Importance of Teaching Kids Where Food Comes From

Importance of Teaching Kids Where Food Comes From


Ty, age 4, stared with wonder at the long orange vegetable with the big green leaves coming out of the top. “What is this?” he asked his Dad. His Dad replied, “That’s a carrot.” “That’s a carrot?” asked Ty. “I thought carrots were those little orange things that come in plastic bags.”

Recent marketing data has shown that there has been an upsurge in families planting vegetable gardens. Although we tend to see the popularity of backyard gardens rise during harder economic times, they are valuable for more than financial reasons. Food education is an opportunity for children to learn about where food comes from and to establish a healthy relationship with food.

A by-product of less and less time outdoors and a trend for many U.S. families is that fewer children get first-hand experience with food sources. In days past, more of us had backyard gardens or visited a farm of family members or friends. We may have gotten to pick apples from the tree or ground, collect eggs from the hen house, or harvest beans off the plants. Today, many children only experience food coming from a grocery store.

Reconnecting our children to food’s origins can build their conceptual understanding of food sources, while also providing an opportunity to form healthy eating habits and learn about the environmental implications of growing organically or transporting food long distances.

Here are a few suggestions to introduce the idea of food source to your children.

Plant your own vegetable garden. A vegetable or edible garden can be as small or large as you would like or your space accommodates. Even having one cherry tomato plant in a container on your porch or patio gives your child a chance to experience the growing and harvesting cycle of local foods. Some regions sponsor community or urban gardens where several families who don’t have gardening space can farm a small plot together.

Join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group. Many farms now offer locally grown, often organic, foods by subscription. A family purchases a “share” of a local farm and receives a bag, box or credit towards fresh fruits and veggies that they pick up each week. Purchasing shares help guarantee the farmer’s subsistence and the food is seasonal and fresh off the farm.

The pick-up place for the vegetables is often the farm itself. This can become a fun and educational experience for your children. The foods each week may include some you or your children have never seen before like turnips, kale, or red beets. But learning more about these foods and where their daily servings of vegetables come from can become a family educational adventure. Learning about all sorts of vegetables and food sources can also be easier to get kids to try new foods. Some CSAs also offer opportunities to work on the farm.

Consider eating one “seasonal” meal each week. This would mean only using fruits and vegetables that are in season, not grown in different climates and shipped from far away. If you shop at farmers markets or join a CSA, this is easy, because they only carry seasonal items. Older children might enjoy making a chart of when their favorite fruits and vegetables are available locally and can look forward to their purchase.

Visit the local farmers market with your children. While your children probably won’t get to see where the actual food is grown, they will typically see unpackaged foods and some foods and vegetables they are unfamiliar with. They may even get to talk to the farmer. Or you can make a visit to the farm or farmers market more interesting for children using a few of the following ideas.

Encourage conversations between your child and the farmer about the available fruits and vegetables. Older children can keep a market journal. Questions to ask:
– Where is your farm located?
– What kind of tomato/lettuce/etc. is this?
– When was this vegetable/fruit picked?
– What produce will you have next week?

Engage young children in using their senses:
– What does the vegetable/fruit feel like? Is it bumpy or smooth? Is it hard or soft?
– What does the vegetable/fruit look like? What color is it? What shape?
– What does the vegetable/fruit sound like when you tap it? Is it hollow? Does it sound like a drum?
– What does the vegetable/fruit smell like? Does it have a strong smell or no smell?
– What does the vegetable/fruit taste like? Do you think it will be juicy or dry? Sweet or salty? Let’s go home and give it a taste.

Create a Market Scavenger Hunt:
– Create a grocery list before going to the farmers market.
– Have your child help locate the items on the list.
– Use check marks or stickers to show the item as complete.
– Consider a “freebie” square for an item that the child can pick.

Allow children to experience many different markets:
– Talk about the differences and similarities between each.
– Older children can add this to their farmers market journal.
– Find markets with children’s entertainment or educational events.
– Meet friends for a play date or picnic at the market.

Reinforce the food education at home:
– Have children compare produce from the grocery store with produce from the farmers market. Do they look the same? Feel the same? Smell the same? Taste the same?
– Create a “food map.” Using a world or U.S. map, highlight regions by category. Have children mark on the map where the produce they eat in a week comes from. (NOTE: By law, all stores need to label the Country of Origin for all produce).




10 Ways to Support the Next Generation of Farmers

10 Ways to Support the Next Generation of Farmers


Over the last 30 years, the average age of farmers has steadily increased, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that half of all current farmers are likely to retire in the next decade, leaving a large gap for the next generation to fill.

Fortunately, a new wave of food pioneers, mostly from non-farming backgrounds, is turning to careers in agriculture. This career path comes with its fair share of hurdles. According to Lindsay Lusher Shute, executive director and co-founder of the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC), “Capital and land top most young farmers’ lists” as their biggest challenges. Here are 10 ways to help the next generation of farmers nourish future consumers:

1. Join a Community Supported Agriculture program (CSA) or shop at a local farmers market: These avenues are the most direct ways to support local farmers. A CSA is a program in which members purchase a share of vegetables from a local farmer in regular installments over the course of the season. In a neighborhood CSA, members take on administrative and management duties, allowing the farmer to focus on growing and delivering quality vegetables.

2. Donate: Consider donating to organizations whose mission is to look out for the interests of young farmers. Donations to the Rodale Institute funds research to support economically viable organic agriculture. Contributing to the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service helps farmers implement sustainable practices which utilize innovations in science and technology. Or, support representatives from the NYFC who speak up for young farmers in local and national political arenas.

3. Be informed: Visit EatWild for information on how young farmers are more likely to implement grassfarming systems, and read about the other ways young farmers are using sustainable practices. The Greenhorns, a nonprofit, grassroots organization that connects and recruits new farmers through media, created a documentary film about the struggles of new farmers. Watch the film, or explore their events calendar and other media outlets, to find out more.

4. Tell policymakers: Let government officials know that young farmers are key to the future of agriculture by supporting policies that make farming a viable option for those just starting out. Join Food Tank in asking local officials to provide services and aid for new farmers by clicking here.

5. Volunteer: Volunteering time and skills can be invaluable. When community members offer their own skills, farmers can spend more time nurturing the land. Reach out to a local farmer’s market to inquire about opportunities. The Young Farmer Network recruits volunteers for varying aspects of the national program, from media and advertising to event planning.

6. Be hands-on: Visiting a working farm can be educational and fun. Use the LocalHarvest farm directory and take a family trip, or group of friends, to learn about the inner workings of a local farm. Knowledge and exposure to farm life will help invest future generations in local agriculture. For longterm farm work, including internships or apprenticeships, visit WWOOF or GoodFoodJobs.

7. Share with friends: Chef and author Bryant Terry encourages individuals to help by “making a delicious meal and sharing it with friends to illustrate how wonderful this food can be … then encouraging them to have a similar way of getting their own food.” Sharing sustainable practices and food experiences with others will motivate them to support young farmers.

8. Join a Co-op: Most co-ops strive to stock their shelves with locally grown food. Co-ops keep prices low by relying on the participation and management of its members, while still paying farmers fair prices. Search the directory to find a local co-op.

9. Find your favorite foods locally: Many farmers use LocalHarvest to reach out to a wider community. Check to see if your farm-fresh favorites are available nearby or online.

10. Spread the word: Social media is powerful. Telling others about a budding farm or agriculture event via social media can bring awareness and understanding of this issue to an even wider audience.




10 Reasons to Support Farmers Markets

10 Reasons to Support Farmers Markets


From savoring produce at the peak of freshness to meeting the people who grow your food, there are countless reasons to support farmers markets. Here are just a few!

1. Taste Real Flavors

The fruits and vegetables you buy at the farmers market are the freshest and tastiest available. Fruits are allowed to ripen fully in the field and are brought directly to you—no long-distance shipping, no gassing to simulate the ripening process, no sitting for weeks in storage. This food is as real as it gets—fresh from the farm.

2. Enjoy the Season

The food you buy at the farmers market is seasonal. It is fresh and delicious and reflects the truest flavors. Shopping and cooking from the farmers market helps you to reconnect with the cycles of nature in our region. As you look forward to asparagus in spring, savor sweet corn in summer, or bake pumpkins in autumn, you reconnect with the earth, the weather, and the turning of the year.

3. Support Family Farmers

Family farmers need your support, now that large agribusiness dominates food production in the U.S. Small family farms have a hard time competing in the food marketplace. Buying directly from farmers gives them a better return for their produce and gives them a fighting chance in today’s globalized economy.

4. Protect the Environment

Food in the U.S. travels an average of 1,500 miles to get to your plate. All this shipping uses large amounts of natural resources (especially fossil fuels), contributes to pollution, and creates trash with extra packaging. Conventional agriculture also uses many more resources than sustainable agriculture and pollutes water, land, and air with toxic agricultural by-products. Food at the farmers market is transported shorter distances and is generally grown using methods that minimize the impact on the earth.

5. Nourish Yourself

Much food found in grocery stores is highly processed and grown using pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, and genetic modification. Some of it has been irradiated, waxed, or gassed in transit. These practices may have negative effects on human health. In contrast, most food found at the farmers market is minimally processed, and many of our farmers go to great lengths to grow the most nutritious produce possible by using sustainable techniques, picking produce right before the market, and growing heirloom varieties.

6. Discover the Spice of Life: Variety

At the farmers market you find an amazing array of produce that you don’t see in your average supermarket: red carrots, a rainbow of heirloom tomatoes, purple cauliflower, stinging nettles, green garlic, watermelon radishes, quail eggs, maitake mushrooms, and much, much more. It is a wonderful opportunity to savor the biodiversity of our planet.

7. Promote Humane Treatment of Animals

At the farmers market, you can find meats, cheeses, and eggs from animals that have been raised without hormones or antibiotics, who have grazed on green grass and eaten natural diets, and who have been spared the cramped and unnatural living conditions of feedlots and cages that are typical of animal agriculture.

8. Know Where Your Food Comes From

A regular trip to a farmers market is one of the best ways to connect with where your food comes from. Meeting and talking to farmers and food artisans is a great opportunity to learn more about how and where food is produced. CUESA’s seller profiles that hang at the booths give you even more opportunities to learn about the people who work hard to bring you the most delicious and nutritious food around. Profiles, articles about sellers, and a map of farms are also available on this website.

9. Learn Cooking Tips, Recipes, and Meal Ideas

Few grocery store cashiers or produce stockers will give you tips on how to cook the ingredients you buy, but farmers, ranchers, and artisans at the farmers market are often passionate cooks with plenty of free advice about how to cook the foods they are selling. You can also attend free seasonal cooking demonstrations by leading Bay Area chefs and evening classes on food preservation and other kitchen skills.

10. Connect with Your Community

Wouldn’t you rather stroll amidst outdoor stalls of fresh produce on a sunny day than roll your cart around a grocery store with artificial lights and piped in music? Coming to the farmers market makes shopping a pleasure rather than a chore. The farmers market is a community hub—a place to meet up with your friends, bring your children, or just get a taste of small-town life in the midst of our wonderful big city.



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