When I grew up my grandparents, aunts and uncles lived on a dairy farm not far (5 hour drive) from where we grew up. As a result we would spend stretches of our summer holidays, and Christmas at ‘The Farm’ visiting with family and assuming some measure of chores. There was never any question of where fruits and vegetables came from, how and when to harvest them or how to prepare them. Similarly we would help to prepare chickens after they were killed, we knew that pork came from the pigs, and milk and beef from the cows in the barn.
An exchange I had with a friend recently reminded me that not everyone had this exposure as a child. My friend asked me where peanut trees grew. Weird.
That was when I decided that despite living in a reasonably large city, and in an apartment we had to make sure our little one knew where his food came from, how to grow his own and how much better fresh is vs shipped.
To kick this off we’ve done the following this year (remember, our son isn’t quite 2 yet):
1. Regularly visit a local hobby farm. While butchering the animals isn’t part of the program, he gets to see and interact directly with a large number of animals, many species of which might find their way to a table one day. We explain to him that you eat cow, pig, goat etc and when we do eat meat, we link it back to the animal so he can build the association.
2. Plant vegetables on our balcony. We’ve got a few different types of vegetables on our balconies, though this year’s weather is not cooperating nearly as well as last. We’ve got carrots as an example of a root vegetable that grows in the ground, lettuce so we can harvest and bring it to the table often. We’ve got tomatillos, peppers and gooseberries as examples of fruits and vegetables that grow above ground. Finally we’re trying cantaloupe (yes, I know its a long shot). While the plants are off to a slow and late start I’m hopefull that this will work.
3. We’re planning trips to local vegetable farms, either pick-your-own or farms associated with farmers markets so he can see the scale and variety available.
I’m sure it will be a while before he really appreciates what he’s seeing… but maybe that’s the point. I would consider it a win if he grows up unsurprised when he sees plants growing across acres of field, or is surprised by a question from a friend who clearly lacks awareness of where their food comes from.