- Grow an organic fruit and veggie garden. Organic food is never treated with toxic pesticides or made from genetically modified organisms. Certain foods have been named “The Dirty Dozen” because of the high risk of toxins from pesticides. Kids can grow organic celery, spinach, bell peppers, potatoes, lettuce, and kale in their veggie garden and can’t wait to taste them. When kids eat a rainbow of veggies, they get all the nutrients they need to build strong minds and bodies.
- Choose fruit first and save sugar for special occasions. Kids can grow organic apples, strawberries, peaches, nectarines, grapes, and blueberries right where they live to avoid the toxic chemicals from the conventionally grown fruit. Eating organic fruit right off the tree makes the perfect snack or dessert that kids love. Fruits are filled with fiber, vitamins, and minerals, with none of the chemical additives, fat, sugar, or salt in processed snack foods.
- Go for Whole Grains. White bread has the bran and germ removed from the grains along with much of the nutrients. Kids can make sandwiches from organic whole wheat bread, rich in fiber and vitamins. Popcorn, a whole grain, is a healthy snack kids love. Organic old fashioned rolled oats take only minutes to cook from scratch to make a yummy oatmeal for breakfast.
- Choose healthy unsaturated fats from organic plant foods, such as avocados, nuts, and seeds, which are good for the heart, blood vessels, and kidneys. Unhealthy saturated fats come from animal products like meat, milk, and butter. Processed foods, fried foods, and margarine contain trans fats which are harmful to the heart’s health.
- Eat plenty of protein rich plants, like quinoa, beans, nuts, seeds, and many vegetables that also supply lots of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. When eating a variety of healthy foods, the amino acids combine to form protein chains in the body to provide plenty of protein.
- Drink filtered water and water infused with fruits instead of soda. Sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks, and fruit drinks cause weight gain and tooth decay. Eating a whole fruit is a better choice than drinking fruit juice because it is packed with fiber. Kids can cut pieces of fruit and add them to a large container of water in the refrigerator for a refreshing drink. Pure water is vital to good health. Kids can carry a thermos of fresh water with them to keep hydrated.
- Read the labels on processed foods to help make healthy choices and learn to cook. Real food is made from ingredients kids can find in nature, like whole grains, beans, nuts, fruits, herbs, and veggies. Avoid packaged, canned, and prepared food and choose fresh organic options as processed foods are filled with chemicals to make them look better and last longer. Kids gain a life long skill when they learn to cook whole, simple foods from scratch.
Microbes are everywhere in the environment, floating in the atmosphere, in the oceans, soil, and in our guts. When leaves fall in the forest, microbes decompose them into soil-building humus to feed the trees. Healthy soil makes healthy plants that produce fruits and veggies to grow healthy kids. Soil microbes purify our groundwater, decompose dead animals and plants, hold the soil in place, and help feed the plants that recycle our air. Organic matter added to the soil feeds and nourishes the worms, bacteria, and microbes, creating drainage and airflow important for healthy plant roots, as well as a balanced ecosystem to improve the environment. Kids can start a compost bin to create premium food for the soil and its microbes. Soil microbes break down the organic compost into useable food and nutrients for the plants and for kids who eat the veggies that grow on the plant.
On the other hand, chemical fertilizers injure the microbial life that sustains this healthy growth of veggies, lessens the nutrients, and drives up the salt index. Instead of using chemical fertilizers, kids can improve the structure of the soil and add billions of beneficial microbial creatures to the soil to invigorate the plants and improve the environment by recycling vegetable kitchen scraps and garden waste in a compost bin.
To keep healthy microbes in the soil, don’t walk on the veggie beds, don’t till the soil, don’t rake the leaves, don’t use chemical fertilizers, and don’t disturb the tree roots. Create pathways of wood chips around the fruit trees and veggie beds. Add compost as a mulch on top of the soil to improve the soil, hold in moisture, regulate the temperature of the soil, and prevent weeds from growing.
Almost all the foods we eat contain living microbes. In the gut, these beneficial microbes keep the small percentage of harmful bacteria in check and activate our immune systems. Soil microbes have been used to make many of our medicines: antibiotic compounds, immune suppressants, and probiotics. Antidepressant microbes in soil bacteria produce serotonin which makes gardening a stress reducer and mood lifter, improving cognitive functions and bringing happiness and healing to kids and gardeners rooting about in the soil.
Kids can make the best use of moisture during times of water shortage by using several different organic solutions. Healthy garden soil itself holds moisture with its organic plants and compost. The organic matter in the soil also attracts earthworms and microorganisms to feed nutrients to the plant and produces humus to hold it in place. Kids need to fill their raised garden beds with rich organic soil from the nursery or local soil company.
Evaporation from above the soil can be reduced by mulching to keep moisture where it is available to the plants. Kids can spread mulch on top of the soil and around their veggie plants, in the form of shredded leaves, compost, or worm castings. Shade cloths and wind breaks also reduce evaporation by blocking the afternoon sun and preventing wind damage, depending on local conditions.
Instead of planting in rows, kids can plant their veggies close together surrounded by soil walls to pool the moisture. This close planting of veggies leaves little room for weeds and maximizes the garden space, and kids can rotate the crops by planting starter veggies when they harvest to keep away pests and diseases. Self watering containers, buried water pots, garden towers, and spiral gardens create microclimates for water saving and abundant harvests in small areas.
Kids can place rain barrels under a rain gutter to collect and channel the rain water to their veggie garden. Runoff can be reduced by using permeable materials for pathways, driveways, and patios, such as gravel, wood chips or pavers that allow the rain to soak into the ground, with runoff channels into planting beds. Kids can install a drip irrigation system with a timer set to water in the mornings to get the right amount of water directly to the roots of the plants at the right time of day. Finally, kids can choose the right vegetable variety to plant for their climate and location at the right time of year for the best water use.
- A healthy diet prevents many diseases. In the 1980’s, Americans started to eat more and more convenient, cheap processed foods, high in fat, sugar, and salt with chemical additives, fillers, and dyes. This American diet caused a dramatic rise in diabetes, cancer, and obesity.
- Heart disease, the number one killer in the United States, can be prevented by eating organic whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Because of processed foods and fast food restaurants, Americans are eating twice as much fats as they ate 50 years ago. Kids can plant an organic fruit and veggie garden to have easy access to fresh, inexpensive food.
- Foods in their original form are the healthiest. Kids can choose their favorite fruits and veggies to grow in their garden and learn to cook from scratch. Kids want to eat what they grow and gain self confidence when they can prepare a dish for their family. Family recipes can bring folks together cooking in the kitchen.
- Being active is good for the whole body. Many kids spend about seven hours a day using electronic devices indoors. Inactivity can weaken the brain and body parts. American Academy of Pediatrics advise limiting kids’ screen time to less than two hours a day. Gardening activities include both aerobic and anaerobic exercise. Kids can have fun adventures and get healthy exercise working in the garden.
- Kids can prevent diseases like colds and flu by washing their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially before eating or preparing food. Contaminated food sickens hundreds of millions of people each year, especially from raw fish, raw meat, and raw eggs. Cleaning kitchen counters, cutting boards, utensils, and hands helps prevent sickness.
- Human made toxins in the environment pollute the air, soil, and water. Pesticides are put on our conventionally grown food and sprayed in our cities. Families can avoid these and other human made chemical poisons by using natural cleaning products, air and water filters, and eating organic food from their garden.
Nature’s master composters, red wriggler worms excrete a highly nitrous fertilizer called castings, the highest quality compost in percentage of nutrients and micro-organisms. Red Wriggler Worm castings enrich the soil by providing the best nutrients for water retention, air flow, and minerals to enrich the garden soil and grow extra healthy organic fruits and veggies. Worm castings are packed with bacteria, enzymes, and minerals that are essential for plant growth and are immediately available to the plant. The humus in the castings extracts toxins and harmful bacteria and fungi from the soil to fight off plant diseases, as well as stimulating plant growth and the development of microorganisms in the soil. Worm castings allow plants to grow while acting as a barrier in the soil to heavy metals and extreme pH levels. This fertilizer increases the ability of the soil to retain water, reduces the acid forming carbon, and increases nitrogen levels without burning the plants. Use it freely to germinate seeds, as a soil conditioner, and as a fertilizer in the garden, for house plants, container plants, raised bed gardens, and for all types of plants and trees.
Gardeners can raise earthworms by building worm boxes or buying an earthworm bin at the local garden center. The bin should have air holes in the lid and holes in the bottom through which water can drain into a tray underneath. Place a bedding of coconut coir in the bin and add organic vegetable kitchen scraps, coffee grinds, egg shells, shredded cardboard and dried leaves. Spray the bedding with water to make it moist. Place the bin in a shady protected spot, like against the house foundation or in the garage. Bury kitchen scraps in the top layer every few days, keeping the bin moist. Do not feed the worms citrus, tomatoes, meat, or herbs. Worm bins smell like rich soil. About six months after starting a new worm bin, gardeners can harvest the compost and place fresh bedding for the earthworms. Check every three months to harvest more castings. Worm castings reinforce the base biology in the soil. Kids can add castings when planting new crops and as a top dressing every 1 – 3 months for “the champagne of soil amendments”.
Local organic open-pollinated seeds are the best option for kids to plant in their raised bed organic veggie garden. Local varieties are the best adapted to the climate, easiest to grow, and produce great harvests. All Good Things Organic Seeds in Ojai, California offer hundreds of vegetable, flower, and herb seeds, including rare and improved heirloom varieties that are certified organic. Co-founder, Quin Shakra, states that their mission is to propagate plant biodiversity by planting many different crops and species of the same crop in their home farm to improve the seeds for growing quality, productive organic crops within an ecological agriculture setting. This process also saves and protects our food seeds from disappearing as our food diversity diminishes. Seed quality is paramount to gardening success; so they work to improve existing open-pollinated and heirloom vegetable varieties for better performance in organic gardens and farms.
Using basic simple tools to harvest their seeds, Quin Shakra and his crew watch the flowers on their vegetable crops transform from buds to blooms to dry seed heads. Some seeds are found inside the fruit, like tomatoes and pumpkins, while other seeds are held in pods, like peas and beans, which can be left on the plant until they begin to brown. Seeds inside of fruit and pods can be dried for a week on seed trays. Seeds are then stored in a cool, dry place with consistent temperature to ensure the longevity of the seeds. Sowing organic crops from seed allows the widest range of varieties possible, including some crops that only grow from seed. Many seeds can be started in seedling trays in a protected area, but some, like root crops, need to be directly seeded into the garden. Using the seed planting instructions on the All Good Organic Seeds packets, such as planting depth and days to germination, organic gardeners can enjoy growing their own veggies and watching the seedlings develop into productive plants. Because the seeds are open-pollinated, gardeners can save their seeds at the the end of harvest to plant again in the spring.
For a fun science experiment, kids can grow a salad in a soda bottle and be amazed that they can grow veggies with so little effort. In the picture above, kids at the community garden planted salad greens in their bottles. Kids can grow leafy salad greens in a small space on a well lit window sill planted in a used plastic soda bottle. Kids and their folks can cut a empty plastic soda bottle halfway down into two pieces. Take a strip of old fabric and tie a knot at one end. Remove the bottle cap and drop the long end through the hole in the top of the bottle with the knot on the inside. Turn the top half of the bottle upside down and place it into the bottom section of the bottle. Mark the spot where the bottle top and wick meet the bottom half of the bottle. Take the bottom half and cut a small 3 sided watering and overflow hole at the spot marked on the side of the bottle. Put the top section back on the bottom half and add rich organic compost, packing it in well around the knotted wick. Kids can add water to the soil until the bottom chamber is full. Add seeds or a starter plant and put in a sunny window. The fabric will then wick moisture up from the chamber below and moisten the growing medium. When the water in the bottom chamber gets low, kids can refill it by adding water through the watering/overflow hole. Kids can harvest the salad greens by cutting the outside leaves and leaving the plant to grow more leaves.