young gardener like Silas. “Creating a garden has given Silas ownership,” she says. “He gets to plan it; he gets to choose when to harvest; he gets to make decisions. There are not many things in life that kids get to make all decisions about. This garden represents his interests expressed the way he wants them expressed. There’s no garden mistake that he will ever make that he won’t learn a lot from. And when he has success, like he had from his delicious husk cherries, which he chose to grow himself, he is so proud. As parents we’ve discovered this great opportunity to let him exercise decision making at a level that he sees as important but that is not going to be disastrous if there is failure.”
Silas has lots of plans for his future garden —and his future as a gardener. He’d like to try growing different varieties of potatoes, some more unusual herbs like epazote, and perhaps some Jerusalem artichokes. But he also has lots of ideas for way to grow as a gardener, including possible work for the nonprofit Food Project on their farm in Lincoln, Massachusetts in coming summers and high school courses in plant biology and food systems.
Watch Silas's winning video entry:
Wouldn’t it be great if all kids had the opportunity to grow and learn in the garden, the way Silas and his sister have? Each $12 you contribute to KidsGardening allows one more child the opportunity to learn through the garden, engaging their natural sense of curiosity and wonder and creating a generation of kids connected to their food and community and engaged in nurturing a healthy planet.