Teaching children the origins of food

It sometimes might not look or feel like it, but summer is in full swing here in the UK, as are the school holidays. It’s the perfect time to spend your free hours outdoors with the kids, (when the weather permits!) so, why not use this opportunity to teach them all about the origins of food?

It’s essential that our children value the importance of knowing about what we’re eating, where it comes from and the benefits of organically grown produce, as well as acquiring it locally or growing it themselves.

Veerle Evens shares a few tips on the best ways to introduce your children to the joys of growing your own, buying locally and learning about food in the most fulfilling way…

Buying Local
I can remember when I was six or seven, one of my primary school classmates was convinced chocolate milk came from brown cows.  Many kids today are growing up in cities and larger towns, where we do all our shopping in large commercial supermarkets. It’s very convenient, but it also means the younger generation aren’t discovering the origins of our food - picking strawberries, visiting the local farmer to pick up eggs and veggies, hearing the chickens in their coop and smelling the cows.

When I was growing up, I loved joining Mum’s weekly trip to the local farm shop. It was always a surprise to see what was available, depending on the season and how the weather / harvest had been. No strawberries in January here! It made me realise how hard the farmers work to put food on our plates, and that they deserve our local support. It’s so unnecessary for our food to travel thousands of miles before reaching our plates, adding to pollution and damaging of our environment. In order to cut that out, we need to accept that we can’t have every product we wish, on demand, all of the time.

Being close to the source makes this so much easier. Seeing the excitement of the local farmer about his new harvest makes you want to taste it! Of course, you may be thinking, 'I live in a city, visiting a farmer is not an option', but in fact, there are many great local farmers markets on every week all over the country, in cities, towns and villages. To find your local farmers market or farm shop, check out: www.farma.org.uk

If you are in the capital, here are a few of my regular haunts in the North / North East part of the city:
Alexandra Palace Farmers Market (every Sunday, 10 AM – 3 PM)
Parliament Hill Farmers Market (every Saturday, 10 AM – 2PM)
Broadway Market (every Saturday 9 AM – 5 PM)
Find more on the London Farmers Markets website.


Nurture & Harvest: Easy plants to grow
If you’re lucky enough to have an outdoor space that can be used for growing plants (or even just a balcony), there are many vegetables and herbs that are easy to grow and maintain, and that the children can help you out with planting and nurturing. Your meals will taste even better after you’ve just been out to your growing space to gather the ingredients and the kids will be more likely to eat them as they’ve had a role in their growth. Plus, as you only pick what you need, there’s no waste (of food and money). Herbs are a great starting point for kids - bay, thyme, rosemary and mint are very hardy, and don’t need much attention. Just make sure you plant your mint in a separate pot away from others, as its roots take over the entire pot and will kill other plants!

Moving on to vegetables, an easy growing plant is chillies. Buy an organic chilli from a market or store, and keep some seeds to plant. Once they sprout and have grown a bit, they only like being watered every so often, so easy for kids to care for. You can let the soil dry out, and they love it. Just put them in a nice sunny spot in the windowsill or outside. Other easy growing vegetables are lettuce, salad leaves, potatoes, tomatoes, beans and peas.

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How to: Learn it local
Another fun way to combine learning about produce and spending time outdoors is to visit a pick your own farm, or join a local community garden or city farm that offers volunteering or educational programs. There are many community gardens around the country, where you can learn actively about growing your own vegetables, fruits and herbs. Most of them don’t have a minimum age, so the whole family can get involved with growing your own food.

For community gardens and farm gardens in and around London view this map of the city.

If you have caught the growing / gardening bug, The Royal Horticultural Society hosts the RHS Harvest Festival Show in London on the 3rd & 4th October 2017, with lots of information on growing, harvesting, using garden produce, competitions and tastings! More details here

Veerle has been working with stylist Lauren Becker on a project visiting community gardens around London, photographing the beautiful produce that grows there, then cooking up a dish from the harvested produce. They recently visited the Urban Growth project in Camden and cooked up a delicious recipe with fresh courgettes and nettles, which you will find in the first edition of Seek Inspire Create by 91 Magazine - our new free quarterly e-zine which is out very soon! To receive the e-zine, simply register your email here.