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Put Your Children To Work

betsy and luke with onion harvest 

When school is out for the summer, family schedules move into a different mode. For some, that means keeping their children occupied with summer camps and other programs. I propose that you use this summer to find meaningful work around your homestead for your children. It doesn’t have to be a lot, just regular and useful to your household. When our children were growing up they had to give me an hour of their time each weekday. They worked in the garden with me, helped with canning, and sometimes cleaned the house. The photo shows our two youngest helping with the onion harvest. Granted, that photo is from 1992, but the concept of having your children work alongside you is still relevant today. You can find out more about what I had my children do at Homeplace Earth. They still had time to go off on their own and use their imaginations to keep themselves entertained, which I believe is a necessary skill for everyone to develop.

If you think you need to make garden work more interesting to your children you could put them in charge of certain areas of your garden. In addition to weeding, mulching, and picking, they could help with record keeping. Have your child(ren) record the actual harvest and see how it compares to your expected harvest times, if you have worked that out ahead. My Plant /Harvest Schedule will help with that or it could be recorded on a calendar. That record would help you plan for next year. If you are working with the How Much To Grow worksheet that is available in my book Grow a Sustainable Diet, or a similar worksheet that you have designed, you would want to record the weight of your harvest for at least some of your crops. Having a young helper take charge of that would definitely make them feel useful and needed.

Maybe you are not so seriously into gardening to be keeping many records, but you still have to eat. Your children can be part of meal planning and preparation. I admit, it does take work on your part to oversee these activities, but you will find that, given the chance, children can do lots of things on their own, especially if you believe in them. Giving them the chance and believing in them are two things essential to success. Also, whether you are digging potatoes or peeling potatoes together, the conversations you will have in the process, of that otherwise mundane work, can be wonderful.

Anything coming from the garden can be their challenge for the day to incorporate into a meal. There are cooking shows galore on TV that can inspire them, as well as videos and websites in the Internet. (I’m trying to keep with the times here—my children were raised before computers and the Internet were a regular part of our lives.) Our recipes come from cookbooks on our shelf, but I hear that the younger generation looks recipes up on their computers as they need them. A trip to the library with your children might be in order to find more resources about whatever questions come up in your activities in the garden, kitchen, workshop, or wherever you are working together this summer.

Don’t have a garden this summer? That is an opportunity to seek local food elsewhere and there seems to be farmers markets everywhere these days. You and your children could get to know the farmers, what they have, and how they grow what they sell. Our youngest child (Luke) turned 13 the summer a farmers market opened in our town and I was one of the farmers there. Luke really liked pickled banana peppers and grew his own crop of banana peppers to sell. To increase sales he pickled peppers and made them available as samples and would rattle off the recipe to interested buyers. Sometimes I think they bought them as much because they enjoyed his passion for what he was doing, as well as needing banana peppers.

If you have children at home, this is the time to find something useful and meaningful to do together. It is an opportunity to discover, and enjoy, each other's passions. Your children will gain skills that will benefit them for the rest of their lives and you will create a bond that will stay with you forever.

Cindy Conner is the author of Seed Libraries and Grow a Sustainable Diet and has produced DVDs about garden planning and managing cover crops with hand tools. Learn more about what she is up to at Homeplace Earth.

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