Come Children and Eat From The Garden

By Vicki Johnston, M.Ed.

Vicki Johnston is the founder and director of the Robert Muller Center For Living Ethics in Fairview, TX and has been teaching for over 30 years. The Center For Living Ethics utilizes the World Core Curriculum, which encourages graduates who revere their planetary home and have reverence for all life. It is one of the few schools in the US which has whole foods nutritional guidelines/requirements for students along with access to a healthy meats cooperative, organic produce cooperative, and an ever-expanding organic garden in which students learn, play, plant, harvest and freely eat the fruits of their labor.

We have seen for years the effect of nutrition on children - physically, emotionally, and mentally.
Three year old Luke had ear chronic ear infections. Fortunately, his mother was willing to take him off processed dairy. Of course, the infections totally disappeared. Luke was raised on a vegetarian diet replete with fresh vegetables from the family's organic garden. He enjoyed radiant health throughout his early childhood and elementary years. During this time his immune system was noticeably resistant to the colds and flues that swept through the school. When he was older, attending another school, he began eating more processed fare of his friends and school cafeteria. His mother and I both noticed how much more susceptible to illness he became when these impurities crept back into his diet.

Many other children since Luke have come to our school with these chronic mucus infections. We hold our breath as the mothers waver between prescribed tubes in ears and remedial action based on more healthy choices. The decision depends on how receptive the parent is to the idea that our very lifestyle either builds in strong, radiant health resistant to colds and viruses, or toxic bodies weakened by every chill and bug that sweeps through city dwellers.

Amanda was a dark headed little, five-year-old beauty with big brown eyes. Whenever she needed something she endeared herself to us saying "Teacha." In the morning Amanda would walk into the pre/K bright and happy. She would happily sing and join in the finger plays, songs, and chants during circle time. Then somewhere between ten and ten thirty, something would happen. Amanda would fall apart over the slightest trigger, either flailing her legs and crying or walking around aimlessly, softly weeping with periodic eruptions of sobbing until we got a healthy snack into her.

Of course, the teachers asked Amanda's mother what she had for breakfast. Without exception they were sugary, empty calorie breakfasts, including the popular children's cereals that are loaded with sugar and food coloring, and practically devoid of nutrition. For variety, her mother punctuated such breakfast with donuts. Amanda was suffering from the "sugar blues."

We continue to be amazed that families actually start their little ones' days with such breakfasts. Countless disturbing behaviors can be traced back to brains and organs that are starved for adequate nutrition. While Amanda's malady took the form of depression, others experience aggression. One student hit people simply because they walked by. His nerves were so taut that he was physically and emotionally tormented. Another student manifested the discomfort to his system by hyperactive behaviors and the inability to focus on any one task.

One family was up several times a night almost every night. It's not hard to imagine how exhausting this was for everyone concerned. It turns out that Dad and the kids enjoyed a bowl of ice cream before the children went to bed. While this evening ritual was based in love, it led to mom being worn out and her three-year-old son whiney and clingy.

Throughout the history of our school, we've also learned, beyond any doubt, that the hormones in meats contribute to the aggression in children. This, in turn, is aided and abetted by the unconscionable violence and insanity in entertainment, such as cartoons, video games, and toys.

When my staff and I work with families, we work with a gestalt of factors including the way the parents relate to the children, family schedules, and nutrition. All of these factors work together, and when any one of these aspects is off, the children become distressed. Children require a family rhythm of quieting the house, dimming the lights, joint preparation for going to bed, and final loving rituals that include the coziness of storytelling or storybook reading. They blossom when parents are in control of their own emotions and have learned how to relate to them with empathy and clear, positive non-threatening communication. They continue to blossom further when they eat at least a majority of their food in its original form.

It's worth contemplating how many unpleasant upsets occur in a family between hyper and/or irritable people because of sugar and caffeine or because of someone's low blood sugar level when the sugar high as dumped someone into the doldrums.

Families have forgotten why we eat.
Americans seem to have grown up thinking that feeding the body means stimulating the taste buds, (sweet, salty, and sour) and filling the stomach. A typical hamburger and fries accomplishes all of this nicely. Of course many people have become dimly aware that they might not be getting everything they need from modern processed foods and fast food. So the solution is to take their vitamins in the form of a pill, which is the solution for most maladies in a society sadly severed from its Earth womb.

Once a child's diet has been impaired with addictions, it's hard for him/her to pay attention to natural hunger. The visual trigger is very important to young children. When they have been accustomed to their food looking certain ways with a narrow range of colors predominating, they expect that familiar appearance. Once they get used to meals of brown gravies, white breads, and off-white pastas, orange cheeses, they begin to look upon anything else in the spectrum with suspicion.

Familiar texture is also important to them. After a diet of starchy foods like mashed potatoes and pastas, puddings, and smooth drinks with no pulp, the textures which abound in nature become repugnant to them. Now people are even offering them pulp-free orange juice in order to get them to enjoy one of the most beneficial and delicious fruits on Earth.

Smell is also a powerful trigger. I can ask one little girl who is a finicky eater, "Would you like a banana?" and it's practically a guarantee that she'll turn me down. However, if I simply peel a banana and begin eating, the scent wafting to her nostrils plus seeing me enjoy it triggers her own hunger. I've also noticed a huge difference in her appetite when she was offered a quickly microwaved meal, versus smelling the aromas from her mother's cooking for half and hour or more. This brings up another point.

Healthy eating for children is a family commitment.
In natural relationships, we are mentors and our little ones are mimics. For better or for worse, they copy our behaviors including verbal and facial expressions, attitudes toward the world, and daily actions. When we model filling up on empty calorie, genetically engineered snacks and heavily salted, processed, cooked meals in which everything slides down, to be topped off with heavy sweet deserts, the pattern sets in early and tenaciously.

One of my great joys in spending time with children is when the peaches ripen in the school orchard. It's obvious that the peaches hanging from the tree are nature's offering. The tree actually seems to be calling to the children to come partake of her feast. When we pluck a peach we simply free the seed as we feed ourselves harmlessly. The scent of a peach, fresh off the tree and grown in organic soil, further starts the mouth salivating, the digestive juices flowing. The bite into the peach contains a combination of peeling, pulp, and sticky sweetness. But the eater is probably too lost in bliss at the time to analyze the value of what she is ingesting. In my opinion, there is no dessert on earth that can surpass such an experience. We have been purposefully designed to love sweets. But only nature has the recipe for providing time release benevolent sugars with a perfect balance of ionized water and minerals, amino acids, and vitamins.

Nature is no slouch. She has designed the whole and its parts perfectly. The combination of skin, pulp, and juice, in combination with the digestive juices, actually clean the intestines as they move along. The nutritional value keeps going and going.

I urge families to take the first step in good nutrition by having nut trees, fruit trees, and a garden.
A further stimulus for a child to eat a wide variety of produce from nature's garden is to plant and harvest it himself. There can be no more perfect family activity. The garden presents an opportunity for collaboration, including attendant expressions of gratitude and discussions about relationships between the mineral, plant, animal, and human kingdoms. When a child as young as three years old works in the garden, while listening to the information and spiritual insights of his elder, he can absorb many layers of knowledge and wisdom simultaneously.

For example, when I plant with three year olds, we first head for the mulch pile with the child-size wheelbarrow. Not once do I have to nag a child to do his part in this project. Together we shovel the mulch and wheel it to the garden. As I work in the garden, I talk as if to myself, but I'm really speaking to the child. I express my admiration for the tiny seed which can produce a big plant. I test the soil, saying, "Yes, this is fine soil for the little seed. It's full of nutrients. It will feed the little seed important minerals." Together we place our seeds in the ground and pat the soil over them. "Here is the perfect place for you to grow strong and healthy little seed," I say. Then we add the mulch. As I carefully spread the mulch, I remark, "The mulch is the seed's blanket, just like when your mother tucks you in at night. It protects the little roots from too much heat and too much cold. It helps keep the temperature just right for the little seedling. And guess what." We pause for a moment. "Soon the mulch will become new soil for more little seeds!" We get the hose or watering can and water the seeds; I express my thanks to the water for quenching the thirst of all living creatures. We have an animated discussion about all the plants, all the animals, and all the people that drink water. Then we thank the sun for shining on the soil and the little seedling to come. The sun's rays will be saying to the little plant, "Come my little one, reach up, reach up. Make some delicious food for this child who has planted you." We thank God who both surrounds us in Nature and resides in our hearts for this wonderful Plan.

Growing around us in the garden are herbs such as basil, sage, thyme, mint, rosemary, and lavender. Sometimes we play a game in which I have plucked several leaves and ask a little crew to smell, hold, and name them. Then I challenge them to find the same herbs growing in the garden. They enthusiastically join this game as well as plucking leaves and putting them in a baggie to take home to mother. Children's senses are so alive, so eager for nature's stimulus that they love this challenge.

The harvest is equally wonderful. Children, who would otherwise leave radishes untouched, happily munch those they have raised. Joyously they gather squash, green beans, pea and pods. Those who might otherwise be finicky eaters enjoy opening the pods themselves and finding that they love the sugar snap peas fresh and uncooked.

Once the child's food associations have been diverted from their natural and most perfect diet, it is extremely challenging to return to nature's table. I can't stress enough to parents of young children to take care from the beginning to give them food from nature's gardens that is colorful, has texture, and is packed with nutrition right from the sun and soil enriched with nature's composted fertilizers. The child's total radiant health depends on the adults around him/her paying scrupulous attention to what s/he is ingesting physically, emotionally, and mentally. Her elders best teach her by their own choices and behaviors. Let families return to the outdoors to prepare the soil, plant, and harvest. As they cooperate in the gardens of the Earth, they will discover that they are simultaneously renewing not only their relationships with the Earth, but with one another. They will realize a synergy of practical work, emotional fulfillment, and spiritual upliftment. They will find themselves humbled with childlike wonder as recipients of her bountiful gifts, even as they attain the stature of Stewards of the Earth.

Posted August 2006 | Permanent Link

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