Meet Orren Fox, a 14-year old boy from Newburyport, MA, who keeps 26 chickens and 4 ducks. Inspired by a neighbor's chickens, Orren instantly realized that he had a passion for their care. He got his first dozen chicks when he was 9 years old and he has been eating fresh eggs ever since. You can follow him on Twitter @HappyChickens.
There are all sorts of really interesting things to learn about food, actually I imagine you might not have really THOUGHT about food. Maybe someone hasn’t taught you about food. Most kids would rather think about other stuff.
But just for a minute, right now, stop and ask yourself – What did I have for breakfast? Ok now, think – Where did all those ingredients come from? Who made that bagel? What time did they have to get up? Where did that egg come from? Where did the chicken live and how did it live? If you knew the animal was poorly treated would that make a difference? Or not? Where did the orange juice travel from? Florida? California? Have you ever traveled to those states? Is it a long way from California or Florida to your house? How much gas did it use to ship the OJ that far?
All really interesting questions I think.
1. Vegetables taste great with butter and cheese.
Honestly, what doesn’t. Even asparagus, really even asparagus. I know there are some people who will say butter and cheese aren’t healthy, but hey I’m a kid and actually I think these are true foods or “real foods.” They aren’t chemically made in a laboratory. They come from recipes not chemical compounds or lab experiments. Maybe that is too harsh. But I understand eggs and cheese, I know where they come from. I don’t know what SODIUM TRIPOLYPHOSPHATE is, so I Googled it (here is what Wikipedia says – Polyphosphates are moderately irritating to skin and mucous membrane because of their alkalinity). Hmm. Not really interested in eating that.
Actually most veggies that you grow yourself or that come from your neighborhood farm taste completely different than those from the buckets in the supermarket. I actually think the veggies in the supermarket don’t really taste like much. A carrot that was harvested yesterday tastes very different from one that was harvested a few weeks ago, then spent the next few days on a truck, then the next few days sitting in the supermarket. I think the flavor must just drain out of everything as time passes. Also in the supermarket there are very few types of veggies or fruits. Very rarely would you see a Green Zebra or a Brandywine, and those are just tomato variations! Each of these variations tastes completely different, we are only really offered one or two types of tomatoes at the supermarket. These two types of tomatoes are the kinds that travel well and that are easiest to ripen or harvest. I actually don’t like the kind in the supermarket, I like Brandywines. They are sweeter.
I think kids might like veggies if they could choose the varieties they like, but they can’t because the choice is so small. I wouldn’t eat tomatoes if I could only eat the kind in the supermarket.
2. Food tastes better when you grow it yourself.
Food tastes better because your work is in it. I am an impatient gardener, so for me the food tastes great because I have had to wait for it to go from seeds to seedlings to flowers to fruit to ripe fruit. Somehow that makes it taste like you did it. So i guess there is a little bit of pride in those vegetables.
3. Growing food is hard work, a real accomplishment, and really satisfying.
I drowned the first tomatoes I tried to grow. I just kept watering them. They didn’t stand a chance. I just couldn’t believe that dry soil was very good for the plants, so I kept watering them. Of course they never grew. It actually made me really sad and I felt as if I would never be a farmer. I learned and the next year I didn’t drown them, I was a little more patient. Just a little, actually. I also talked to anyone who would talk to me about growing tomatoes.
I started them in little peat pots at home in a sunny window, then slowly put them outside each day to “harden them off”, at this point I almost froze the seedlings to death. I forgot to bring them in one night because I was so distracted by playing basketball, I completely forgot them. I was lucky, it didn’t get too cold that night. Once they were sturdy enough to plant into the ground I dug little nests into the ground and put them in. I practically expected to come back the next day and have ripe tomatoes. At this point the garden looked so tidy and organized. All the plants in their nests all in a row. Wow. Gradually the weeds invaded. I have to say, I like weeds. I would pull them up and give them to my hens. The hens loved them. Sometimes I would take a few of my hens into the garden with me. They were great helpers, until one day they discovered the green tomatoes. One tomato gone..after all of that work and tending! As it turned out we had a very very wet June and a tomato blight so only a few of my 8 tomato plants produced fruit. The ones that did were fantastic. I think they tasted especially good because I know how much work went into caring for them. They really did taste different!
4. Being adventurous with food is a great way to get good attention from adults.
Oddly some adults are surprised when kids eat vegetables. Eat a bowl of spinach or asparagus and see the reaction you get! Adults are stunned. I have this bad habit of grabbing a handful of spinach and jamming it into my mouth, people are astonished. Selfishly it feels good to have people pay attention to you.
5. Farmers are really inventors and are happy to tell you what they know.
I am friends with my local farmer, Matt. I went to visit him at his greenhouses. He had a problem. It cost a lot to heat the greenhouse during the winter to grow greens. So what did he do? he figured out a way to lower the ceiling so that he was only heating about 9 inches off the ground. This way he was able to keep the amount of fuel he used way way down and therefore the greens were affordable. Very inventive!
6. Keeping a compost bucket near the sink is a great way to use food you don’t eat – my hens love my leftovers.
Food is hard to grow, it seems ridiculous to throw it out. Uneaten food has so many uses. I actually feed most of it to my hens, they love it. In fact the other day I took my leftover burrito out to them and they went crazy! I am about to learn about worms and am probably going to get a worm farm so that we can take all of our newspapers and food waste and “feed” it to the worms to make delicious soil. Obviously healthy food comes from healthy soil, so I am going to employ some worms to do some work. They are going to be my farm workers. I actually think I might make a t-shirt that says “I (heart) worms”!
7. Good food comes from healthy soil, so don’t throw your trash out the window.
I am amazed when I see trash on the side of the road, or the other day someone threw their cigarette on the ground. Woah. I guess this just doesn’t make sense to me. Right now I don’t know that much about soil, it seems like there is TONS to learn. I’m going to start with my farm workers the worms and begin to learn more. What I do know is that garbage doesn’t help our soil, our earth. Basically the soil = the earth. So farmers are really the most important people when it comes to taking care of the planet. I read somewhere that someone said “Farmers are stewards of the earth”, I think that is really true.
8. Cooking is really fun. Think about it... fire, knives, and lots of people telling you that your are amazing.
The thing about cooking is that most people don’t think kids can do it, because of the knives and fire. Actually we can. We know it is dangerous and that we need to be careful, but if a kid doesn’t learn how to cook how can they possibly feed themselves when they become an adult? Imagine not knowing how to cook for yourself. What would you do? You become completely dependent on someone else feeding you. I think that probably means eating fast food or food that is already prepared. I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think that is the most healthy food. I think the goal of that food is sit on a shelf for a long time and not go bad. Also it is amazing the kind of praise and attention you get when adults know you can cook.
9. Eating a strawberry, an apple, a pear, a peach, blueberries straight from the plant is surprisingly awesome.
Hard to believe a dusty warm strawberry tastes so great but it does. It really does taste dramatically different from the ones you buy in the store. The one in the field tastes juicy and sweet. The texture seems right for a strawberry, kind of prickly with the seeds and gentle with the fruit. A ripe strawberry sort of melts, in fact I don’t think you even need to chew. I think because it is so ripe and because you found it, is part of the reason it tastes so great. This may sound funny but picking fruit or veggies yourself is kind of like treasure hunting. It is really satisfying to find a ripe strawberry, or a homegrown green bean. It feels like finding buried treasure. Even if you are picking an entire garden of green beans it is hard work but really rewarding.
10. Food should be a school subject – Food is biology, history, art, chemistry, PE, drama, Spanish and Latin all in one.
The thing about food is it teaches a lot of different subjects all in one. Obviously it is covers material in biology – photosynthesis, species classification, ecosystems, and causality. It is also history because the place where your garden is being planted probably has a growing history and it would makes sense to understand it before jumping in. For example, what was growing here before my garden, is the soil clean as a result of what was here before me, what have other gardeners/farmers planted here before and had success with? It is definitely PE because it is so physical! Growing food also requires Latin because many of the seed names are in Latin. And I think it is art because in a lot of ways growing a garden meets the definition of art “the products of human creativity, the creation of beautiful significant things”.
Actually what is more significant than growing food? Maybe most importantly it is math. Think about it, schedules, costs of seeds, how much space is needed. It all involves math, many, many calculations. Like my farmer friend Matt realizing he could grow greens during the winter if a head of lettuce was going to cost 7$, but no one would by it. Most of that 7$ was the cost of heating the greenhouse, so he figured out how to lower the ceiling in his greenhouse and heat a very little bit of the greenhouse, making his greens affordable.
11. You can have a big impact on the environment, depending on what you choose to eat.
I have been reading a lot lately that eating meat isn’t great for the environment. Obviously people have different opinions about this, but from what I have read factory farms are not good for the environment. Also if we choose to eat more of our food from things that are raised and grown nearby, that food doesn’t have to be shipped all over the place and therefore doesn’t use up a lot of gas to move it around. Maybe we could eliminate some traffic jams by eating local. I’m not sure we can eat everything from nearby, but just making the effort to buy more of our food from local farmers we automatically reduce the amount of food that has to be trucked around. This just logically makes sense to me.
12. That chicken you're eating is a really cool animal.
I am reading JSFoer’s new book Eating Animals and he talks about the time his babysitter said “You know that chicken is chicken, right?” I’m afraid most people know that but don’t really want to think about it. It is hard to imagine. Many people have never “met” a chicken before and this is what makes it possible to eat chicken. When you do meet this interesting animal, it is hard not to realize they are very much like other animals. Maybe even like animals you love. They have personalities, likes and dislikes. Do you know any other animals like that? Do any live with you? Maybe I’ve said enough. If you are going to eat chicken, I would encourage you to consider how that animals was raised and slaughtered for you to be eat. If it were tortured would you still want to eat it?
By Orren Fox