One of my most favorite memories of autumn is going apple-picking with my family. I was so enthralled by all the hidden treasures hanging in the orchard. I loved tasting the different varieties of apples and deciding which was my favorite. I especially cherished the warm apple cider samples that the farm provided after we finished collecting our apples.
This time of year is the perfect opportunity to head to a local farm to pick your own produce of the season, whether it be apples, pears, pumpkins, squash or others available where you live. By taking your children on a U-pick adventure, they will learn a tremendous amount about food and the environment, and you will build family memories that will last a lifetime.
Encourage Healthy Eating
Over the past three decades, childhood obesity rates in America have tripled, with nearly one in three children currently considered overweight or obese. It is no surprise that much of this trend is due to children eating too much sugary junk food.
One of the best ways to get kids excited about eating healthier foods is to let them go out and touch and feel the fruits and vegetables for themselves. When you take your children to pick their own produce, you are exposing them to healthier options and making it fun for them to choose delicious whole foods.
The best part is that you can go home from the farm and spend quality time together in the kitchen creating tasty meals from the food you hand-picked yourselves. There are so many healthy kid-friendly recipes to discover, from smoothies to side dishes and snacks. When your children play this much of a role in gathering and preparing their food, it will have a huge impact on them and influence the food decisions they make in the future.
Spend Time Outdoors in Nature
After a hot summer, many of us look forward to the refreshing crisp air. Taking your kids to a U-pick farm is a great way to spend more time outside in nature, which is definitely needed given the recent discussion about children suffering from nature-deficit disorder. Between hectic schedules, safety concerns and over-consumption of technology, children have less exposure and connection to nature. Sadly, children spending less time outdoors has been linked to a decreased appreciation of our environment, health problems including childhood obesity and vitamin D deficiency, diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties and higher rates of emotional illnesses like anxiety and depression.
By taking them on fun outdoorsy trips, we are giving them more opportunities to explore our natural environment. Being in nature is relaxing and inspiring. The children will be in awe of the gorgeous scenery at the farm, from the leaves changing colors to the vivid fruit and vegetables growing. It is a wonderful chance for the entire family to enjoy a few hours strolling around an orchard or farm taking in the sights, fragrances and miracles of nature.
Support Locally Grown Food
When you pick your own produce at a farm in your area, you are supporting your local community and protecting the environment. What special lessons to teach our children! You help farmers succeed by giving them business, ensuring that there will be farms in your community in the future. You are also continuing a special connection between growers and consumers.
When it comes to environmental protection, you are playing a role in reducing the distance that food travels to reach you, saving energy and resources. Local food also preserves genetic diversity because smaller local farms often grow many different varieties and rotate their crops to provide a long harvest season. Finally, local farms typically conserve fertile soil and clean water, ensuring a safe habitat for wildlife.
Additionally, locally grown food tastes better, is more nutritious, and stays fresh longer. It is picked at peak harvest time, transported shorter distances, and sold directly to consumers. The less time that passes between farm and table, the more nutrients remain.
Teach Your Children to Appreciate Where Food Comes From
When your children pick food with their own hands, they learn to appreciate where food comes from, and the work involved in making every meal we enjoy. It also gives them a special connection to farmers that they can’t experience at the grocery store.
They have a chance to meet the actual farmers that grow the food and learn about the role they play in food production. Encourage your children to ask the farmers questions about the seasons, the land, the different produce being grown, and the specific work they do on a daily basis. This also gives you a chance to talk to your children about choosing organic farms that avoid using harmful pesticides to grow crops.
Here are some additional ways to instill a deeper appreciation for where our food comes from:
- Eat mindfully with your children. This practice allows us to become aware of the positive and nurturing opportunities that can come from preparing and eating food. Instead of shoving food into our mouths and never really thinking about it, mindful eating awakens us to an entirely new experience with food. We can take a moment to savor and truly enjoy what we are eating. Check out Joy Rains Mindful Parenting Tips column on “30 Ways to Eat Mindfully.”
- Express gratitude for the food we have. When children have the chance to help create what they eat, they begin to understand how lucky they are to have dinner on the table each night. Take the time to express gratitude for the yummy food you have gathered.
- Give to others. Children can learn so much by making food and donating it to those in need. Some ideas include putting together trail mix using pumpkin seeds and dried apples for underprivileged youth or making your own apple sauce for a local food bank or child care center.
Enjoy Seasonal Produce
The best part of picking your own produce this fall is that you will be able to enjoy nature’s delicious treats as fresh as they come. When you eat food that is grown locally in season, you save money, have access to more nutritious food, and reduce the impact on the environment.
Visiting a U-pick farm also gives you a chance to talk to your children about the changing seasons, cycles of nature, and where certain crops grow during the year. For example, if we want to eat blueberries in the middle of winter, they will have to come a long way using a lot of fuel. And once they arrive, they won’t last very long in the refrigerator and won’t taste as fresh as the berries we can pick locally during the summertime.
As the air gets chilly where you live, I hope you will venture to your local U-pick farm to give your children the treat of a lifetime that they will look forward to each year as the seasons change.