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Sharing a meal is a social experience but my husband and I want more for our children. We don’t collapse the experience of food to only the eating; we extend it to the growing, shopping and preparing. In older societies, when we were not so removed from the sources of our food we planted, raised and harvested our food in community. We want that holistic experience of food for our children. We don’t have to live on a farm to do it; our children plants seeds, raise a few vegetables, shop at the farmers’ market and prepare their meals with me. The results have been satisfying; they have become accomplished cooks, adventurous eaters and old hands at selecting the best produce but more than that they are creating and cultivating bonds with each other and the earth we share.
I take a few of the children with me shopping every time I go. We are blessed to have a fantastic year round indoor farmers’ market and a trip with Mom and Dad to the market is a coveted affair. The kids get to sample the foods and look at the pottery and the chicken coops as well as watch the local dairymen distribute shares of milk. We wander through all the hand mixed spice and herb blends, the breads, the cheeses and the produce. Our favorite source of meat is always there with her children and my kids know that stopping at her stand means the best bacon possible will be on the menu. Our kids look at selecting food as a privilege and they bring a sense of pride over their choices to the table and the other kids get a healthy serving of positive social pressure. It is pretty hard to turn down a serving of pickled beets with cinnamon if your brother who made them is staring you down.
But visiting the farmers’ market is only part of deepening the appreciation of the food that they eat. We also encourage the children to flip through seed catalogues and look for their old favorites and new things to try. Each of the children gets to choose at least two packets of their own and they start their seeds themselves and having ten children means we end up with an impressive variety. Watching their seeds grow inspires them to take care of the tender seedlings and enjoy the fruits of their labors later. Sometimes, they enjoy the fruits a bit too much. Last summer, we waited for our lovely pea plants to fruit and despite beautiful foliage we never saw any.
Then one day I was preparing dinner and I looked out the window to see the youngest three children huddled over the plants and picking through to eat all the young snap pea pods. As each little pod appeared, so did a child. We ended up just watching them eat all the snap peas and never asked them to stop; not that evening and not that summer. They started the seeds, planted and watered them and enjoyed the peas in a perfect loop of gardener happiness.
Despite the fact that they tend to wander through the yard eating peas and grapes, we do ask them to sit down for meals. The last step in cultivating a sense of appreciation of food is to teach them to prepare it. Children as young as two and three can wash produce in a sink, and a four year old can tear lettuce. I have let my children run the food processor with me starting at about five. Every meal I choose a sous chef who follows me around and learns the skills needed in preparing that meal. They often get to choose what we are eating. By keeping them with me every step of the way, I gain valuable help in the kitchen and the children develop real skills. My seven year old can make assemble a salad and my nine year old can follow a recipe to mix a dressing. My twelve year old daughter can make creamed kale and the thirteen year old can make lacto-fermented pickles by himself. One of my proudest accomplishments as a mother is that my eighteen year old can butterfly and roast a chicken with potatoes, carrots and onions and then carve and serve it.
My husband’s father’s family emigrated from Finland to the United States to start a small dairy farm and apple orchard. His connection to the earth gives him a sense of purpose and identity and he did not want his children to lose that connection. To be alienated from the earth is to be alienated from yourself, your people and your place in the world. My husband no longer lives on the farm where his father and grandfather dipped their hands in the soil and brought out food for their families and other’s but he craves that connection to that soil and those people. He finds it in the soil here at our home and the connection with his own children.
Our own children might not realize how they will find this connection with their father, his father, and his own father every time they dip their hands in the soil. But we do not produce all the food that we eat and the smiling face of the woman we buy bacon from introduces us to another connection to the same soil if not the same place in the soil. The jovial man we buy our milk from farms with his own family in tow and buys his silage from other neighbors who do the same. Each time the children ask for bacon or milk it brings connections to other places in the soil of the earth. They ask for more than food, and they receive more than food in return. When I nourish my children with food, I feed more than their bodies. Someday they will know just how much we gave them.
Melissa Ramirez Naasko is a wife and mother to ten home schooled children. She has five boys and five girls and the same twenty-four hours in a day that you do. She is Mexican-American and married to a Finnish-American man and they raise their “Mexi-Finns” in Colorado, where she cooks and blogs about nourishing food. You can read her Dyno-mom blog or follow her on Twitter @DynomomBlog or Facebook but take what she says with a grain of sea salt.
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