My children know that fish have heads and that their cereal was once alive. A strange thing to boast about, I admit, but one which makes me weirdly proud of my parenting skills.
You see, I grew up in a small-ish town in Canada, first in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and later in the vast open prairies of Manitoba. A place where food didn’t magically appear out of nowhere in uniform sizes and colours, conveniently packaged. Far from that – food was an integral and beautiful part of our little world, something living, something to be savoured, experienced.
Summers meant hours sitting in perfect silence in a homemade rowboat in the lake catching trout, grimacing as we gutted the fish right there on the boat, and diving into the lake afterwards to cool off. It meant hours in the blistering heat picking what felt like millions of blueberries – enough to keep us in pies for months.
At my Uncle’s place it meant being subjected to endless stories about Prairie Oysters (bull’s bits), and getting up early to feed the animals and check the cattle ranch while being pursued by a hilariously overzealous trouser-eating goat named Biscuit.
In the evenings we would lay on our backs in a field with our bikes thrown down next to us, breathing in that subtle-sweet smell of barley or wheat while we picked out constellations. Stuck in the back of our big old Ford on a day out, we would cheer when we spotted purplish-blue lakes of flax and luminous fields of yellow rapeseed positively glowing in the sun.
Even in the “big city” life was what we now think of as a bit twee – Grandpa Bill’s garden had row upon row of vegetables, and my job before dinner was to go and pick what we needed for Sunday dinner. In fact, I still remember feeling incredibly naughty hiding in the garden cracking open pea pods and eating way more than I ever added to the basket I was meant to be filling. My Grandpa’s indulgent smile as he gave me a bowl of sugar (it was the 70s!) to take to the garden to enjoy that wonderful zing of fresh rhubarb there on the spot.
In comparison, my London-born children are depressingly sheltered – sure, we grow a few herbs on the patio, but other than that I know that if I don’t make the effort my kids will never truly have a real connection to their food, or get that they’re a tiny but hugely impactful part of an unbelievably complex ecological system.
In our neighbourhood we still find shops selling plastic-wrapped bananas and uniformly sized chickens, so it’s a bit of an uphill battle… but at 6 and 7 my kids are pretty clued up about where food comes from. You’ll often overhear them giggling about the secret past lives of corn flakes, how they used to be alive “FOR REAL LIFE!!”, sneakily stealing energy straight from the sunshine.
So perhaps I’ve got a few things right along the way. With that in mind, I thought I would share with you my top tips for helping your kids understand where food comes from too.
Check out some bugs
At its core, sustainable agriculture and sustainable farming mean food* production with ecology in mind. There are some rather marvellous ecology centres and wetland centres dotted around the UK, and while the kids think they are looking at cool bugs they are actually sneakily being taught about the delicate balance between living things and their environments, about preventing soil erosion, replenishing nutrients, and so on – all the things that make for good sustainable farming.
*okay, I know it’s not just about food, and that this is a pretty simplistic summary.
Try education by stealth
My children seem to think watching videos on the iPad is the best thing since sliced bread (no cereal pun intended), but I try to keep it vaguely wholesome or educational whenever possible.
An obvious choice for learning about food is cBeebies’ Mr Bloom’s Nursery, but you can’t get better than this marvellous episode of The Muppet Show, featuring John Denver (complete with slacks and gigantic round glasses) singing his version of The Garden Song, or “Inch by Inch, Row by Row” with Muppet vegetables.
Eat ice cream and hang out with ranchers
There is nothing better than getting first-hand experience of a real working farm, and there are some absolutely incredible ones for families. Our favourites are
- Hesketh Farm Park in Yorkshire, a well-designed family friendly working farm with massive indoor and outdoor play areas. At nearby Calm Slate Farm you can eat fresh Yorkshire Dales Ice Cream right there at their dairy farm.
- Hackney City Farm, a seriously cool farm in the gritty East End of London where children can take part in food growing workshops or volunteer at the farm (from age 8). On site is the rather fabulous Frizzante café, with locally produced, seasonal food.
- … and if you’re over on that side of the pond, Rankin Ranch in Caliente, near Los Angeles, California. This is one of my favourite places to stay on holiday, this is a family friendly cattle rance where kids can help out with the animals and learn to ride with real cowboys. What really stayed with me, though, was being able to hang out and shoot the breeze with sixth-generation ranchers and farmers, and with kids whose knowledge of sustainable farming, ecology and even world economics would blow a professor’s out of the water.
Grow your own food from kitchen scraps
Growing your own food is actually pretty fun, and there are plenty of things you can grow without a visit to the garden centre. We love these ideas for growing celery, ginger and potatoes from kitchen scraps. http://www.diyncrafts.com/4732/repurpose/25-foods-can-re-grow-kitchen-scraps
Choose sustainably grown food… and talk about it over breakfast!
Choosing sustainable food doesn’t need to mean spending hours every Sunday in an allotment or going broke at a posh farmers market.
You’ll be surprised to know that some of the best known food brands are committed to sustainable agriculture – not just a nod to responsibly sourced palm oil, but all the other elements of sustainability and social responsibility too. In fact for years now, Kellogg’s have been among the top 50 Best Global Green Brands (Interbrand) and have won countless awards for corporate social responsibility, ethics, and workplace diversity.
Anyone with a 6-going-on-16 year old will agree that this sort of conversation actually gets the kids pretty excited – really.
Have you got other tips to share? Before you nip off, check out these little farmers!
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Disclosure: Compensation was provided by Kellogg’s via Glam Media. The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and are not indicative of the opinions or positions of Kellogg’s.