Gardening for Family Health

I admit I have found it a bit of a challenge to sit down and write this week–it’s May 15th!  Here in Colorado, this mystical date is what we call “last average frost”.  In our house, this means turn over the soil in the garden, plant the squash and corn seed, transplant all the tomato, cucumber, eggplant, fennel and jalapeno sprouts we started back in March out to the garden, and put flowers in all the pots out front.  To us, this is the real beginning of summer.
This year is particularly exciting because we are starting to see some of the fruits of previous years’ labors arrive.  Fruit trees we planted 4 years ago are starting to put on their first apples, plums and pears.  Strawberries, raspberries, grapes, rhubarb and asparagus are returning in quantities ample for harvest this year.  And the drip system we laid last year is watering away without much hassle.  It’s still a fair bit of work and time, but we are starting to get into a rhythm.

Gardening has been wonderful for the health of my family.  There are the obvious reasons:  the produce is fresh and seasonal.  We know exactly what went into growing these plants, including the compost from our backyard tumbler.  There are no yucky chemicals to worry about washing off the food.  Also, the kids are so much more enthusiastic to eat something they planted themselves; tonight my kids wolfed down a bowlful of radishes they picked, which is not your usual 2 and 3-year old fare!

There are more subtle reasons the garden is good for our family health as well.  It is an ongoing project we all get to do together.  We all have our own gardening bag with gloves and tools, so going out there is shared quality time.  We all get to learn together about how our backyard ecosystem works:  butterflies and bees are pollinators, spiders and ladybugs eat aphids, and worms aerate and feed our soil.  It gives us a better understanding of where our food comes from and what is available in each season of the year.

In my view, the most important health benefit of gardening with the family is it helps teach lifelong health habits.  We learn the process of growing food from seed to seedling to plant to fruit to the kitchen.  This gives us an innate understanding of the true blessing it is when we sit down with good food to eat.  As parents, we do all we can to feed our families well to keep them healthy, and this is so valuable.  But when we garden with our children, it helps them learn to tend the earth and tend themselves with care for a lifetime.  So find a windowsill, a pot or a plot, get out there and enjoy!

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