I was fortunate growing up to have grandparents with gardens, and neighbors with livestock. My uncle hunted deer and shared the meat with our family. I went fishing during warm Alabama summers and saw more catfish being “cleaned” than you’d probably be comfortable with. I knew the chickens my Pawpaw raised weren’t exactly pets, and subsequently, fried chicken wasn’t invented in a local restaurant.
- Go to a farmers’ market. This is a great way for kids to meet farmers, connect kids and agriculture and begin to get a feel for who is growing food locally. But don’t stop there. Talk to your kids about what they’re “not” seeing at their farmers’ market. This helps them understand why farms all across America—both big and small—are important so we get to purchase foods locally that wouldn’t otherwise be grown nearby. (See my previous post about why I don’t always buy local produce.)
- Buy and cook a whole piece of fish. This may sound like such a small idea, but think about how big it becomes when you take the time to make the “whole animal” connection. Admittedly, this strategy may be more appropriate for older kids, but I firmly believe that understanding the process behind an animal’s life being taken for food purposes is a powerful teaching tool. It can help kids not only appreciate how valuable the food is they eat, but also how valuable the technologies are that bring that food directly to your supermarket. My kids love fish, but I’m certain they wouldn’t want to have to clean a piece each time we eat it!
- Visit a dairy farm. I’ve worked in the dairy industry for years and know that in most areas you’ll find a local dairy farm who does tours, if not year round, often this time of year when the weather is cooling and corn has been harvested; many dairy farms have corn mazes for kids. Let kids see where milk comes from. Talk to them about the importance of technologies, like pasteurization, to keep milk fresh and safe. Also, help them understand how dairy farmers work day and night as cows need to be milked twice every day.
- Plant a seed and see what happens. For a while, my youngest son wanted to plant every fruit seed that ever ended up on his plate. Eventually, he accepted not everything was suitable to grow in our backyard. But, even a small pea grown in a window-sill cup is a great teaching tool to help kids think about the scope and size a farm must be to feed your family…much less the entire U.S.
- Take a road trip to the Midwest. This may seem like a big undertaking just to connect kids and agriculture; but learning lessons of scale is really valuable when you’re talking about modern farming. While urban or neighborhood gardens are valuable, and growing a few tomato plants on your back deck is fun—feeding millions of people is a massive undertaking that requires miles after miles of farmland. I’ve seen these parts of the country with my kids, and I can’t tell you how much I treasure that time together touring our great nation. Show that to your kids. Help them understand the scope of what farmers do in America. And maybe one day, they’ll be telling their kids what an impact their parents/grandparents had in their understanding of food, just like I tell my kids about mine.