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Get Out and Grow!

Creating a Family Garden – Education and fun in the great outdoors

gardeningHow many times have you begged your kids to go outside and play, only to have them whine, “But, Moooomm, there’s nothing to do…” With Xbox, Wii, and iPods, we can’t deny that our kids are living in a mind-numbing world of digital sensory overload. Are you looking for a way  to unplug them from their Zombie status? Why not suggest that everyone go outside and grow something? Tell them they can get their hands “really dirty,” and they just might buy into the idea!

Countless studies show that kids who participate in growing plants have a greater appreciation for the food we eat, the flowers we love, and their role as caretakers of our planet. Local mom and garden enthusiast, Emily Johnson-Tuitt, likes the impact that gardening has had on her daughter. “I think it has expanded her palate. She absolutely loves to pick a tomato off the vine and eat it like an apple. Not to mention, she doesn’t put up a fuss when trying new foods,” says Truitt.

So where do you begin? One of the best ways to help ensure a successful gardening experience for both you and your child is to seek inspiration. Central Florida is loaded with farms you can visit to pick and eat fresh-from-the-earth strawberries, blueberries, and broccoli. With a little Internet research, you can find sites such as www.pickyourown.com, that provide comprehensive listings for local u-pick farms, including directions, hours, and services offered. Many not only provide the opportunity to have some hands-on gardening experiences, but may also have their own unique activities or merchandise. There are several in Lake County, for example, that sell fresh produce, pies, preserves, soaps, plants, and even have picnic areas and seasonal hayrides. Fun and educational…Who’d have thought the two concepts could be found in the great outdoors?

Locally and nationally recognized gardening guru, Robert Vincent Sims (AKA the Garden Rebel) is passionate about involving kids as much as possible. “It’s important to start out small and give them a bit of ground to call their own.” He adds that working the soil is a good teaching tool and that kids need to see how their food is grown. “It shows them that veggies don’t just come in a metal can. Not to mention, in this age of all things green, it’s important to show them how to grow things organically.”

In addition to the food and flowers that plants produce, there can also be a few unexpected benefits. Imagine the fun of planting an entire garden just to attract butterflies, or the cool factor of watching a giant sunflower bloom. Try experimenting with fragrance by planting things like gardenias and jasmine. One expert recommends planting flowers that bloom at night for a fun after-dark family adventure. Create your own theme, discover the unique attributes of each plant, and explore unlimited possibilities of the world of plants beyond simply flowers and food.

As every parent knows, the real challenge is to keep the kids involved on a daily basis in their personal garden’s care and maintenance. The last thing a busy mom and dad need  is another thing to take care of, so teaching your young gardener to tend his/her garden regularly is an important part of the process. That being said, gardening need not be a chore. Be mindful of your children’s limitations. Work side-by-side, and let them get some dirt under their nails. Garden Rebel Sims says he tapped his kids’ curiosity when it came to getting down and dirty.  “We always referred to the trees in our yard as ‘our trees’. We would take the kids with us to pick fruit and it always sparked questions about things like bugs and leaves. The more we included them, the more they wanted to learn.”

“As a mom, there is a sense of fulfillment when passing along a love of the outdoors and gardening,” says Tuitt, who describes what it means to share a love of gardening with her daughter. “This experience has established a special bond between us. I hope she will pass this along to her own children someday.”

There is no guarantee that your children will turn off their gaming devices and develop a lifelong wonder for growing things. However, you just might create some really good memories and generate a lasting awareness of the food we eat and the plants that delight our senses.

For more information about growing a garden with your kids, the National Gardening Association has developed a terrific website, www.kidsgardening.org,   loaded with ideas and tips to get you started.  Also, check out the Garden Rebel’s site, www.gardenrebel.com for a list of plants that do well in our area.

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