Let’s play a guessing game. This Saturday, while I was volunteering at the Kilbourn Park Organic Greenhouse, someone asked me where the basil in his salad was grown. How old do you think he was? Thirty-five? Lower. Twenty-two? Guess again. The person so interested in the source of the flavorful herb was a seven-year-old boy! He was participating in the Greenhouse’s “Garden Buddies” summer family event funded by the Chicago Park District, a day to “celebrate the season” and learn about food and agriculture through hands-on projects. At first I was surprised by the boy’s intuition, since it seemed so mature for such a young’un to question the origins of his food. But then I realized how much sense it makes for a kid – so full of curiosity and inquisitiveness – to wonder where his or food was grown.
My little basil connoisseur was just one of many curious kids to wander up to the Purple Asparagus booth, where kids were given slices of tomato, peach, and cucumber to chop (with a kid-friendly knife, of course) and toss with some olive oil and fig vinegar for a homemade farmer’s market salad. What a delight it was to watch them involve themselves in food! Their level of attentiveness, combined with the dedication of Purple Asparagus to nurture their interest, gave me hope for the future of food. I discovered that the very best way to change the way our society consumes food is by raising our kids to care about what they put in their bellies. And Purple Asparagus, whose mission is to “change the way our children eat” in order to bring kids and families closer to good health, is just one of the organizations committed to this notion. They travel to public elementary schools around Chicago, performing interactive lessons with students to show them the importance of wholesome food first-hand.
So yesterday I went home and did some hunting in the good ol’ internet garden for other kid-focussed groups like Purple Asparagus. Surprisingly, initiatives with similar missions are not nearly as uncommon as that Barney-colored variety of asparagus, especially with Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative putting national emphasis on healthy eating, and adding fuel to our country’s interest in helping kids eat better. So in addition to the Kilbourn Organic Greenhouse (whose programming is largely aimed at educating kids and providing them with close-to-the-ground food), I found bundles of other groups in Chicago alone. The Kids’ Table is “a place where parents and kids come to cook and learn how easy it can be to eat well at every age,” and Chicago Lights Urban Farm in the Cabrini-Green neighborhood hosts a 10-week summer camp for kids to learn about agriculture, science, and the environment. Georgia, a six-year volunteer at the Greenhouse, said it perfectly: “There’s no question that there’s an overwhelming need for [initiatives like] this right now.” With these resources at our fingertips catering to that need, I think there’s real hope in transforming children’s innate spirit of inquiry into knowledge, and hopefully a real change in habits.
Although the basil-boy’s question was probably not indicative of an epic quest for knowledge about our society’s food system, I know one day he’ll learn that with knowledge comes a difference – both in taste and in health. But for now I’m satisfied with the curiosity level of the kids I taught at the Greenhouse. I know that their genuine interest in food, if nurtured by those around them, will bring them the knowledge it takes to nourish themselves thoughtfully. Maybe if we take a lesson from the younger ones in the family for a change, we’ll start asking more questions about our food as well.
Cheers to kids and to keeping up the curiosity!
P.S. This post is part of a series of articles based on kids’ involvement in growing food. Stay tuned!
P.P.S. Chocolate photoshoot was postponed, but don’t worry I haven’t forgotten!