How I learned to care for living things, make money, and eat healthy
Gardening, especially for food, was one of the things I remember most about my childhood. I had a small space near the house that was mine to tend and nurture. I loved marigolds and how when you deadheaded them the bushes grew stronger and produced more flowers so they were always along the border.
One of the others gardens I tended was the family vegetable garden. This is did with the help of my sister and, of course, the mastermind, our father. He took care of most of the main planting and work. He planted everything you could imagine. Bok Choi before it became popular was one of his experiments as were peanuts and loofah.
Its funny because when I mention to people that we had a vegetable garden they are typically respond with ‘That’s nice’ Then if I mention the peanuts they get confused… wait didn’t you grow up in NY? Can peanuts even grow there? The answer is yes.
Through this I learned much; one piece being that a loofah sponge is the internal structure of a squash which had to be dried and cleaned out. The harvest of those that year was enough to provide the family with sponges for everything from doing dishes, to cleaning our bodies, to the dirty work around the house for several years…
This garden full of treasures was not only of the exotic variety. We also planted plenty of tomatoes, eggplant, corn, squash and other household favorites. In fact, once things were growing when it came time for dinner my parents would send my sister and me out to the garden to pick what we wanted for dinner. We learned and then knew what was ripe so that when we came back in not only with what was ready to be eaten, but with food that we had chosen and would then eat. Talk about a great way to get the kids to eat their vegetables.
The garden was organic, I guess. My father never sprayed with anything chemical and the fertilizer came from the horses. Perhaps this is not strictly organic, but the food sure tasted good and grew well.
But those lessons weren’t the only ones we gained from this experiential lifestyle; we learned about money as well.
On the topic of money, my sister and I made quite a bit. Not from a farmstand, although I’ll get to that story soon, but from taking care of the garden. You see 1/3 an acre was a lot for my father to take care of himself. Especially since he was down in NYC four days a week fighting fires in the Bronx. So he enlisted us girls to take care of it for him. I wonder if the lesson we were meant to learn wasn’t inherent from the start. We made 5 cents for every weed1 we pulled, which he checked to make sure they were not desirable plants. We also earned 10 cents for these bright red eggs that an undesirable bug laid on the bottoms of a certain weed, and 25 cents for the tomato caterpillar.
Over the course of the summer my bank account for candy (that I had to bike 2 ½ miles to purchase) grew at the same rate my knowledge of the stages of plant growth. The connection to the ground and my fingers sinking into the earth, which is one of the things I value so much now in my gardening, wasn’t something that I was even aware of. The feeling of satisfaction for a job well done remains, as does the pride in seeing how much you can visibly accomplish in a short period of time.
The money given to me to identify pests and weeds ingrained knowledge that I still use today. In fact, I feel lucky and very grateful to have it.
So yes, what it comes down to for me is that I think you should pay your child to take care of plants or rear animals because learning to place value on those tasks taught me so many skills the skills that I’m reflecting on now.
1 A weed is something growing where you don’t want it to. A tomato can be a weed. So can a dandelion. Both can also be cultivated or eaten. They can also grow in places that you don’t want them.