Planting to Reap a Harvest: Growing and Preserving Foods with Kids

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Post by Contributing Writer, Bethany

It’s that time of year: the soil is warming, crops are popping up, and the full swing of preservation season is right around the corner. The themes of seeds, harvest, and the kingdom are beautifully woven throughout scripture; what better way to lay the foundations for young ones to grow in their faith than to introduce them to the illustrations in real life?

My desire is to inspire you to cultivate the joys of growing, preserving, and sharing food with your kids, from an early age, so that they may learn the deeper lessons of life and gratefulness that are grown in the garden.

But Wait! Before Doing Anything: Be Reasonable

I’m ambitious. Lured into the adventure of learning something new or accomplishing something different, I’m often taking on a few more challenges and experiments than I can rationally manage.

With that in mind, I hesitate to pass on more “how-to’s” and “good ideas” because I see myself when I think of you, kind reader.

I imagine being overwhelmed with possibilities, and I think about how “fun projects with the kids” might just as easily become one-too-many-things-to-do or, worse yet, a frustrating fantasy that breeds false discontent.

So, I’ll tiptoe carefully through my suggestions for this month, not because I doubt they’re fun ideas, but because I’m feeling convicted to respect the limitations of honest living.

Translation: I am sharing my inspirations for cultivating an appreciation of delicious, real food, but I’m also sending them along to you with a few complimentary grains of salt.

Introduce Kids to Foods Beyond the Walls of the Grocery Store

Consider giving your kids an introduction to cooking and preserving the fruits of summer. The seeds you plant now may grow and bloom for years to come!

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There is deep meaning for adults and children alike in putting to good use the blessings of fresh food. There is great work and great satisfaction in reaping a harvest, and though it is easy to source food effortlessly from a grocery store, it is wise to reveal to children the full life cycle of foods: from soil to harvest to the dinner plate.

Growing up, my mom canned peaches, beans, and applesauce. Early memories of summer mornings spent visiting the peach orchards and filling boxes of fruit, running fingers over glass jar rims jars before packing them up from the basement, and listening for the “pop” at the end of a sticky afternoon still linger in my mind two decades later…

With six of us kids to feed, she went out of her way to store up “sunshine in a jar” (those glowing, golden beacons of peachy-hope that lined the basement shelves) to accompany many a meal during the rainy Oregon winters.

I learned to can alongside her, dutifully slipping skins off stone fruits, coring/peeling apples, snapping bean stems, sanitizing jars, plunging the canning rack into the boiling cauldron, and taking for granted my un-aching youthful muscles. As an adult, finished with college, married, with my own pots and pans, I had to return to my mother’s kitchen to ask for a refresher course, and with that, I was off and running again.

Growing, Harvesting, and Preserving Close-to-Home

Invite the kids to get dirty in the garden (be it a quarter acre or a container on the patio). You may have heard the term Nature Deficit Disorder in recent years; I’m a firm believer that time outdoors and dirt under the fingernails shape lives for the better. (And all that mess at the end? That’s what bathtubs are for!)

Later this summer, after the kids have helped tend and weed and water, and once the goodies are ripe in the garden, teach them how to harvest the bounty properly and to turn their precious produce into wholesome, delicious additions to mealtime.

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Don’t be afraid to start small: perhaps choose one crop and one preservation project to see through from beginning to end this summer.

(And – grain of salt – maybe skip the preservation part altogether? That’s okay, too! Long before I harvested food or helped with canning, my dad gave me a row in the garden to plant flower seeds – bachelor buttons – and the experience of tending and watching them grow all summer long held meaning enough.)

Homemade Ketchup – Always popular for kid-friendly meals, homemade ketchup can be made from fresh tomatoes from the garden and kept (without canning) in the fridge for up to three weeks.

Cucumbers, Onions, Carrots, Broccoli, Asparagus, Garlic, etc.
Homemade Refrigerator Pickles – This method is terrific for kiddos since it doesn’t require the extra steps of canning. Just harvest, clean, and cut up the veggies, mix up the ingredients (check out Michele’s great pickling spice recipe), combine in a jar, and leave to brine in the fridge!

Berries of All Sorts
Homemade Freezer Jam – Note: as explained in the recipe, it is possible to substitute out a portion or all of the refined sugar in such jams – just follow the instructions that accompany alternative pectins.

Flowers and Herbs
Plant flowers now and decide later if you’re up to preserving! You can help your child make beautiful vinegars, handmade garden gift sets, or simply blend together herbs and butter to make a lovely spread for a slice of bread.

Peaches, Apples, Pears and More
Homemade Dehydrated Fruit – Makes for great healthy snacking and can be saved and used when those back to school days eventually roll around in autumn.

If you’re unable to garden at home, perhaps venture out on a field day and pick berries and stone fruits from nearby farms and orchards, or stop in at a local farm-stand and introduce your kids to the farmer. If you’re looking for a source nearby, try Local Harvest as a starting point.

What to Do with the Harvest?

After teaching children about self sufficiency, healthy foods, and the fruits of their own labor, teach them to share generously:

  • Invite grandparents or other friends and relatives to join you for a special meal featuring their edible projects
  • Host a mini BBQ and unveil their fresh-from-the-garden ketchup and pickles
  • Help them package up and give away homemade jam to their friends (who can resist unbeatable PB&J sandwiches?)
  • When dark nights return next winter, take a cheery jar of preserved fruits (and a story about where they came from!) to a lonely neighbor

Tend to Your Children So Their Lives May Bear Fruit

Watching a seedling mature into a fruit-bearing plant is a profound mystery and a valuable life lesson for even the littlest gardener.

“The kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, while he’s asleep or awake the seed sprouts and grows, but he does not understand how it happens. The earth produces the crops on its own. First a leaf blade pushes through, then the heads of wheat are formed, and finally the grain ripens. And as soon as the grain is ready, the farmer comes and harvests it with a sickle, for the harvest time has come.” -Mark 4:26-29

This summer, whether you plant a single literal seed or place a single fruit in an empty jar, may you tend your little ones well, may you water their spirits and encourage their creativity and curiosity with the sunshine of your countenance, may you raise them up to be a bountiful harvest, that their hearts may grow and mature and become a nourishing joy to the world.

And if you find yourself with delicious food at the end of the process, may you enjoy a nourishing meal surrounded by those you love best!

Do you have favorite summertime food projects you like to share with your kiddos? Favorite child-friendly preserving recipes? Please share!

Bethany Rydmark is an eighth generation Oregonian, a landscape architect, and a kitchen-tinkering, garden-dreaming, Food-Group-hosting, home-making wife and friend. She lives in Portland, Oregon and shares her appetite for equitable, sustainable, and meaningful food at Sustainable Food for Thought.

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5 comments to Planting to Reap a Harvest: Growing and Preserving Foods with Kids

  • The other day as we sat down to eat, my 5 year old son (who has a tendancy to try to manipulate and control everything) asked if he could see my recipes. This seemed an odd request, given that he can’t read and I’d never heard him use the word before along with the aforementioned traits. So I asked him why and I loved his response. “So I can make your yummy foods when I grow up because I might not be able to remember them.” Isn’t that great? He helps me in the kitchen regularly and we talk about food, but I didn’t know it was having this effect on him!


    Bethany ~ Sustainable Food For Thought Reply:

    @Kelly, I love this, Kelly! It’s amazing to know those daily actions and activities are leaving deep impressions. Maybe it would be fun to create a family cookbook with your son to help catalog his favorite kid-friendly-cooking-projects? :)


    Kelly Reply:

    That’s a great idea, Bethany! We could make a photo book using pictures I take of us when we’re doing things and add the recipes along with it. Thanks!


  • […] Planting to reap a harvest: growing and preserving food with kids [family] […]

  • […] Frugal Granola – At Frugal Granola you can learn about growing, preserving, and sharing food with your kids. This is a great post on getting kids familiar with foods outside the grocery store. Contributing Writer, Bethany says “it is wise to reveal to children the full life cycle of foods: from soil to harvest to the dinner plate.” […]

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