Why gardening with kids is worth the mess

Ever since we decided to move to Austin, I’ve dreamt of owning a ranch. Maybe it was my childhood in the mountains of Idaho, but I’ve always had a romantic idea of learning to live off the land. The classic western cowboy life—horses roaming in the backyard, peacocks loose, maybe a pond with ducks, gathering eggs for breakfast in the morning and gardening with kids.

We got the chicken and the egg part down, but the reality of running a ranch…not so much. It doesn’t fit into our current life plans and, to be honest, the New Yorker in me still likes a little taste of city life. So, I’ve settled for trying to create my own little urban homestead here in Austin with a chicken coop and fruit and veggie garden in our backyard.

It’s been a wild and messy learning curve. I’m not a green thumb by nature and gardening with the kids can feel kinda insane—like the time Shep ate all the corn kernels we were supposed to use for planting or when Odette ate a fistfull of dirt. But I love that they’re forming a healthier connection with their food and I’m encouraged by the way it’s helped us grow together.

Here are a few of the reasons why I think gardening with kids has been worth all the mud, sweat and tears…

It keeps us connected

I want my kids to know that food doesn’t just come out of a box or in a delivery bag. Ok, yes, sometimes it does. We definitely order our fair share of takeout, but I still want my kids to have a connection to the food they’re munching on. Knowing what it takes to make a meal, or grow a vegetable, has shown my kids (and me) that a yummy dish doesn’t just happen. It takes a lot of thought and effort to grow something. So when it comes to enjoying a meal, I hope we will all be more mindful about what we consume—and what we waste.

It’s therapeutic

Gardening is not something you can do quickly. We have to look at the plants and talk about how they’ve grown and changed to properly care for them. I love that this forces us to slow down and be in the moment together. Plus, digging around in the dirt feels like the perfect antidote to the stress of our digital world.

It sparks creativity

Not only are my kids more likely to try new foods that we’ve grown together in the garden, it also encourages me to get creative in the kitchen. A new favorite: roasted beets with avocado oil and sea salt. Gardening has also inspired my middle son, Shep, to sing to our plants. No joke. He loves to serenade them (lately it’s the Jonas Brother’s “Sucker”) and I love that it’s given him a positive avenue to channel his self-expression. And apparently the plants like it based on how they are growing…

It feels awesome

My kids have such a huge sense of accomplishment when they get to create a meal out of the fruits and veggies they’ve helped cultivate in their own backyard. I’ve even noticed that they are more excited when picking out simple ingredients from the grocery store or local farm because they’re more confident about food and their skills in the garden.

It’s humbling

The garden sometimes feels like having another kid. It sucks up a lot of time and attention and is completely unpredictable. There’s no user manual and just when I think we’ve finally got it all figured out, something comes along to put us in our place — like the deer who wiped out all the tomatoes Tom and I planted, or the squirrels who ate our blackberries. The kids are not always happy about the lessons we’re forced to learn, but I want them to be resilient, to learn from their mistakes, and to know that we (like the garden) always have room to grow.


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  • Tanaya Degenhardt

    You are such an inspiration to me as a woman and as a mom. Thank you!

  • Cameo

    First off, I love your garden! I’ve really been wanting to start my own backyard garden and now that my little one has started waking and is now interested in playing in the yard and helping out, I think starting a family garden will be such a wonderful thing to do! Any tips on getting one started?

  • Genie

    Gardening is very hard work but a very tasty reward!! Have you tried planting heirloom tomatoes. They are fun because they are all colors and shapes & very flavorful!! We had fun making zucchini pasta noodles!! Very yummy with just a little sauce and cheese. Sorry about the deer they are very hungry & very hard to discourage. Enjoy your bounty!!!

  • Jessica Lozano

    Hi Gen! I love this post!! I’ve been wanting a garden for such a long time. How do you manage it all?? I love the ideas you always provide and it’s very inspiring. I’m sure everything just tastes so much better too. I remember visiting my Grandma’s house on the weekends and climbing her apricot tree and getting full of them before lunch lol. I still can’t find an apricot that comes close to what I remember at Grandma’s house. You always have a wonderful balance with work, family, exercise and time for yourself. Thank you for sharing your life with us!! All the best, Jess

  • Joby

    Thank you for sharing this! We have a tiny backyard in the Las Vegas. This is the first year we have had a garden & got our first peas! Love to be able to do this with my huband and son. Our son (13 yrs old) is an aspiring chef and coming up with tons of ways to cook with peas.

  • Hailey Owens

    I was grinning ear to ear while reading this post. When I was little my mom and I had blackberry bushes and pear trees. I would also hand shuck corn with my grandmother. Gardening is such a wonderful memory of mine. I plan to return it to my life in the near future. For now it’s just a herb garden on my porch. ?

  • Angela DeLeonardis

    Hi Gen, I just came in from transplanting plants to bigger pots.
    I almost killed them from lack of water. I bought a little walk in greenhouse from ocean state job lot and love it. You are right about it taking time but it is gratifying to see the results of your hard work.
    All I have right now is three tomato plants, two pepper plants, basil and scallions. Next year if all goes well I will do more. It is great that you are having such quality time with your kids, getting them away from tv and other electronics. We spent our childhood playing outside and it gave me great memories to think back on. Happy gardening!

  • Kathy Custren

    SO many excellent reasons to garden with the children. Kudos to you for teaching them so many wise and wonderful things early on. Maybe one thing they will discover is how we can each grow a little contribution and join in the larger feasting. Cheers (and thanks to Mother Nature) ~ Blessings! <3

  • Diana Vinson

    Hello Gen!
    Country life alone is so good for children.
    I dug my heals in at first when we got married,
    because I wanted to stay in the City. But , after
    Our daughter was born and then our son, I could see
    how wonderful life was for our children. They, to me, were
    actually learning healthier natural living compared to
    Children in town. Now, my young grandchildren are doing
    The same. We have a big garden, sheep, chickens ( they
    make good friends lol), goats, dogs, cats……the norm ?
    I know it’s hard wanting the “city life” now and then, but
    Just know that what you’re doing for your kids is the best.

  • Connie Smeriglio

    I have loved gardening for a long time. I love knowing exactly what is in everything and even have learned how to preserve so much of it so it doesn’t go to waste. Though, my chickens get a lot of the extra stuff too.

  • Suganti Anand

    I do not have a green thumb. At all. But that doesn’t stop me from trying, though I am taking a break this summer. I can multi task and I thrive on it but as you said it’s like a child and needs attention. I always dreamed of growing veggies since my grandma had some and buying produce from farmers market growing up encouraged the idea even more. Sometimes I give up easily to not do it like I need more to-do lists. Reading your post makes me feel better and keep trying.

  • Nicole

    I loved your post all of the wonderful thoughts behind gardening and I really enjoy the idea of children being a part of the whole gardening experience as well. I have never been much of a gardener, not lack of effort I just feel like life just takes over, hard enough for me to keep flowers outside watered lol. My kids do help my aunt in her garden so at least get to do it somewhere. Thank you for sharing.

  • Adrienne Rogerson

    This evening I discovered the local rabbits feasted on my sprouting lettuce ?
    I hope they enjoyed it as much as I was hoping too!

  • Évelin

    Olá, sou do Brasil e te acompanho á algum tempo e você não tem noção de como você traz uma tranquilidade e paz pra quem lê seu blog. Te admiro muito pela mulher que é, pelo jeito que cria seus filhos, como leva a vida. Você é uma inspiração de mulher para mim.
    Um grande beijo pra você e sua família ♥

  • Ana Cláudia

    Hi Gen!
    Georgeus!!! inpired.
    Love You

  • Lynn

    Great post. I grew up on a farm and one of my favorite memories is going out in the field, pulling a carrot from the ground, washing it off at the pump, and just eating it raw. The chores weren’t always fun to do, but things like that were. And I’m happy now that I got to do and learn all of that. I bet your kids will be too when they’re older.

  • Taylor

    We can not wait to start our garden at home we are most excited to get our toddlers involved! This is very inspiring.

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