Learning to Love the Earth

love nature

Kids who spend more time near green space during childhood have more white and gray matter in parts of their brain, leading to higher scores on cognitive tests. These are the findings from a new study out of the University of California – Los Angeles that confirms what we at KidsGardening have known for years: the earlier and more often children are exposed to nature, the happier, healthier, and brighter they become. They also have a closer connection to and more respect for the environment.

I recently read David Sobel’s book, Beyond Ecophobia, Reclaiming the Heart in Nature Education, and it got me thinking a lot about the experiences I had in nature as a child and how they influenced the adult I’ve become. Sobel makes the case that children must develop a bond with the natural world through empathy and exploration before they are taught abstract - and often devastating - environmental concepts.

“If we want children to flourish, to become truly empowered, then let us allow them to love the earth before we ask them to save it.” –David Sobel

Growing up on a five acre horse farm in rural New Hampshire, I was outside nearly every day exploring, learning to care for animals, and connecting with nature on a level I would not comprehend or value until much later in life.

Many of my fondest memories took place in this small wooded area across the street from my childhood home. I know now that my time spent playing here and on that horse farm as a kid cultivated a connection to the natural world that laid the foundation for environmental activism. When I watched An Inconvenient Truth at age sixteen and learned about climate change, my mind, body, and spirit were primed to fight for the earth I had grown to love. I doubt my reaction to that documentary – which set the stage for my college education, career, and the rest of my life – would have been as strong had I not spent my childhood developing a bond with the natural world.

I am fortunate to have grown up with nature right outside my back door, but many children simply don’t have access to a farm or forest behind their house, nor to any green space at all.

That’s where gardens come in!

School and youth gardens can take many forms and are not just accessible to rural communities. In fact, eighty-one percent of children served through KidsGardening’s programs are in urban or suburban areas. Youth gardens can take the form of raised beds on top of pavement, gardens on the roof of a school, a living wall in a schoolyard, or plants under a grow light inside the classroom. They are an incredibly effective tool to connect all children, regardless of setting, socioeconomic status, physical ability, or learning differences to the natural world – laying the foundation for the environmental stewards on which the future of our planet depends.

Essential Kitchen Tools to Enjoy Your Garden

garden kitchen tools

Gardening has opened me up to a whole new world of healthful foods and how to enjoy them. After one season of gardening, though, I realized I was missing some key items in my kitchen that would make using what I grow in my garden a lot easier and more fun. I’ve spent the winter collecting the following items to help me do just that:

Fermentation Kit – I love my billions of friends in my gut and I do my best to keep them healthy. I’ve brewed my own kombucha for a few years, but growing my own cabbage inspired me to make sauerkraut and kimchi as well! It’s easy enough to make, but I found it difficult to keep the cabbage underneath the water line while waiting for it to ferment. This kit by Kilner makes it very easy, and I love that I can fit more than two whole heads of cabbage in there at once, rather than having 10 different mason jars sitting around my apartment.  

Salad Spinner – There’s nothing quite like the taste of fresh greens from your own garden, but they can be difficult to rinse clean and store safely. I found that it took a lot of extra time to wash what I needed each day, and often they were still dirty or just too wet. If I washed them all at once, then they would be too wet to store in the refrigerator. This salad spinner allows me to wash and dry all my greens at once so they are clean and crisp when I’m ready to make a salad or smoothie. And nobody loves salad spinners more than kids! Beth says there’s always a battle in her house over which kid gets the first turn. You can even get a mini version for your kids’ play kitchen, or if you have a small amount of greens to clean.

French Press – I’ve been interested in learning more about herbalism for years, and gardening has given me a great outlet to do so! I started to make my own tinctures with the herbs I grew last year and have been using a french press to make the solution. It makes it super quick and easy!

I also picked up an herb drying rack, an herb stripper, and herb scissors to make preparing my herbs much easier (and more fun).

If any of these items sound like something you’d like to have in your kitchen for your next harvest, I have great news! You can purchase any of these items on Amazon and benefit KidsGardening at no cost to you. From now until March 31st, when you sign up for AmazonSmile, they'll TRIPLE the donation for your first purchase! It's an easy way to support garden-based learning. Simply select "KidsGardeningorg Inc" as your designated charity at smile.amazon.com and a percentage of your Amazon order will be donated.

What are your favorite kitchen tools to help preserve and enjoy your harvest? Let us know in the comments!

Four Ways to Keep Growing in Winter

growing in winter

While I’m not the biggest fan of the cold weather, I do love the changing seasons here in Vermont. After a very fulfilling first season of gardening, I was sad to put my garden to bed last fall, but I was also excited for the period of rest and reflection that the wintertime brings. Gardening had become such a big part of my life in such a short period of time; I knew I couldn’t stop learning after I laid down that layer of mulch and buckwheat. So, I made a commitment to use this downtime to reflect on my first season, learn as much as I can, and set a great foundation for next year. Here’s how I will keep growing in winter:

keep growing in winter
Microgreens.

Microgreens: The very first thing I did when I came home from putting my garden to bed in October was plant microgreens. This is a simple way to get your hands in the dirt all winter long.  Plus, they’re super nutritious! I’ve also recently started growing broccoli sprouts. I love having life blooming at different stages all around my apartment when it feels so dormant outside.

keep growing in winter
Colorful winter CSA.

CSA Share: I joined a local CSA in November. It has been so exciting to get a weekly delivery of fresh, local fruits and veggies all winter long. Although it’s not quite the same as growing them myself, it has given me the opportunity to continue experimenting with cooking new varieties and canning. Also, I eat pretty well, but I have to say that I have never eaten healthier in my life. I’ve also never eaten more root vegetables, but that’s another topic for another day.

Podcasts: I’m a big fan of podcasts, so it was only a matter of time before I scoured iTunes for the best gardening podcasts. After sampling a few this summer, I landed on my two favorites: The Joe Gardener Show with Joe Lamp’l and The Living Homegrown Podcast with Theresa Loe. Joe’s podcast is laser-focused on gardening – techniques, tips, and tricks to be successful, as well as things to avoid. Theresa talks a lot about gardening too, but has a broader focus on sustainable living with episodes such things as canning, making homemade dyes and cleaning products, and a recent favorite of mine: understanding the behavior of your backyard chickens!

Books and Planning: The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible by Ed Smith and Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew have been my go-to resources for garden planning for next season. I’ve also been playing around with Gardener’s Supply Company’s Kitchen Garden Planner. If you’re like me and want your garden planned out inch-by-inch before you start seeds in a few weeks, I highly suggest this tool. It’s like a video game for garden geeks.

I hope this helped spark some ideas if you’re feeling the winter blues and missing your garden. How have you kept growing this winter? Leave a comment below to let us know!

Plant the Seed of Gardening

start gardening

Unlike many of the staff here at KidsGardening, I am not an expert gardener; nor have I been gardening since childhood. In fact, this past summer was my first gardening season! I’ve been passionate about health and how food connects us to nature for many years, but it took a while for me to find the time and space in my life to “dig in.” I’m so glad I finally did! As soon as I began, it was like I had found a piece of myself that I didn’t know was missing. Since then, my health, my happiness, and my sense of purpose have blossomed.

start gardening
The author in her happy place.

I’m not sure what originally planted this seed for me. Trying to think back on what it might have been, one summer when I was maybe seven or eight stands out. I remember eating a tomato and recognizing that there were seeds inside. I knew that plants grew from seeds, so I wanted to see how a tomato grew! Keeping it a secret from my parents, I pulled out all the seeds of the tomato and brought them outside to plant. I found a spot right up against a fence (certainly not enough room for a tomato plant to grow!) in the driest, sandiest soil imaginable. Needless to say, the tomato plant didn’t grow. I checked back every day that summer to see if my plant had sprouted.

While I didn’t get to see a tomato plant grow that year, I think the connection I made of food as a living, growing, reproducing thing - just like me – left its mark. When I got to college and started to learn about some of the big issues our world is facing, those related to food and agriculture really resonated with me.

I often wonder what life would have been like if I did get a chance to grow a tomato plant as a young child. How would the many social, emotional, academic, and nutritional benefits of gardening have affected my life? I’m grateful that I found it when I did; and that I now have the opportunity, as a part of KidsGardening, to help share that experience with as many children as possible.

With the holidays upon us, many of us are making our year-end contributions. As a member of our community and someone who understands the value and life-changing effects of gardening, I’d like to ask you to join me in making a gift to KidsGardening this season. It only takes $12 to plant the seed of gardening in one child’s life. You can be that difference for a child and become part of our mission to create generations of happier, healthier kids with close connections to their food and community, and engaged in nurturing a healthy planet.

What planted the seed for you? Leave a comment and let us know. We’d love to hear your story!