Rainbow table: Growing a love for healthy foods

GREEN THUMBS: A student at Cullowhee Valley School gets her hands in the dirt in her school garden. Photo courtesy of Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project
GREEN THUMBS: A student at Cullowhee Valley School gets her hands in the dirt in her school garden. Photo courtesy of Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project

I love food.  I love to cook it, eat it, share it and shop for it. I even try to grow it, although I don’t claim to have much of a green thumb, and I feel that I have a pretty good sense of where my food comes from. These are all things I try to share with my daughter as she grows up. I want her to know that fruits and vegetables come from plants that grow in the dirt, and that the milk, eggs and meat we eat comes from animals. I want her to grow up and not only know how to cook healthy food but also to respect it and enjoy it for all that it offers. That is something I want that for every child.

Why?  Because the more our children know about the food they eat, the more likely they are to make healthy food choices. Research strongly supports that children who grow their own food (yes, even preschoolers) are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables, show higher levels of knowledge about nutrition and continue healthy eating habits throughout their lives. Through gardening, children also learn responsibility (you have to water the plants), cause and effect (if you don’t water them, they will wither), lessons about weather, science, an appreciation for nature and a sense of community.

If that isn’t enough to have you running to the seed store, there’s also this: Gardening with kids is fun! What kid doesn’t like to be outside putting their hands in the dirt?

The Asheville area has a wealth of options for nurturing a love of gardening in children, including a thriving farmers market scene, local farms to visit and the availability of numerous resource materials through the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project. Here are a few ways to start your garden growing:

Farmers markets: Asheville’s farmers markets not only offer fresh fruits and vegetables, but early in the season, all kinds of plant starts for your garden. ASAP can help you find a market near you and see what is growing now. Look for ASAP’s Growing Minds @Market tent as well as individual children’s tents at local markets for opportunities to enjoy fun food or garden activities with your child. asapconnections.org/find-local-food/farmers-markets/.

Growing Minds: The Growing Minds website (growing-minds.org) offers great information, including an amazing list of children’s books about gardens and gardening that you and your child can look for at a local library. Dig a little deeper and find plant suggestions and garden strategies.  growing-minds.org/farm-to-preschool/

Visit a farmer:  Although Asheville has an annual farm tour in September, which is great fun and perfect for families, you don’t have to wait until then to arrange a visit. Many local farms welcome visitors and are happy to share tips. Depending on the time of year, some farms even offer U-pick options, which is another great way to make the farm-to-table connection with your child. To find nearby farms, pick up a Local Food Guide or visit buyappalachian.org/search/farms_to_visit.

The bottom line is that there are a lot of ways to help make the farm-to-table connection for your family. Having a garden doesn’t have to be a huge deal — you can even grow one in a pot.  Start small, keep it simple and fun, and enjoy the fruits of your labor — together.

P.S. Today I came home from a late meeting and my daughter excitedly grabbed me by the hand and said “Mama, you have to come see the strawberries!”  We went out to our handful of scraggly strawberry plants that we share with our next-door neighbors and harvested our first crop. We took that beautiful strawberry (singular), washed it, cut it in half and each took a taste.  It was delicious!

Rainbow In My Tummy is a nutrition-enrichment program created by Verner, Center for Early Learning. Rainbow In My Tummy works with early care and education centers to improve the quality of food served to young children and to cultivate a food culture that establishes a foundation for lifelong health. For more information, contact Rainbow In My Tummy Director Bronwen McCormick at 298-0808 or info@rainbowinmytummy.org

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About Bronwen McCormick
Rainbow In My Tummy® is a nutrition-enrichment program created by Verner, an early care and education center. Rainbow In My Tummy® works with early are and education centers to improve the quality of food served to young children and to cultivate a food culture that establishes a foundation for lifelong health. Bronwen McCormick is the Rainbow In My Tummy® Director. For more information about the program, visit www.vernerearlylearning.org

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