Looking for excitement with Nomsters? You know soon... SCHOOL will be OUT FOR THE SUMMER?! If you are seeking summer fun for kids, try visiting a local farm. You might be surprised to learn that food and plant production engages kids in fascinating ways. Most of the youngsters know our food hits the grocery market shelves or local outdoor markets. But how does it get there? No matter how many stories or books you present to little minds, finding a farm can have substantial educational and tactile benefits in fostering healthy eating habits and food awareness. It’s also a fun family day trip!
Why you should visit farms with kids
Nicole Cotroneo Jolly, creator and host of the awesome “How Does it Grow” YouTube series, visits farms all around the world to find out how different food grows. I asked Nicole, also a mom of a two-year-old, why she thinks it’s important for kids to visit farms. Jolly says, “visiting farms is the most impactful way to teach a kid how food grows and why it’s important to know about that, with videos a close second, in my humble opinion! When I go to a farm to film, I get to experience real world examples of things that might otherwise just be big, abstract concepts or issues that seem detached from my everyday life.” Nicole says there are 3 reasons why it’s important for kids to learn how food grows:
“If we don’t teach our children how their food grows, they will believe it comes from a supermarket. That means they will believe that food is a guarantee — ever available, ever plentiful, absolutely perfect, with no repercussions on the planet or its people.”
“If we don’t teach our children how their food grows, they will not be equipped to tell the difference between a highly processed food devoid of nutrition and a fresh, whole food packed with essential nutrients.”
“The act of telling children the stories of how their food grows is a powerful way to inspire an interest in new foods. Suddenly, something that looked unappetizing to them is transformed into a food with a story the children are dying to share. Something that was strange becomes familiar and exciting.”
Our experience with "Stick to Local Farms"
My kid and I found an organized event that provides a guide to local farms, but hopefully you’ll be inspired by our experience to research opportunities in your own neck of the woods.
During the spring of 2016, 4-year-old Emma and I stopped for a snack at a local market during our travels for fun. On the counter was a map with multi-colored carrots and the words, “Stick to Local Farms.” Upon opening we noticed blank spaces for stickers strewn through a map. A local shopkeeper provided us one of 26 stickers yet to be stuck. From then, our whole summer stacked up with frequent trips to farms, eating fresh produce, the thrill of sticker hunting. By autumn 2017 we possessed a full map of success. This, I would say, is one of the most creative and visually appealing interactive approaches to farm fun. Talk about a great way to inspire summer fun for kids!
Stick to Local Farms is part of a nationwide grassroots effort to support local agriculture. Headed by the creator, author, and artist Maria Reidelbach, the Stick to Local Farms Map is an interactive art project that offers an exciting guide to working farms throughout the Rondout Valley in New York State (about 2 hours north of NYC). The heart of the project is a colorful folding map one fills with stickers from 26 local farms and farmers markets. Kids, adults, tourists and locals alike can pick up a free map from participating farms and shops in the Rondout Valley area. I took the time to ask Maria a couple of questions about the program, prior to a kick off party for the 2017 season, where we were treated to some local fare and fresh maps.
“Many farmers spend much of their workday alone, behind the wheel of a tractor, herding animals, fixing and building things, and doing other farm chores,” says Reidelbach. “Lots of them are quiet and focused.” Visits to their farms through the Stick to Local Farms program helps them see their work doesn’t go unnoticed or as an opportunity for learning. Farm visits are also important for families because parents can help continue the discussion of how food and plants are produced. In farming, there are many facets of biology (study of living organisms) and botany (science of plant life) that encompassed the life cycle of grown organisms. Ask farmers about what they know as it relates to each subject. Emma often asks farmers how crops grow and what farmers do to help them stay alive. We were able to learn that plants grow under different conditions as well as during different seasons of the year. For instance, spinach and strawberries are often plentiful in June while corn and squash are ready in October.
“Kids are surprised at how noisy, dirty and smelly farms can be!” Reidelback says. When you visit, you’ll probably see animals sounding off, tractors churning through fields, and animal manure used for fertilizer. Maria added that “some kids are shocked to see how their food grows--and then they are delighted, like they've just witnessed a magic trick.” During our own farm travels we also learned that smaller scale farmers often produce more than one type of food or plant production. When we visited the Lyonsville Sugarhouse in Accord, New York, Emma was surprised to learn that they also had chickens (because I almost hit one with my car, oops!). We were able to get a couple of dark amber bottles as well as some fresh eggs for tomorrow’s breakfast.
Tips for visiting farms with kids
Simple Google searches (“visit a farm near me” or “kid friendly farm”) can yield a plethora of websites that can make narrowing down your choices easier. Also, it can be as simple as talking to growers at Farmer’s Markets and inquire if they are open to hosting visitors. You can even check the back of most of the products you buy at the store for contact information, websites and address. Over the years, there have been an uptick in local products reaching even the busiest of cities.
Hydrate & Snack
During the summer in upstate New York (and elsewhere!), the weather is very humid. Make sure if you are out looking at fields or talking to growers in the area, bring a lot of water to quench your thirst and snacks for energy. Often times, farms provide great snacks. Here Emma is taking a carrot break at Kelder’s Farm. She said, “Mommy, I need a crunch carrot break.” She happily picked one out of large wooden basket for a nominal charge.
Most farms offer limited coverage from the sun… Because the sun helps grow plants! Make sure you apply your protection appropriately.
Weather can change quickly, farms and produce stands get muddy. Don’t let that deter you from visiting. Keep a raincoat, boots and a change of clothes in your car for each person just in case. You never know how fun and muddy one may become.
If regular daily hours aren’t posted on a website, call first. Yes, this requires you parents to actually pick up the phone and converse with another human! Who’d have thunk it! Farmers and business owners are always on the go and/or out in the fields. Give them a heads up and ask if they are able to make time to talk. Even if they are busy, most will make time for you and your family. During our sticker hunt, April Flowers was kind enough to leave my kid a note and flower for taking the time to stop.
Let them snack at their leisure
If your kid wants to nibble on some farm food – let them go for it! Nothing is more fun than children realizing food doesn’t always have to come from the house. It might also help to bring a cooler with ice and ice packs if you purchase perishables.
Stay for a While
By providing your presence at a farm, store or agri-business, you have the opportunity to buy fresh produce and wares! Look around! Pick up a snack. Buy a plant. Some providers will even take the time to give you a tour or organize an activity. Emma and I had a short but sweet pony ride last summer while learning about an equestrian center by simply calling first! Recently, at Kelder’s Farm, Emma got to pet a baby chick and name it “Oona,” (unique name, right? What a thinker!). She learned that you could feel their small bones when you hold them because their skin is so thin!
Don’t get disappointed if you don’t get to every farm on your list that day. You may not finish but you’ll definitely make memories! Actually interacting with farm, food, can family can give your kids a break from everyday schedules and school. The sun, the dirt and the fresh air do wonders for family bonding.
Virtual farm visits
If you can’t make it to a local farm in person, I recommend Nicole’s True Food TV YouTube Channel, home of the awesome How Does it Grow series. While it’s geared towards fans of all ages, young kids also love the series. She says that she “never underestimates what a child can absorb. While I try to use age-appropriate language when I teach my son, I will still tell him about concepts that he will not fully comprehend, but which can nevertheless spark future exploration. He’s fascinated to watch the fruits and vegetables that he recognizes in How Does it Grow videos.”
Check out the most recent video in the series, all about how avocados grow!
As you can see, heading to your local farms to learn about how food grows (or taking a virtual video field trip) is sure to provide hours of summer fun for kids. Happy Farm Visiting, Nomsters!
Update: Because of this post, the Stick to Local Farms map was distributed to 1200 kids in Rondout Valley schools this year. Schools were worried about wasting paper, but after reading this post they were convinced of the importance of encouraging kids to visit farms. Yay! Happy farm visiting, kiddos!