Last summer I was assigned a school project that required me to visit different community gardens around Victoria while videotaping the diversity that lay behind the vined fences and which decorated the wood chipped paths. It was during this project that my two-year-old son and I stumbled upon a central Victoria garden in the neighbourhood of Fernwood. This modest garden hosts plots of soil out to paying members of the community. These individuals, who may not have access to gardens at their residences, pay for their spots and spend time maintaining their sweet peas, lettuce, and black-eyed susans – a perfect place to experiment gardening with kids!
The day that we chose to visit this particular garden also happened to be the same day a composting camp had begun, and to my surprise there were groups of kids circled around instructors who were teaching them about the need for composting and compost education.
As an initiative recently implemented by the Capital Regional District, where compostable scraps are now being picked up from homes bi-weekly, I was glad to see that our youngest and most influenced community members were being taught this very important part of living consciously.
My son loves gardening and being outdoors. We’ve been fortunate to have rented two different homes in Victoria that have been outfitted with compost bins. Because of this, my son has experienced the constant use of composting, and closely identifies it as being a normal part of living, and a crucial part of gardening.
As food waste decomposes and is added to garden beds, what increases is the microdiversity within the soil. This soil becomes a beneficial source of nutrients for plant life, not only aiding in the plant’s ability to absorb water but also preventing diseases and in turn curbing the use of pesticides.
Composting is beneficial for several reasons. I have found that it teaches my son that all food has a role, and that none of it is truly garbage. After a meal we separate our waste into two containers. The container that goes into our front yard compost bin generally contains eggshells, tea or coffee grounds, fruit, vegetables, and like materials that decompose easily and are beneficial in the garden. In the other bin we collect meat scraps, bread, yogurt, cheese, and other food waste that doesn’t break down as easily. The second bin is emptied into compostable bags and placed in our larger compost bins, which are then picked up bi-weekly by the CRD.
Perhaps one of my son’s favorite activities is gardening. When we are planting potatoes, we insulate the ground with leaves and compost. When the compost has had time to decompose, it turns into rich nutrient filled soil that we then fill into our garden beds. And as we load the compost bin with scraps, we make sure to layer them with soil to help the break down process.
I believe that teaching children about composting and the benefits and joys of gardening are very important in our current world. In our garden we grow rosemary, lettuce, chives, lavender, mint, strawberries, garlic, tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers. What this has taught my son is that we have the ability to grow our own food — with a little work at the beginning of the season we have plenty of food to eat.
In addition, compost teaches children the importance in not wasting food, but also that even when there are food scraps they can be used for something beneficial and not end up in a landfill.
The activity of gardening with kids is fun as well. We have tried to emphasize gardening “toys,” which have included his very own gardening shovel, rake, and gloves. For those without a garden, planting pots on a balcony or to put in a sunny window can also produce similar benefits. Incorporating these basic life skills not only teaches children how to become increasingly self-reliant in terms of food production, but also creates a fun outdoor activity (who doesn’t love digging in the dirt!) Even the preparation to garden; picking out seeds and planning where certain plants will grow best can be a fun learning experience for children. And, there really isn’t anything much better than biting into delicious homegrown food planted, loved, and cared for by your family.
For more information on composting, check out a great local resource - The Greater Victoria Compost Education Centre!