Anyone who has picked up a shovel before can tell you that gardening is a great form of exercise, and there is undoubtedly a moment of sheer magic when a child harvests (and tastes!) a cherry tomato or cucumber from the vine that they helped grow. Tending to garden plants—whether it’s a plot at a community garden or a small pot of basil in the windowsill—boosts children’s confidence as they learn how to care for another living creature. All the while parents are setting the stage for their little one to become a steward of the Earth, poised with the enthusiasm and knowledge to care for our planet’s precious resources.
So this summer, take your family outside and soak up your daily dose of Vitamin D with our top picks for summer gardening adventures.
1. Plant a garden at home.
No matter where you live, there is always an opportunity to grow at home. If you’re a city-dwelling family, plant a shade-tolerant crop like micro greens (easy-to-grow options include kale, arugula, broccoli, cilantro, lettuces, and pea shoots) in the windowsill or explore options for raised beds on the rooftop. If you have more space, start with a small kitchen garden and involve the whole family in the fun of choosing the seeds you’ll grow. Depending on the amount of sunlight your kitchen gets, you might choose herbs, micro greens, scallions, peppers, radishes, or tomatoes. If your family is a fan of Friday night pizza, grow a “pizza garden” with basil, tomatoes, and oregano to make fresh homemade pizza with your budding chefs!
2. Visit a local community garden or farm.
Go on a family adventure to see the landscapes that support the bounty of produce in New York. Whether it’s a rooftop farm in the city, a community garden in the metro area, or a sprawling farm Upstate or in New Jersey, Connecticut, or on Long Island, the entire family can enjoy a day outside exploring our diverse agricultural lands. Most farms offer educational workshops and fun children’s programs (check out our calendar for listings). During the warmer months, pick-your-own harvesting is another great way to discover delicious and nutritious food—see our guide to pick-your-own berry farms in NY, NJ, and CT.
3. Explore the farmers market.
Meet and learn from farmers and gardeners while exploring the abundance and variety of produce in season. To make your visit more interactive, equip each family member with a pad, pencil, and instructions for a family scavenger hunt through the market. Look for an edible vegetable of each color of the rainbow and draw a sketch when you identify a red beet or purple carrot—or dive into plant biology by searching for an edible example of each part of the plant (root, fruit, stem, seed, leaf, and flower).
4. Grow your food scraps.
Do you have an onion that has started to sprout a small green shoot and is no longer suitable for cooking? Plant it in soil; tend to it with water, sunshine, and care; and then watch the onion continue to grow! Sprouting seeds like the pit of an avocado and watching it grow into an avocado tree is another great way to both reduce food waste and encourage your children to grow various skills in patience. Low-maintenance and quick growing seeds like alfalfa, sunflower seeds, mung beans, and lentils are also great choices for indoor sprouting.
5. Build a composting bin.
As any gardener will tell you, a healthy garden comes from healthy soils. A fun and easy way to compost at home, especially in apartments, is to freeze your food scraps and bring them to the farmers market with your children at the helm. Inspire your children to take care of bringing the compost from your freezer to the compost bins, or build a worm composting bin of your own to compost food scraps right at home. Worm composting, also known as vermicomposting, is an effective and educational way to reduce the amount of food we put in the landfill and help the health of our soils. With a plastic storage bin, a pound of red wiggler worms (available online or at local farmers markets), a drill for creating small ventilation holes, some shredded paper, and food scraps, you have all the materials you need for a memorable afternoon with the family, as you get your hands in the dirt and help inspire your children to be soil superheroes.
As the summer months approach, make plans for gardening adventures to encourage family bonding and witness the transformation of your child’s relationship to food and the natural world. By giving children the space to dig, weed, water, plant, nurture, and grow, we set the stage for their personal growth and overall well-being.
This post was written by Kelly McGlinchey, Director of Food Education & Flora McKay, Director of Community & Nutrition.