“I can’t plant a food forest! I have kids! They need a lawn to play in!”
Have you ever had that thought? Though it seems like a strange excuse to some of us mad plant scientists, I’ve heard it multiple times.
There’s this idea that the lawn is sacred and that it’s just The Place for kids to play. But what if you live in the forest? Would kids not be able to play? I think Christopher Robin would disagree with that conjecture.
Sure, a lawn is good for “kill the man with the ball,” soccer, slip n’ slides and wrestling… but the forest has its own appeal. Secret hideouts, climbing trees, hide and seek, tree forts; heck, even paintball is better in the woods.
Just because you have forest instead of lawn, it certainly doesn’t mean your kids will have no place to play. In fact, they’ll probably have more fun playing than they would in a bare yard. Let’s take a look at a few of the amazing perks of involving children in your food forest project.
Benefit #1: It’s Fun To Play In The Woods
A few years ago when I began The Great South Florida Food Forest Project in my amazing parents’ backyard, my mom, always thinking of children and grandchildren, told me she didn’t want to take up so much yard that there wasn’t a play area.
Unfortunately for mom, I have a rebellious streak and my dad is also a free thinker… so piece by piece, we filled up a lot of the former play area with plants. Cassavas, an avocado, naranjillas, cannas, a mulberry tree… the list kept growing as the “lawn” shrank.
Last fall I made some proper paths through the rapidly growing forest area.
A week or so after I installed them and went home, my mom called me.
“I was watching the _____ kids for their mom the other day… they really love those paths! They were running and skipping through the food forest and bumping into eachother… hiding back there and having a good old time. Abi (my niece) loves them too!”
When you build a food forest, you’re building a managed forest ecosystem. No big bad wolves or witches with gingerbread houses – which is good, because gingerbread can’t compare to fresh fruit and nuts. Just ask your local dietician.
Benefit #2: Your Kids Get To Pick and Eat Real Food
You might not be able to get your baby to eat healthy and delicious limburger cheese (I’ve tried… the baby just won’t. I think he thinks it’s some kind of carrion), but I haven’t met many kids that hate fruit. In my yard I’ve got a great variety of edible berries and fruit, many of which I planted with children in mind. Jamaican cherries, blueberries, mulberries, strawberries, figs, kumquats, Simpson stoppers, beauty berries… the list just keeps going. (BTW, the baby REALLY loves Simpson stoppers: proof.)
As a kid we had a grapefruit tree in the backyard. We ate them, threw fruit at the neighbor girl, built a tree fort in the grapefruit’s branches and generally adored that old tree. Another much-beloved tree in my wife’s old neighborhood was a wonderfully productive mulberry. We stained ourselves purple and ate… and ate… and ate.
In my mind, persimmons beat the living daylights out of grass. And any fruit beats the living daylights out of Nesquik, cheez doodles and other trashy children’s “food.”
When you plant fruit, you’re making an investment in your children’s health. Of course, they won’t know its a nefarious plot to get them nutrition… they’ll just think you’re great for planting those delicious things!
Benefit #3: Your Kids Get To Enjoy Nature
I really feel for families who have to live in apartments. Apartment complexes are often rather grim places. Parking lots, grass, a few trees and if you’re lucky, you get a fake lake with a fountain.
Suburbia isn’t any better. It’s like an apartment complex except without the fake lake.
As kids we had some places in the neighborhood to play (there were great big ficus trees in the park), but we really, really loved going on vacation in the country where there were real woods.
Though a food forest can’t replace true wilderness, it does give provide a child with a lot more of nature than a standard lawn. His chances to catch bugs, watch birds and butterflies, flip over snail-concealing logs and hunt for lizards are greatly increased. These are important things, though they seem trite to the adult mind.
We’re all part of an ecosystem. Children get to see a lot more of nature’s interaction in a little patch of forest than they will in a huge patch of ChemLawn.
Seriously: hide and seek, fresh fruit and mayonnaise jars of weird beetles? How can you beat that?
If my mom came around… so can you. It’s more fun than you – or your children – can imagine.