Have you ever shelled a fresh pea pod, splitting open the bright green suitcase to uncover the round gems inside? They are sweet and crunchy raw, not mushy or offensive from the plate of childhood nightmares. What about digging and pulling up fresh potatoes or carrots? There are all different shapes and sizes, and these root crops are definitely different than what you find in the grocery store in a plastic bag. And the act of picking an apple right off of a tree and biting into the sweet, crispy skin while bees buzz around and the smell of the slightly fermenting apples on the ground permeates the air, that is the essence of autumn. There are many sensory observations to be had in natural settings that can peak a child's curiosity.
The experience of being in a garden is a wholly sensory one that engages all of the senses at once to produce a feeling of wonder and awe of the bounty provided by the natural world. Harvesting fresh fruit and vegetables from a garden, or any growing space, is an encounter that connects children and adults to their food in an irreplaceable way.
The discovery of where food comes from can be surprising and shocking. There are, after all, worms and other insects in the soil with those potatoes and carrots! With the loss of family farms and rural land, direct connections to food production can be limited for today's younger generation and urban dwellers. "A loss in one's connection to nature may have implications in one's relationship with and knowledge of food. Spaces and skills related to food are rapidly vanishing, where we are now experiencing a global generational "amnesia" about how to grow food. For most urban inhabitants the growing of food is no longer a part of their relationship with food." (Uhlmann, Lin & Ross 2018).
Food and health literacy information and local food movements are growing fields that are demonstrating the important value of active participation in garden settings. The enriched value and understanding of the basic but critical topics affecting the production, preparation and consumption of healthy food by everyone results in higher environmental and personal health, and conscious care of the planet.
Books and story times have always been effective tools for introducing children to various concepts. The informational text How did that get in my lunchbox? : The story of food by Christine Butterworth and the charming fable story Tops & bottoms by Janet Stevens are a pair of children's literature texts that introduce the natural world of food production in a fun and engaging manner. You can find both texts here. The engaging text and beautiful illustrations serve to open the awareness of agriculture processes and the edible parts of vegetable plants. Education strategies that provide a hands on growing experiment or gardening activity can serve to link multiple literacies together in order to appeal to and develop the natural curiosity of a child's growing mind. "A substantial body of research has indicated that children's active engagement within the natural environment is associated with a range of cognitive, physical, affective, and moral developmental benefits." (Adams & Savahl, 2017).
The following list highlights possible arenas for exploring the gardening world to delve into experiences that serve to connect food production and food literacy together.
Backyard or container gardens
Eco-agri tourism opportunities ie: local farms and orchards
Libraries and/or school environmental programs
Community park programs
Local food festivals
Seeking out opportunities to explore vegetable garden environments and/or fruit orchards provides quality family social time while also meeting the most basic need of feeding the body. Nature oriented endeavors will excite the senses, allow wonder to blossom, and inspire the soul. And will taste delicious too!
By Anne-Marie Parrish
Adams, S., & Savahl, S. (2017). Nature as children's space: A systematic review. The Journal of Environmental Education, 48(5), 291-321. doi:10.1080/00958964.2017.1366160
Uhlmann, K., Lin, B. B., & Ross, H. (2018). Who cares? the importance of emotional connections with nature to ensure food security and wellbeing in cities. Sustainability, 10(6), 1844. doi://dx.doi.org.libezproxy2.syr.edu/10.3390/su10061844
Dr. Arnone is a proponent of libraries helping to serve their communities with programming about their local environments. She has taught "Environmental Programming with Libraries" and "Literacy, Inquiry and Nature for Libraries" at Syracuse University's School of Information Studies. She is a certified environmental educator in the state of North Carolina.