Do you live and work on a family farm, or dream of doing so? The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has declared 2014 the International Year of Family Farming. With more than 500 million family farms throughout the world, family farming promotes sustainable and environmentally- friendly development and maintenance of crops, livestock, and/or aquaculture — keeping it all within the family unit.
While the goal is to align smaller family farms with important access to land and natural resources, market access, technology, finance, specialized education and more, the bigger picture is that these farms help boost local economies, reduce rural poverty and hunger, impact policy, preserve traditional food products, promote biodiversity and protect natural resources, and much more. In fact statistics tell us family farms produce the food that feeds billions of people, so supporting them is critical.
But even if you don’t live and work on a family farm, and in fact wherever you live — at the bottom of a mountain or the top of a 30-story high rise — what can you teach your children about choosing and valuing local, sustainable food?
For the Lee family of Washington, D.C., mom Kerry and dad Charles were born and raised in NYC before meeting at graduate school in Washington, D.C. Sons Michael, 12, and Andrew, 10, had never lived anywhere but D.C. with their parents. Bona fide urbanites, the idea of growing their own food on a large scale was not within reason.
Frequenting what is perhaps the District’s most historic farmers market, Eastern Market, as well as the Dupont Circle FreshFarm Market near Charles’ office, the Lees have taught their boys “almost from the moment they started on solid food” about local, sustainable, organic produce, dairy, meats, baked goods, and more, Kerry explains.
“We can’t raise chickens and we may not be able to grow our own vegetables in the volumes we’d like,” says Charles, acknowledging they try and maintain a few window boxes and do some gardening behind their row house in the spring and summer. “But we support local agriculture not only by buying local, but letting our kids know the reasons why.”
Experts say almost nothing excites children more than eating something they’ve created, such as cucumbers borne of seeds they planted a few months ago, or home-grown green peppers on homemade pizza. “It makes them appreciate their food and challenges them to think and ask questions about it,” Charles says, adding that he and Kerry collect rainwater for the garden and are also ardent composters. “It adds another layer when we show them how interactive everything is with the Earth.”
For their last vacation, the Lees elected to volunteer for a week on a small farm in rural Western Maryland. Kerry admits it was the hardest work they’d ever done and quickly taught their children more about respecting what comes from the Earth than a hundred visits to the farmers market.
“Kids learn best by example — and by doing,” Kerry says. “If we want them to understand and grow up to be willing stewards of the Earth, we have to do it too.”