This year’s theme for National Ag Day, “Sustaining Future Generations,” got us thinking about ways children benefit from our farm program here at GreenHouse17. This really matters because at any given time about half of the residents living at our emergency shelter are children.

Research finds higher occurrences of allergies, asthma, gastrointestinal problems, headaches and flu  — as well anxious, depressed or hyperactive behavior — in children who have witnessed intimate partner abuse.  Children exposed to violence also have a greater risk of serious adult health problems including substance abuse, obesity, cancer, and heart disease.

Gardening can help.

The Children, Youths, and Environments Center in Colorado publishes a list of benefits of gardening during childhood. So many of these benefits respond to the challenges experienced by children at our shelter:

  • A nationwide telephone survey reports picking vegetables, taking care of plants, or living next to a garden in childhood were more likely to continue gardening as they aged.
  • Eating fruits and vegetables in childhood results in more fruit and vegetable consumption in adulthood, which can help prevent chronic disease conditions.
  • Grade school students who participate in gardening programs show significant increase in self-understanding, interpersonal relationship skills, and ability to work in groups compared to nonparticipating student.
  • Children who grow their own food are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables — and more willing to try new foods.
  • Students who are actively engaged in garden projects tend to enjoy learning and show improved attitudes towards education.
  • In one study, fourth and fifth grade students who participated in school gardening activities scored significantly higher on science achievement tests than students who did not experience any garden-based learning activities.
  • Students engaged in active gardening, such as picking flowers or planting trees as a child, value natural areas and gardens in adulthood

Kids at our shelter  participate on the farm in lots of ways — picking strawberries, eating fresh snacks, consuming field-to-table meals, popping pop corn grown just a stone’s throw from the back door. And we want to provide opportunities for children to be even more involved! The benefits are just too positive to not.

That’s why this month we submitted a grant proposal to build three Safe Healing Outdoor Education Sites on our farm. Safe places to plant, nurture, and harvest vegetables and flowers. Healing spaces to watch magical butterflies and amazing honey bees.  Learning spaces to build understanding of water conversation. Fun spaces to dig in the dirt, roll in the grass, and laugh and run until they’re exhausted. A place just for kids on our farm.

We’d love to learn more about ways you engage children in your farm program!  Hope you’ll leave a comment to share some ideas.