This year my eldest daughter Chloe is going to try a tomato. I dare to hope that she may even like it. One thing’s for sure, it won’t be a shop-bought variety as she would never eat one of those! Chloe is 7 and I’m hoping that the home-grown, hand-picked approach might just tempt her into trying something she claims she will “never, not ever eat!”. So Chloe, her sister Martha (aged 5) and I have just spent a few hours sowing our future tomato crop – a cherry tomato mix called ‘Heirloom’ and the curiously named ‘Banana Legs’ which produces 10cm long yellow fruit apparently. So it’s a tomato, but not as we know it. Both are heritage varieties which are supposed to taste much better than modern ones, so here’s hoping…
Our house in Beckley, near Rye, has a fairly large garden and a few years ago we decided to dig up a big chunk of the back lawn to start a vegetable garden and a mini-orchard with apples, pears and plums. We had the idea that we would try and be self-sufficient in fruit and vegetables – growing everything that we needed for our family in our own plot! Seven years on and we have come to our senses but it has definitely been an interesting experiment in getting our young daughters to try out new foods. During the summer months the girls use the fruit and veg plot as a sort of ‘outdoor larder’ – fresh peas and broad beans picked straight from the pod are eaten like sweets, while young runner beans are eaten raw and carrots never get much beyond the ‘baby’ stage before being pulled from the ground and devoured.
My daughters attend the local primary school in Beckley and the reception class teacher who is a keen gardener, has ensured that the school has a dedicated fruit and veg patch that all the kids up to year 6 regularly use. They are all encouraged to leave wellies at school and ‘muck-in’, and can often be seen outside digging from as early in the year as February. As a Landscape Gardener and advocate of the health benefits of horticulture, I have helped to set up an after-school gardening club to support and extend their growing activities. The club is well-attended and it is a joy to see how much pleasure the children get from sowing their own seeds and tending their own plot.
Thanks to a long campaign by the Royal Horticultural Society, gardening is now back on the national curriculum so all schools across the country will be helping youngsters to embrace a more healthy, energetic lifestyle. Research from the RHS has shown that gardening boosts child development, teaches life skills and makes kids healthier and happier. Children that took part in their study were quoted as saying that “gardening brings learning alive” and “I love watching stuff grow”.
The practical, hands-on nature of gardening helps children become more active, flexible thinkers. They are not just learning about how to grow something in a book, they are actually doing it. Meanwhile, the physical side of gardening helps children to stay focused and use up surplus energy in the process. All in all a better way to improve children’s health and well-being than imposing a tax on sugary drinks which is currently being considered by the government.
So will I manage to get Chloe to eat a tomato? I remember being at a pick-your-own farm aged about six with my family and some friends. We had just gorged ourselves on strawberries and were heading through the rows of tomato plants, heavy with ripening fruit, the smell overpoweringly ‘tomato’. My friend had brought along a mini salt cellar and encouraged me to pick a tomato and try it with a little salt on. Of course, it was delicious and I have loved tomatoes ever since. Maybe our ‘Banana Legs’ tomatoes might instil a similar memory in Chloe.
- words: Kath Oliver
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