The other week, a colleague of mine and I began a youth program called Junior Master Gardener – Learn, Grow, Eat & Go! It's a curriculum that was developed by Texas A&M to help youth learn about gardening, plants, healthy eating, and getting up and moving. One of the great things about the curriculum is it incorporates taste testing each week of a different vegetable. Some weeks it might be something the youth are familiar with others they may not have ever heard of before – week one is carrots, another week is bok choy. Then there is a corresponding recipe that utilizes that same vegetable that is also provided as a sample to youth.
What I love about the curriculum is that it encourages youth to try new things, healthy vegetables that can easily be incorporated into their diet. Youth are encouraged to try the samples and recipes, they don't have to like them, but we discuss what they thought about the vegetable on its own and then the recipe that used that vegetable. They aren't allowed to use words such as eew, yuck, ick or similar, but use words that really describe what they thought. It's a great way to work on observation skills and sharing their thoughts using descriptive words.
I think that it's important to introduce gardening and healthy eating to youth when they are young in the hopes that these are skills and a knowledge base that they can carry with them as they grow into adults. There are plenty of easy ways to get children involved in gardening and growing their own vegetables even if you have limited space. Container gardening is an easy way to allow kids to grow their own vegetables without being overwhelmed by the maintenance that is required of an in-ground garden.
Not only does growing your own vegetables increase the chance that you will use those vegetables in the kitchen and help promote healthy eating habits, gardening itself is a healthy endeavor for both youth and adults. Last year in June I wrote an article on the health benefits of gardening and according to the CDC, 2.5 hours a week in the garden is considered moderate physical exercise, how wonderful is that news for those who love to be outdoors and spend time in the garden! Of course that is directly related to having a garden planted in the ground where activities such as weeding are needed on a regular basis.
The morale of the story is try new things, get up and get moving, and work towards incorporating more vegetables in your diet and in your kitchen. Find ways to get youth involved in plants and the outdoors and have fun in the garden.
To help encourage you to get gardening here are some vegetable crops that you can be planting right now – Snap Beans, Sweet Corn, Summer Squash, and Tomatoes. If we happen to get a late frost have some old sheets or floating row cover to protect them from frost.