Survival Skills for Kids: Cooking and Gardening

In her book The Prosperous Heart, Julia Cameron shares the story of Richard, an independent graphic designer who blamed his uneven income for causing him to have too much credit card debt. However, an assessment of his situation revealed that the bulk of his debt was due to his daily habit of eating dinner in restaurants:

“I couldn’t believe it was so simple,” he said. “If I ate out only twice a week, I could be out of credit card debt in a year. What I needed were groceries. The price of a salmon fillet at the supermarket was a third of what I had been paying in a restaurant.”

It’s easy for us to react to Richard’s epiphany with “Well, duh!” But the fact is that there’s an entire generation of young people raised on fast food and restaurant meals that don’t have a clue when it comes to preparing food for themselves.

This wouldn’t be such a problem if our economy was booming, and if earning an income high enough to support daily restaurant meals was easy. But the combination of inflation, shrinking incomes and high unemployment has made times difficult for Americans of all ages and especially young people, many of whom give into the ever-present drumbeat of “College! College!” and graduate with considerable student loan debt, along with a college degree that’s not always the golden ticket to jobs it was advertised to be.

When we fail to equip our young people to live self-sufficiently, we handicap them in the best of times, much less the worst. Right now in Greece, highly educated young people are leaving large cities because they can’t find work; instead, they’re trying to eke out an agricultural living in the country on land their grandparents abandoned years ago. Their desperation comes out of necessity, but at least they’re trying. Surely the task is easier for those who were taught to garden and cook.

We could learn from that example and teach our children such survival skills, but U.S. children continue to be fed a diet of useless social experiments masquerading as curriculum. The closest they get to cucumbers is being taught to put condoms on them in Sex Ed. Seems like teaching them to make a fresh cucumber, tomato and onion salad would be a little more appropriate given our dicey economic future.

However, homeschooled children have the opportunity to be taught how to cook and garden by their parents as part of their daily education. These learning activities already occur naturally in the lives of many homeschooled children, and provide them with enough knowledge and experience that they emerge as young adults who can take care of themselves in hard times as well as good times. A bonus is the closeness that develops between parent and child. The lost art of preparing meals together is what once kept families close, and homeschooling families can easily prove it still works.

As for gardening, even modern children (once pulled away from their phones and iPods) enjoy the sight of the seeds they planted later popping up from the soil and quickly morphing into green plants. Once they taste their first fresh tomatoes and green beans, they’re usually hooked on gardening. For many of them, gardening will become a lifelong pleasure as well as a survival skill.

When I homeschooled my children, I could see that including cooking and gardening in our homeschool was fun and educational for them. It was well worth the effort. Remember, the time you spend teaching your children to garden and cook now will eventually result in that many fewer young people trying to feed themselves armed only with maxed-out credit cards later on.

Heirloom Seeds from Homeschool Gardeners

Our streets are covered with ice and there’s more snow in the forecast for tomorrow. But I’m already dreaming of spring because I received my lovely Baker Creek catalog in the mail recently.

The folks at Baker Creek are homeschoolers who want to encourage people to use heirloom seeds. Their catalog is just beautiful. Snag your free copy by going to their website but don’t wait too long; they’ve been known to run out of copies!

Saving Flower Seeds

I know it sounds silly, but I love going out to save seeds. It makes me feel like a good steward, I guess.

Today I picked all the seeds off my balsam plants along the front walk. (I bought a packet of balsam seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (they’re homeschoolers!) last spring, and they grew very well —wish I’d taken a picture of them in bloom to share here.)

Balsam plants are fun because once they bloom, little seed pods form along the side branches of the plants, and in the fall you can pop them open over a cup and all the seeds come tumbling out. (When my kids were little, they loved doing this :) )  I’ll let these dry in the unheated garage over the winter, and next spring I won’t need to buy more balsam seeds.

Other plants whose seeds I’ve collected in the past include:

Cleome (the long stringy pods under the blooms are full of tiny seeds)

Marigolds (the old blooms are seeds; save them once they’ve dried up)

Hollyhocks (the seed pods contain comma-shaped seeds)

Four o’clocks (the seeds are hard and black and found inside the blooms-they’re ready in mid-to-late summer)

Store seeds in a dry place where air can get to them and where they’ll get good and cold over the winter.

You don’t have to collect seeds; if you just leave them, they’ll come up again in the same spot next year. But by collecting seeds, you can scatter them where you want in the spring, plus you’ll have more than enough to share with friends and neighbors. Or, if you’re like me and think you might be moving, you can take the seeds along to the next house.

In recent years, most people bought blooming plants instead of planting them from seed. Most of the people who do grow flowers from seed buy new seed packets every year. Saving seeds is something people used to do when money was scarce. I think it’s going to be making a comeback.