I was in the supermarket a while back, and a girl in her late teens was ringing me up. She got to some of my produce, and couldn’t identify a turnip. I made light of the situation and we laughed, but inside my head, I was thinking about how sad that is. It seems that every year, America grows to be more urban (as of the 2010 census, 80.7% of the U.S. population lived in urban areas). And even though I consider my town more rural (we have chickens and veggie gardens, there are farms nearby, and some neighbors have pigs and sheep that get loose and walk around the streets in my immediate area), there is convenient shopping available 10-15 minutes in most directions and some suburban neighborhoods scattered around. And perhaps I should not have been shocked, but I feel sadness for those who do not get to experience our natural world in a way that allows them to identify a simple turnip.
I am more fortunate than most in this regard. My grandparents had a lovely vegetable garden on their 1 acre lot in Acushnet, MA. My husband tells stories of the gardens his parents tended during his formative years as well. My mother loves horses, so she had one boarded in a neighboring town for most of my childhood and adult life. My father would take my brother and I on “nature walks”, where we hiked through the woods, spent hours exploring tidal pools at local beaches, and made games of identifying the trees, flowers, and critters we encountered. When my husband and I first lived together, we rented an apartment on a dead-end street in one of the bigger towns in Rhode Island. We were on the second floor and created a “fire escape garden”, putting potted tomatoes and peppers on the fire escape at our bedroom window – luckily, there were no fires that would have required us to toss our plants to the ground as we hurried from the building!
And then it was our dream to own a home with some land so we could grow our own veggies on a much bigger scale. We found a great neighborhood of 1 acre lots where it was kid-friendly, dog-friendly, garden-friendly, and eventually, chicken-friendly. We have a strawberry patch, raspberry and blackberry bushes, two raised garden beds full of veggies, five laying hens that give us deliciously fresh eggs every day, and two silly dogs to keep an eye on everything. And although it’s a lot of work, I can’t begin to describe the feelings of joy when I see my daughter run out to the chicken coop to look for eggs. She eats all the berries, straight from the bushes, before they make it into the house. She’s had a tomato on our kitchen floor, eating it like an apple, when she was about 15 months old. Our son, who’s a bit younger, loves to crawl around in our yard and get messy. He watches the chickens with awe. I am fortunate enough to see every day how my hard work has provided my children with a connection to the earth.
If you don’t think this connection is important, just look at what is happening in America today. At how little respect people have for this precious earth. At how little knowledge we have of how out ancestors lived and thrived before Walmart, Peapod and Amazon. Now, I don’t want anyone to take away my electricy and running water, but the earth is all about balance, and we should try to give our children some idea of how important the planet is. That could be as simple as taking care of a goldfish, growing a small plant or flower indoors, taking a trip to some hiking trails or the beach, visiting a wildlife sanctuary or zoo, or finding a bit of land to plant a tomato, watch it grow, and be rewarded for our hard work with the fruit it bears. Children are naturally curious and have so many questions about the world around them. Indulge them! Spoil them in knowledge of our planet, our ecosystem, our food system, and our connection to it all! I know I thank my parents for it, and hopefully my kids will thank me some day too. Or at least know what a turnip is.