Go Outside!

April 16th, 2015 by Live Well Omaha Kids

Written by Chelsea Taxman, Truck Farm Omaha

Over 80% of the US population lives in urban areas producing generations of children disconnected from the nature and origins of food. A typical American child spends over 50 hours per week indoors using electronics, resulting in reduced mobility and ecological food literacy. This isolation from nature, paired with easy access to cheap, highly-processed foods has led to the first generation of kids who not only think that their food just appears on grocery store shelves, but also one that is projected to lead to shorter lives than their parents.

chelsea_tfoDuring the past 10 years, I have spent an incredible amount of time working with youth in the outdoors. After serving as an outdoor camp counselor in the mountains of Colorado, leading educational hikes in Fontenelle Forest and exploring garden life with Truck Farm Omaha the past three years, I decided I never want to teach indoors again. When was the last time you explored the outdoors with a child? There is so much going on right under our feet.

TFO_kidsbooksTry it today! Spending time in the outdoors can be as simple as walking to school with your child or taking an evening stroll after dinner before bedtime. What did you see? Children are naturally inquisitive. Explore the insects, animals and plant life near your home or child’s school. Bring along piece of paper and crayon for leaf rubbings or outdoor observations. Follow a spider for a while or path of water from a gutter to the sewer. Check out a book from the library to help identify the species near your home. Even if you live in a neighborhood with a lot of pavement, there is still nature and outdoor activity. If you or your child feels afraid of certain animals like spiders or snakes, take time to read and learn about the species. Read about the behaviors of spiders in Nebraska and learn what snakes like to eat and where they like to live. When you learn more about a species, there is less fear of the unknown and an opportunity to discover the life in the soil. Healthy soil and ecosystems support healthier food and gardens.

wormsBefore planting a vegetable, fruit or herb garden, it’s important to develop an appreciation for the environment already in place where you want to grow. Learn who visits your future garden space. Make a list of birds, insects and mammals you see in the backyard or garden space. The moment a shovel makes contact with the ground; existing habitat is disrupted and affected.  How can you and your children support existing ecosystems and grow food for your home?

I recommend pairing your vegetables with perennial flowers and herbs. Perennial plants need help becoming established in the beginning of their life, but perennial plants and herbs need less attention and less water each year and you still reap the benefits of their beauty and fragrance.  These species also create habitat for the wild. Attracting insects, birds, bats, bees, butterflies, microbes and more to your garden means healthy soil.  Harmful insecticides affect our water ways, animals and limit the time your children and grandchildren can spend in the garden.

TFO_girlsincIs this your first time trying to grow food?  The amount of plants you choose to grow depends on how ambitious you are feeling. If your schedule is busy, start small. Work with something you can check in on every day. There are salad green varieties available on the market that can be planted from seed and harvested within 20-40 days. Quick crops like lettuces, arugula or radishes provide instant gratification.  Success with a few plants will help you feel more confident to try more the next year. First time vegetables that are “easy” include radishes, spring greens, lettuces, beans, spinach and other cooler season crops.  First-timers might want to stay away from midsummer plants that need a lot of attention during the hotter months and they need even more water.  Midsummer and heavy-feeder crops can include melons, corn, tomatoes and peppers, to name a few.

I recommend herbs in the Lamiaceae (mint) family if you have space or pots on a balcony, window or deck. These plants smell and taste delicious, their flowers attract pollinators, but they do spread throughout the garden if not controlled. I personally like when they spread in between my other plants serving as a ground cover, but my garden is a bit wild. Youth in the Truck Farm Omaha program love working with herbs each summer. Youth love to eat fresh chives, stevia, mint and lemon balm to name a few. The students appreciate the fragrance and flavor of herbaceous perennials. Last winter, Truck Farm students dried some of their garden herbs and created seasoning packets (marinara and ranch dressing mix) to take home for winter.

tfo_yatesIf you don’t have room at your home to plant a vegetable or flower garden, I recommended turning to your neighborhood for opportunities. There is often the option to join a neighborhood garden or community garden for more space and support your first year. I have heard of neighbors sharing their backyard and space, too.  As far as pots go, there are many plants that can be grown in pots. Herbs and flowers are generally easiest. I wouldn’t start these from seed, but I would support a local grower and purchase plant starts. You can find local growers at farmer’s markets in Omaha and sometimes during garage sales. Larger nurseries and big box stores tend to use more harmful chemicals than local organic and natural growers. Do your research.  Not only are you impacting nature with insecticides and chemicals, but you’re impacting your family. Whatever you put in or on the soil goes into your food.

A few resources:
Omaha Public Library: Common Soil Seed Library at the Benson Branch – check out up to six varieties of seeds per month per library card. The library offers a variety of free classes, too.
tfo_openstreetsVisit Truck Farm Omaha website to seek our public events and garden contests. Follow us on facebook, too.
Paradigm Gardens, 8949 J Street, great source for open-pollinated seed varieties, organic compost, soil test kits, locally-sourced plant starts, canning, pots and more
City Sprouts offers workshops and classes throughout the growing season.

A few books:
Backyard Homestead by Carleen Madigan
Life in the Soil by James Nardi
Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth
Farm Anatomy by Julia Rothman
Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway
Fontenelle Forest Identification Guides

Trees, Grasses & Sedges

About Chelsea Taxman
A native of Omaha, aspiring herbalist, permaculture practitioner and home gardener, Chelsea travels to schools in the Omaha area with Truck Farm Omaha offering education to youth about where our food comes from today. Chelsea incorporates lessons of healthy eating, movement and sustainability into the Truck Farm Omaha curriculum. She is a Registered Yoga Teacher and co-founder of Black Iris Botanicals, a wild-crafted and locally-sourced herbal body care line.

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