The Polish people still live close to the land, growing their own food, foraging for mushrooms, and baking bread as part of their heritage. Seasonal recipes have been passed down as culinary heirlooms in an area that has been constantly invaded and ruled by different cultures. Poland was wiped off the map for 119 years and only lived on in the hearts of its inhabitants. Food became a symbol of their national identity. Beets, both tops and roots, are a favorite vegetable for pickles, salads, stews, and their famous borscht soups. When I was first married, a Polish grandma saw me looking at the beets in a grocery store in Los Angeles and she told me her secret recipe for borscht, which I have been enjoying ever since as in the picture above. Marjoram is a favorite herb. Pickles, sauerkraut, mushrooms, yogurt, and sourdough breads are often included in a Polish meal eaten between 3 and 4 pm. Pierogi, irresistible Polish dumplings stuffed with onions and potatoes, have been a staple in eastern Europe for hundreds of years. The Polish cuisine endures as a small stubborn act of defiance in the face of ever changing borders.
During the short winter days, kids need food to lift their spirit. Everyone knows that eating fresh organic fruits and vegetables is the number one habit for healthy living. They are also the foods that most lift our spirits. However, healthy organic foods tend to be more expensive and people have found it is easier and more convenient to consume prepared processed foods. Studies have shown that trans fats, which are vegetable oils that have been transformed into solid fats, increase the risk of depression, cancer, and cardiovascular system problems. Trans fats are found in a vast array of processed foods, baked goods, French fries, candy, crackers, fried foods, and at fast food establishments, as they tend to have a longer shelf life and greater flavor stability. Fresh picked organic fruit and veggies are sweet and flavorful as well as an incredibly rich source of vitamins and minerals, dietary fiber, flavonoids, plant sterols, and antioxidants, making kids healthier and happier. Local organic foods, that have been harvested early in the day before coming to the Farmers Market, look and taste better, and are able to retain more nutrients than foods that have traveled half way around the world and take four to seven days to reach the supermarket shelves. Growing organic food in a school garden, backyard, or community garden, makes it convenient and economical to eat much more in season fruits, berries, and veggies. Researchers have told us over and over again that half of a typical meal should consist of fresh fruits and veggies, but most kids and adults don’t eat anywhere near that amount. Kids eat what they grow. Pointing kids to the joys of growing and cooking their own food instills positive eating habits, leadership skills, and better attitudes. Cooking and eating is about enjoying and taking time to eat healthy food and socialize around the family table. Local organic food lifts the spirit, with a variety of fresh, diverse ingredients, delicious flavors and delightful aromas that balances bodily systems and supports mental performance.
A food desert is an area that doesn’t have large grocery stores selling a variety of healthy foods. Instead, food desert areas have convenience stores and fast food places that sell foods high in empty calories and fat. With an abundant variety of available grants, people are turning empty lots into school and community gardens to grow organic fruits and veggies in food desert areas, an economical way to get the highest quality food. Growing food in a school or community garden, kids can put food on the table, improve their health, improve their environment and boost morale. Community gardening improves the quality of life, producing delicious organic food, regular exercise, and neighborly good will. Garden projects in outdoor class rooms help kids to learn where their food comes from and to develop healthy eating habits, especially when the fresh produce is used in cooking classes and school lunches. Outdoor classrooms at schools bring food studies into the curriculum and offer opportunities to taste, touch, and ingest lessons in virtually every academic subject on every grade level. A garden with cold frames and cloches can give kids a varied and changing diet with access to different antioxidants, vitamins, and nutrients throughout the year. Rejuvenating an empty lot in a food desert area into a lush edible garden inspires the neighborhood to plant containers of flowers on fire escapes and herbs in window boxes giving the whole area new life.
Fall leaves are everywhere and are terrific for mulching in any state of decomposition as they contain nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium to feed the soil. Kids can mow the leaves and use the chopped leaves for mulch, as wet matted leaves don’t allow water to reach the soil until they decompose. Applying mulch in the fall to an organic veggie garden helps to keep down the weeds, to keep moisture in the soil, to feed the soil, and to keep soil temperatures even. Plants in mulched soil will grow deeply and find their own water, creating strong roots that grow larger harvests. Because mulch absorbs the impact of falling rain, soil erosion is controlled by slowing the flow of rainwater and wind speed during a storm and encouraging the water to percolate into the soil.
Organic mulches, like leaves, straw, pine leaves, sawdust, and bark chips, are pleasing to the eye and good for the soil. Natural mulches enhance soil structure and keep earthworms and microorganisms in the garden happy breaking down the organic material and creating pathways in the soil for water and air. As the mulch decomposes with the help of these soil organisms, it enriches the soil providing nutrients for the plant roots. Mulch keeps the soil temperature warmer at night and cooler during the day, as the blanket of mulch keeps the soil from drying out too quickly. Kids use less water for their garden as mulching keeps the water from evaporating in the sunshine.
Gardeners can spread mulch on the pathways as an attractive landscaping feature to prevent weeds from growing, to help keep low hanging veggies and fruit clean, and to make a mud free path to tend to the garden. Kids can also plant ground covering herbs for a living mulch, like clover around tomatoes, which enriches the soil and attracts beneficial bugs.
In the fall, kids can cultivate the ground, removing any weeds and adding compost, before adding a layer of mulch. Kids can spread 2 inches of decaying chopped leaves on their organic veggie garden and top with 1 inch of an attractive shredded bark mulch. Mulching keeps the soil moist and prolongs the growing season of cool weather veggies, producing the most abundant healthy organic fruits and vegetables.
Kids can visit the Farmers Market once a week for fully ripe produce picked at the peak of perfection and a diversity that is constantly changing with the seasons. This variety of produce ignites creativity in the kitchen and provides a healthy nutrient balance. The closer a food is to having been harvested the more powerful its content of textures and nutrients, making it more delicious and more effective in combating disease and improving the health and wellbeing of the family. The taste difference between a fresh picked organic peach and its canned, jarred, packaged, or conventionally grown with poisons equivalent is two different things entirely, one filled with life and one not so much. Food is medicine. Eating fresh, local, seasonal, organic fruits and veggies saves time and money at the doctors office and on prescriptions. Eating food that grows where we live also helps with our allergies and immunities. Just picked local seasonal organic ingredients have surprisingly complex flavors and taste amazing using simple recipes, like roasting veggies with a sprinkle of organic extra virgin olive oil and sea salt in the oven.
Kids love to visit the Farmer’s Market, tasting the local organic fresh fruits, smelling the flavor within, and talking to the farmers that grow them. Buying organic produce from small local farmers helps to financially sustain their farms while bringing the best food available home to our families. Kids learn where their food comes from and of the adventures farmers have bringing the food to market. Buying from local farmers is economical and eco-friendly, saving the energy used to prepare food for shipping and the fuel used by trucks to transport it. The available produce changes with the season bringing a wide range of crop diversity, depending on the climate and soil conditions of the region, which brings a healthy variety to the table. A tip farmers give kids is not to wash the produce until you are ready to use it and don’t refrigerate it until it is fully ripe.
The closer we are to nature, the healthier we are. We can make lifestyle adjustments to prevent disease and optimize health, by growing an organic garden, eating the best tasting organic food, and letting go of habits that no longer serve us. In our peaceful organic fruit and veggie garden, health awaits us, breathing the air purified by the plants, absorbing the warmth and radiance of the sun, digging our hands into the soil rich with antidepressant microbes, and eating delicious produce picked fresh at the peak of nutritional value and prepared simply with love.
Every cubic inch of healthy soil is a miniature world of beneficial living organisms that feed all living things on our planet. The same laws of the universe apply from the macrocosm to the microcosm, as above so below. When humans follow Nature’s cues and we align ourselves with her rhythm and cycles, we are healed body, mind, heart, and spirit. Eating the different in season organic veggies from our own garden, instead of eating the same processed food week after week, brings a variety of beneficial nutrients into our system and creates a healthy gut. By replacing processed food with super food from the garden, we can turn the tide on the alarming rise in diabetes, obesity, and life threatening food allergies.
Following the natural rhythms of the sun and the seasons, we get to the garden early in the morning when the plants like to be watered. We get healthy exercise, breathing the aromatherapy of the various herbs, and start the day feeling peaceful, instead of stressed. By interplanting, rotating crops and planting year round, we can focus on the growing life in our garden, which helps us release painful past experiences and keeps us on a year long balanced path. In the garden, we find little miracles to inspire us every day.
By recognizing and following natural laws, we come to appreciate that our inner nature and body functions have come into alignment with outer Nature and the environment. Eating organic food that is fresh from the garden, heals our bodies of the toxins that cause disease. Communing with Nature in the herb filled air of our organic veggie garden is an invigorating mood booster, stress reliever, and energy enhancer that give us a peaceful feeling of well being.
Kids can grow chili peppers year around in warm climates in a small to medium pot with good drainage, organic potting soil, and a regular supply of water and sun. Peppers need a sunny sheltered spot and do well in a patio or on a windowsill. Sow seeds in trays or individual pots in spring and transplant them into a medium size pot in late spring. Kids can also plant them in grow bags or in raised bed veggie gardens in early summer. The chilies are green when unripe and turn yellow, red, and orange when ripe. Chilies, Capsicum genus, are members of the nightshade family, which also includes tomatoes, eggplant, and potatoes and have various levels of heat from sweet to very hot. There are hundreds of varieties of chilies, from the very hot Habanera chili to the mild Anaheim chili. The seeds and white membranes of the chili contain 80 percent of the hot capsaicin. Chilies are widely used in Southwestern cooking. In the heat of summer, chilies turn yellow, red, and brown. Kids can harvest them when they are dark green and wear plastic gloves to remove all the seeds and white membranes of the chili to retain the flavor but cut the heat and make a terrific salsa.