Use Harvest Time to Grab Kids’ Interest in Gardening – and Eating Right

One of my favorite memories with my husband and daughter was a trip to Salman Raspberry Ranch near Mora, N.M. , to pick our own raspberries. Despite the heat and bees, we all had a great time! And she enjoyed helping me preserve the fruit and find recipes for enjoying our bushels of fresh raspberries, which were so much fresher than any we could ever purchase in the store.

u-pick raspberries
Bucket of fresh raspberries picked at Salman Ranch near Mora. N.M. How could a kid resist?

Kids enjoy independence and being a part of “grown-up” activities, at age-appropriate levels, of course. If I love hunting for green beans and the thrill of finding one I passed over five minutes earlier, imagine how much fun it is for kids. I think the best way to get them interested in growing, and especially eating, fresh fruits and vegetables is to get them involved in harvesting first.

For one, any child who picks a fresh tomato and gets to eat it on a turkey BLT a few hours later will probably like tomatoes better. A child who pulls a carrot from the ground to find out that not only is it way bigger than watery baby carrots in a plastic bag, but tastes 10 times better, might want to add carrots to your garden plan and grocery list.

farm fresh produce
Kids are sure to find a few farm-fresh vegetables they like if given the chance, and especially if they help grow them in their back yard.

The National Gardening Association is trying to get more kids interested in growing food and in gardening in general. To that end, they’re supporting youth grant programs and have set up a website and online shop to support youth gardening for schools and families at KidsGardening.org. The NGA has research showing how school gardens improve kids’ knowledge about nutrition and help them know what vegetables they like. Participating in gardens helps change their attitudes toward eating fresh fruit and vegetable snacks. School gardens also support kids’ science scores and instill a better appreciation for nature and the environment.

kids in vegetable garden
Gardening at school and at home promotes an appreciation for eating better, for gardening and for the environment. Image courtesy of the National Gardening Bureau, Inc.

Yet more research reports that time is second only to “insect and disease control” as challenges to edible gardening cited by a 2014 survey of households from the Garden Writers Association Foundation. Busy parents can incorporate at least a small edible garden into next year’s plan by starting now. By selecting a site for a family garden and beginning preparation, you and your kids have all fall and winter to research, plot and plan your garden. And if weather allows, you can even prep it with activities such as building raised beds or weeding and adding organic matter. When spring comes and with it sports and other activities, you’ll need less time – and your kids are less likely to get bored with the details. You can jump right into final preparation and planting!

If you have edibles in your garden, even a few herbs, try to get your kids interested now, because picking the finished product is the fun part; the waiting is hardest! If you don’t have edibles, see if a neighbor wants some help harvesting, or look for a nearby U-Pick farm. And check out KidsGardening.org for more ways to involve your kids in family gardening activities.