Growing Organic Veggies With a Preschooler

We try to keep things as natural as possible around here, especially when it comes to our food. We originally moved to Gloucester so that my husband could pursue an apprenticeship on an organic farm, and we spent four glorious growing seasons awash in local, organic produce. These days, Erik is no longer working on a farm due to the (totally awesome) increased time and financial requirements of our growing family. We are members of a CSA, but it’s not the same. We miss growing our own food, at least vicariously through Erik!

Luckily, our community boasts a brilliant organization called Backyard Growers, whose mission is to provide the resources necessary to help local residents have access to healthy food … by growing it themselves! They operate a Backyard Gardens program and, through this program, will actually build an 8’x4′ raised bed (complete with local compost!) right in your backyard. They offer workshops to get you started, help you map out where each vegetable should be planted in your garden, and provide a number of seeds and seedlings. Participants qualify based on income or, if over-income, can pay to sponsor a garden for another local family in order to receive a garden of their own.

We qualified for the program, jumped through hoops to obtain landlord approval, and now here we are with salad for days/weeks/months.

Our master gardener is actually our 3-year-old daughter, who has been honing her skills by “building gardens” and “making salad” with pine cones, grass, and dandelions at every park we have visited for the past four months.

We have involved Beatrice in each step of the process, from staking out a location for our garden to planting the seeds and seedings, to watering the plants, to harvesting the peas/carrots/tomatoes. If not for Beatrice, I would probably forget to water the garden most days amidst the chaos of 3-year-old + newborn. She has witnessed the garden’s transformation from a box of dirt into tonight’s dinner.

So far, from the little 8’x4′ bed, we have harvested (and continue to harvest!) lettuce, arugula, kale, broccoli, peas, bok choy, chard, carrots, basil, bush beans, tomatoes, and summer squash … with cucumbers, peppers, and eggplant still to come.

Beatrice dug the holes for our seeds, spritzed the delicate seedlings with water from a spray bottle, and now blasts the whole garden at full force with the hose, refusing all adult guidance. These plants are surprisingly resilient!

We are all psyched for the free organic food, the never-ending salad, the built-in preschooler entertainment, the lessons about hard work paying off, and the list goes on.

We truly never expected to reap so many benefits from a teeny strip of land next to the driveway on the side of our rented apartment and have been blown away by the bounty it has produced. Plus, when one of my coworkers faced a serious emergency after her daughter’s “pet” pea shoot got kicked over, she knew where to come for a replacement. If that’s not a benefit, I don’t know what is.

If you don’t think you have enough space for a garden or just feel overwhelmed by the idea of it all, find out if your community offers any program along the lines of Backyard Growers. And if you want to see your 3-year-old excited about salad, get on this ASAP (and by ASAP, I mean next spring).

Sarah McLanahan, M.S.Ed., LICSW, lives in Gloucester, MA with her husband and two daughters. She has worked for several years supporting families of very young children through the daily highs and lows that accompany the transition to parenthood. With her own family, she tries to make sustainable and healthy choices when time and budget permit, a journey you can read more about on her blog, Tales of Expansion.

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  1. Love this Sarah!

    • 🙂

    • Sarah is the best!


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