- By Deborah Godfrey
I’ve been a gardener for as long as I can remember. My dad always had a plot wherever we lived in Camarillo. The height of my learning was when I was 10 and we moved to an acre in Santa Rosa Valley. My dad bought a rototiller and a good 1/8 acre of our land was tilled, plotted, planted, nurtured and picked by the two of us. Twenty years later, and gardening is still a family value for me, something I treasure and enjoy. AND, I still have the old Troy-Bilt rototiller from 1975!Gardening with children is a great way to teach about life. As I began to write this article, I asked my then-12 year old daughter, Briana, what she has learned from our family gardening. She said, “Cooperation, teamwork, being responsible, that we don’t have to eat poisoned food (we are organic) and about taking care of the earth through composting and recycling.” WOW! Quite a list, I am impressed. I would also add sanity, prosperity and understanding the cycles of life and death. Here is how we all have learned these basic values through gardening together:

Cooperation & Teamwork – Children have a natural ability to work as team. Siblings in particular, do not need to be taught this; we need only allow it to occur. Provide a fun and purposeful environment and watch them work together! I do the tilling, and show the kids how much space they have. They then sit down and figure out what they want to plant and where. I have them write things down, make lists and draw pictures of how it will look. We take a trip to Green Thumb and they buy what they need. Back in the garden, I help them plant and everyone feels proud of hard work accomplished.

Responsibility – Once the garden is planted, it must be cared for, weeded, fed and watered. The more involved the children are in the set up process, the more pride of ownership they have in their work. This inspires them to be responsible in caring for the plants.

Healthy Living & Environmentally Concerned – Now, more than ever, our children are exposed to the controversy over environmental hazards such as the use of pesticides. Organic gardening allows children to see the benefits, as well as the drawbacks of gardening without chemicals. On the one hand, we know our veggies are safe and will not poison our bodies. On the other hand, we sometimes get “little friends” that we hadn’t expected in our artichokes! Maintaining a pest free garden without chemicals is a tough job. Fortunately, the kids, and especially my son, are more than willing to help me pick the creepy crawlies off the plants when necessary. The kids also planted Marigolds around parts of our garden when they learned in school they help deter some pests.

Do you fight with kids to get them to eat their greens? No problem here, the kids stuff themselves on peas and beans, fresh and raw from the garden! They love fresh carrots (forget it if I buy them!), melons, corn and strawberries.

When Michelle was 15 months old, she picked a tomato and ate it like an apple! It just seems to taste better when you have grown it yourself.

Sanity – Mostly mine! I have found gardening to be a great way to take a time out when our family is stressing. It is also a great way to redirect some of that boundless energy with the children that tends to get out of control if contained in the house.

Prosperity – Last summer, my children decided at a family meeting that they wanted to have “Chuckie Cheese Night” once a week. I told them that was a great idea and that they needed to figure out a way to create the money as I was not willing to fund it at 100%. So they came up with the idea of selling vegetables from the garden. A wooden stand was constructed by my significant other, Chris. He is always a supporter of the children’s creative ideas. The kids painted it with vegetable pictures and a large “Garden Goods for Sale” sign. They set up shop and are they prosperous! One afternoon, they made $22 in 2 hours, mostly from artichokes! From this experience, they have learned they can create the money to get what they want in life. Instead of telling them, “I can’t afford it” when they ask for something, I say, “How many vegetables could you sell to create the money for that?”

Cycles of Life and Growth – Watching a garden grow with children is a unique experience in observing the way life works. By taking the opportunity to use analogy and metaphor through the crops growing in the garden, the children and I have had conversations about birth, growth, and death. We plant, care for and harvest our vegetables and then pull up the plants and take them to the compost pile. When we lose a pet, we return it to the earth in the garden with a little ceremony, celebrating their brief time in our lives. The children see how all life is a cycle of growing, usefulness and return to mother earth.

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