A couple of weeks ago, 80+ kids along with some Advil-poppin’ parents and teachers (including me) trotted out to Underwood Family Farms for a little face time with some right-out-of-the-ground food. It was a long ride, but by the time we saw actual fields, the kids were getting rowdy with excitement. First they got a primer on fruits and vegetables (during which I heard more than one parent comment that they were learning something also).
Okay. A fruit is the actual reproductive part of a plant, complete with seeds. It’s very clever when you think about it. The plant can’t move, and if something doesn’t scatter the seeds, the new plants will be too crowded to survive. Here’s where the animals come in. Something eats the seed-bearing part (and sometimes the seeds too), and by tossing the core, or the seeds, or even pooping the whole seeds and the plant and the animal survive and go on to reproduce. (And plants make their own food, unlike us; they’re cleverer than you thought, huh?).
So a fruit bears the seeds. A tomato, a cucumber, zucchini, an avocado: Fruit, technically.
Er, then what is a vegetable? When you eat the leaves, stems, or flowers. The guy mentioned that cauliflower really is the flowering part of the plant. Really? Okay, I learned something too.
After that we were towed by tractor to a strawberry field, where the kids ran loose with a clear box and their adult chaperones in a strawberry field. Underneath the leaves lay ruby red strawberries so ripe that the field smelled like heaven. So what did the kids do? My little charges started picking strawberries that looked like the ones at the market — the kind that are not yet fully ripened (so they can be shipped) and still have yellowy tips. I stopped them and explained that this was different, that they could pick the ripest, best ones, and then they did. And then they wanted to eat some of them in the field. When I discovered that there were no pesticides, that’s just what we did. One of my kid’s friends came back with a red-stained ring around his mouth like a little, very happy clown.
Unfortunately, after that the kids were encouraged to eat lunch and see the animals, though they all wanted to see the other crops. We saw some by tractor — peach trees, walnut trees, avocadoes, beans, etc. They were fascinated. It was 90 degrees that day (one my little charges got heat exhaustion…), but as a bonus many of them fell asleep in the bus going home, even my little sleep-averse child.
If you can take your kids to a farm, or grow your own fruits/vegetables, do. It’s the greatest way for them to make a connection with the food they eat (and it both encourages them to eat well and spoils them for really good food that doesn’t taste bland or half-ripened). We ate strawberries for a few days — they were like candy.
We’ve got tomatoes on our side yard in a pot, as we do every year. The kid won’t eat a tomato, but it doesn’t stop her from getting very, very excited every time one ripens on the vine and she gets to pick it.