Benefits of home gardening

Whatever your political leanings, you may have cheered Michelle Obama last year when you heard about her White House kitchen garden. Area children learned how to prepare the ground, plant seeds, water seedlings, pull weeds and finally enjoy the garden’s bounty.

According to the National Gardening Association, there was a 19 percent increase in U.S. households growing their own fruits, vegetables and herbs last year over the prior year. While economics surely played a role, planting a vegetable garden reaps many other benefits.

Registered Dietitian Diane Welland, the Virginia-based author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Eating Clean, says there is “the pride and satisfaction of growing your own food, a sense of accomplishment and appreciating what the land can produce.” (She also points to knowing the food is healthy and grown without pesticides and herbicides.)

Dirt with benefits

Looking for a way to nudge your child toward more produce? In a 2009 Journal of the American Dietetic Association study, 98 percent of the children in fourth to sixth grades who contributed to a garden during summer camp enjoyed taste-testing fruits and vegetables.

Last spring, when Welland’s daughter was 4, they planted snow peas. Every morning, they picked the ones that were ready and ate them. Welland refers to it as a “magic garden” because that was the only way she got her daughter to eat snow peas. Depending on your own child’s age, he or she will glean lessons not found in school while gardening.

Preschool-age children learn:

• Responsibility. They have to take care of the plant, water it and weed it or it won’t grow.

• Patience. Little ones have to wait for the plant to bear fruit and pick it at just the right time. Too early, and it will not be ripe or taste good. Too late, and it will begin to rot.

• How life changes. Watching how life grows and changes over the season is fascinating for a preschooler.

School-age children learn:

• Teamwork. They experience working together as a family. One member may be in charge of the watering, another takes care of the weeding.

• Greater appreciation of food. Children learn how much work it takes to get their food on the table.

• Working hard for a long-term goal. So much of today’s society is based on immediate gratification, but a garden doesn’t work that way.

• Recognizing good food. If all you’ve tasted are tasteless, off-season tomatoes, imagine a juicy, ripe tomato, right off the vine.

• Not giving up. Sometimes things don’t work out as you expect them to, such as experiencing a bad crop. Children learn that there’s always next year.

What does it cost?

Planting from seed saves quite a bit of money. A packet of seeds costs less than two dollars and a full garden can cost $5-$25 depending on how much and what you plant. If your soil quality isn’t the best, you may need to buy top soil, peat moss and manure, which may add about $30. Welland says it’s well worth the cost.

Happily, growing your own food is fashionable again. There’s nothing better than making dinner with the food you picked in the garden that morning. It’s fresh, clean and delicious and you know your family is getting the best food possible.

Christine M. Palumbo, RD loves snipping fragrant basil, oregano, parsley, rosemary, mint and cilantro from her herb garden in Naperville, Illinois. But her favorite home-grown items are the tomatoes. She can be reached at (630) 369-8495 or