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Someone You Should Know: Lisa Taylor

By Kristen Russell
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Lisa Taylor is the children’s education program manager at Seattle Tilth, an educational organization that teaches us ways to grow food organically, conserve natural resources and support our local food systems. When she is not growing and eating plants with children, Taylor, author of Your Farm in the City: An Urban Dweller’s Guide to Growing Food and Raising Animals, is a frequent speaker on soils, compost and children’s gardening.

Why are you so passionate about getting children into gardens?

Gardens do a number of things for children. First, they connect them with nature. When I was a kid, we stayed out and played until the streetlights came on. I took that for granted — I thought that was what childhood was all about. But in the city, that’s not what we do. We don’t let our kids loose to explore.

Nature is right here; it’s all around you. In a lot of ways, backyards, parks and public gardens are an easy connection to nature for all people who live in a city. Those who are lucky have a garden of their own; they can let their kids go explore, maybe while watching them through the kitchen window.

Then, there’s the science. What’s so cool about an organic vegetable garden is that it’s a little ecosystem. The bugs, the soil, the plants — you can learn so much about how things grow in that teeming, wonderful ecosystem of an organic garden. It’s the whole world right there in a little square of your back yard.

For me, the whole point of gardening together is to learn how to care for other living things and for ourselves.

Caring for home, friendship, observation, biodiversity, and other key themes around peaceful interaction happen naturally when a group of people are working together on a project. And because a garden is a living thing, you have to have extra care and extra teamwork … it’s an excellent vehicle for practicing all of these things. I think that teaching children to garden is one of the ways that we can save the world.

You also talk about another motivation of gardening: eating.

Yes, on a practical level, learning how to grow your own food and feed yourself is a great skill to have and to learn. Eating well, knowing about food and knowing where it came from is getting so lost these days, because so much food comes in boxes.

Research shows that kids who have a hand in growing, cooking and preparing food will try it. They may not like it, but they will try it. And they’ll be excited about it in much different way than they get excited about macaroni and cheese.

What’s your approach to teaching children to garden?

We ask the question: What absolutely has to be done by an adult? Maybe lifting heavy things, driving the car to get supplies or tying the knots in the strings on the trellis. The children do the rest. For, by and with children — that describes our children’s gardens.

There’s a great amount of capability that’s learned in a garden. The children think, “I’m capable, I’m constructing things, I’m making things.” I think that a lot of children I see just don’t do things for themselves. They aren’t picking up their backpacks; it gets done for them. It’s hard to have a lot of confidence and self-esteem if you’re not actu­ally doing these capable things.

Working in a garden provides that.

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