Beth Knorr, Farmers’ Market Manager
Many people believe that engaging youth with agriculture is a critical step in revitalizing our nation’s relationship with our farmers. Too many children, it is claimed, are unaware of where food comes from or what it takes to get dinner on our plates. I have, in fact, heard from kids that we don’t need farmers anymore because food comes from grocery stores, and that eggs do not come from a chicken’s derriere. While from those statements it is clear we need to improve our biology classes, it also feels like we are faced with an insurmountable task. However, there are many things we can do to counteract this trend.
Introducing kids to farmers by visiting farmers’ markets or joining a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program is a great first step. By supporting an individual farm through a CSA share your kids can meet and talk with the farmer, see what they do throughout the season, and learn how the various seasons affect what crops are available. Having co-managed a CSA with my husband for many years, it was always wonderful to hear the pride of “ownership” kids had after being with us for even one season. Parents regularly commented on how excited their kids were to be eating sweet corn from ‘their farm,’ or how much the kids enjoyed being able to pick cherry tomatoes and peas. Farmers’ markets, too, offer opportunities for youth to interact with a range of farmers raising different products. Seasonality is also evident here, and over the past four years it has been fun to watch families develop relationships with various farms at our markets.
There are several camps available each year that encourage kids to get their hands dirty and learn first-hand how to grow some of their own food. Organizations such as Conservancy for the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and Crown Point Ecology Center host summer camps for kids that get them out into the garden or on the farm and learning how it works.
If summer camps don’t work for your family, growing your own in your back yard, on your balcony in pots, or joining a community garden are also superior ways to educate your kids about agriculture. Letting them choose the seeds and plant them in their own gardens – even if they don’t work out – is a learning experience they aren’t likely to forget.
If your kids are a bit older, why not upgrade the lemonade stand idea to a fruit, veggie or egg stand? A great example of this comes from Michigan, where a 14 year old girl began a CSA in her back yard. Who knows, in addition to encouraging an appreciation for our farmers, you may just be cultivating an entrepreneur, too!