Veggies not only help kids grow up healthy and intelligent, they keep the earth in its best shape as well. Here are some of the most earth-friendly veggies and how they nourish the planet.
Many of us planted trees and cleaned creeks on Earth Day. But Krystle Sims-Cameron and her son, Khaliq, gave the earth one of the nicest gifts it could ask for: seeds for mini-eggplants, peas, tomatoes, zucchini and more.
“We’ve used ladybugs and praying mantis as pest control, planted bee balm to attract pollinators and (we) amend the soil with compost,” said Sims-Cameron, who also is growing kale, peppers, cucumbers and okra. “We want to protect the little portion of earth we’ve been granted stewardship over.”
Many veggies, including broccoli, peas and onions, are super-healthy not only for us, but also for the earth. They keep the soil clean and fertile, require few resources to grow and, importantly, do not emit harmful gases into the air. If they are organic and free of chemical pesticides, they are even better for our big blue marble.
By contrast, livestock generates more greenhouse gas emissions than all the planes, trains and automobiles on the planet, according to a 2006 report from The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. The methane emitted from cows alone has 21 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide.
What can we do? We can strike a better balance – eat our peas, carrots and broccoli in larger portions. Veggies rank high among the most eco-friendly foods, according to Dr. Keith Kantor, author of the children’s book “The Green Box League of Nutritious Justice.” Among them:
Garden peas: Peas please the earth because many of them generate their own nitrogen, one of the most important chemical elements for plant growth. As a result they require less synthetic fertilizers. This benefit is more likely to occur in peas and beans growing in Europe, where nitrogen-fixing bacteria are present in the soil. In the United States, the bacteria are not necessarily there, so the plants would first need to be inoculated.
Broccoli: Broccoli emits an all-natural pest defense, so farmers can grow them without added chemicals. Other cruciferous vegetables, including cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts, also produce this chemical group, called isothiocyanates. Bonus benefit: In addition to keeping bugs at bay, isothiocyanates have been found to defend against cancer.
Onions: They may be tearjerkers, but onions definitely pass the smell test when it comes to the environment. They are rich in chemicals containing sulfur, which explains their strong odor and also keeps bugs away. Sulfur also is an important mineral element for our muscles, cardiovascular systems and nervous systems, and it synthesizes important antioxidants.
Potatoes: Potatoes are nature’s givers, not takers. They require a moderate amount of water and fertilizer and produce natural compounds that ward off insects and disease. In return, they yield relatively high crops and can be used in scores of ways, which is good news since they last fairly long in the pantry.
We know that relating these benefits to kids may be a challenge, but there are a few ways to get kids to appreciate the relationship between Mother Earth and veggies. It starts with – you guessed it – getting their hands dirty.
Give the kids a parcel of yard to grow their own veggies and make it a learning experience. Sims-Cameron’s garden, for example, is also a science project to show her son how nature works.
If there is little room to garden outside, garden inside. Many veggies, including beans and tomatoes, can thrive in clay pots. Even a saucer can grow a veggie – put a carrot top in a plate of shallow water and watch it sprout.
A diary or chart can help kids keep track of when to water and feed the plants, and you can take pictures together to document their progress.
When the plants grow and generate their own veggies, search recipes together to make something special with them. Your kids will be taking their first steps toward loving veggies for life, and giving the earth a longer, healthier life in the process.