Early on in the book Anna points out how quick we are to act, as parents, to any immediate threat to our children’s welfare – say a nasty looking dog or a car coming up the street. And yet, many of us tend to avoid even thinking about the longer-term threats that our children will face. Our days are such a whirlwind of school runs, playdates, homework, cooking, cleaning and generally living life, that thinking about and acting on the strategies and tactics that will really help our children in the long run barely enters our minds.
A few years ago now Anna and her family made some tough decisions and changed their lives for the better – committing to becoming ‘contributors rather than just consumers’. I absolutely love that… becoming a contributor rather than just a consumer – this really resonates with me. Anna and her husband gave up their well-paid white-collar city jobs and headed for the country. They found some ‘real’ space, learnt new skills and now run Honeycomb Valley Farm (link) where they live a more sustainable life together with their 3 children, 3 horses, 8 alpacas, 30 cows, 26 goats, 30 sheep, 50 chickens, 20,000 worms… and 1,000,000 bees.
So why did Anna and her family make this massive change? She explains…
“For years, I was so busy and distracted I never questioned the treadmill our family was on, the role we played in society, or how our society might change during the course of our children’s lives. Our debt kept growing larger, our working days kept getting longer and it became ever so easy to fill what little spare time we had with after-school activities, TV programs, car trips to the shops and pre-packaged treats. Our lives were full to bursting rather than full as in fulfilling. Though we could have everything we wanted – or so it felt, thanks to the credit card – we realised we couldn’t actually DO anything! We were so easily distracted by
electronic entertainment and consumption that we weren’t focusing on nurturing in ourselves (or our children!) the skills, tools, traits, knowledge and curiosity that would be useful throughout a lifetime.”
Anna credits things like the horror of September 11 playing out on the TV screen, her husband’s sarcoidosis likely caused by exposure to chemicals, and the shocking discovery of what the ingredients in her children’s shampoo actually were as being just a few of the triggers that lead to this life change.
I cannot recommend this book enough. And not just for those of us with children, but for anyone even thinking about having children in the future. Because the future our children are facing is a much different one to the lives we are leading right now.
“It doesn’t take news broadcasts to inform us that our world is facing immense challenges. The impact of these challenges will be fully felt by our children’s generation, and thats why the time is right to refresh our life and parenting philosophy with ideas and concepts that will stand our children in good stead for their entire lifetimes, disasters or no disasters, climate change or climate the same, prosperity or paucity. And its all about empowering them. A meaningful, joyous childhood – and therefore adulthood – is reliant on exposing them (and ourselves!) to ideas, actions, knowledge, wisdom and skills, and not just academic or sporting skills, but problem-solving skills and life skills that will be useful to them and their wider community long after they have outgrown their soccer boots and their Maths coach.”
And don’t fret… the ideas Anna presents in her book do not involve a necessary move to the country. Her practical ideas and guides can be applied to a townhouse or suburban home equally. As Anna states ‘no matter where you live in your little world, you’re part of a much bigger one. There are about seven billion humans sharing the planet right now, and the impact of this growing population on our children will be immense.’
“It’s not okay that our children’s preferences are for foods with ingredients they can’t recognise over those that they can, like breakfast cereal instead of pieces of apple, or snack bars instead of carrot sticks.”
Anna has kindly allowed us to publish this excerpt from Chapter Eight of her book which talks about just one area in which you can enhance your children’s lives, no matter where you live. In the garden.———————-
Gardening is a leisure activity that all the family can participate in. It builds a sense of community and contribution, encourages physical, healthy exercise outdoors in the sunshine that literally gives you fruit for your labour (and not chemically enhanced or GM fruit!), and is a life skill worth learning.
When Dr Maarten Stapper, a leading researcher and agricultural scientist, talks about the soil, he calls it “the skin of planet Earth.” Right now, our Earth’s skin is stretched so tight, is so cancerous in parts and so quickly flaking off in others, that it desperately needs you and your children to pay it significant attention.
It seems that we go through stages with our relationship with dirt. As kids, we love to play in it, and as adults we loathe it. We tend to scrub, launder and vacuum it, but we rarely think about or tend to it. That seems like a big error of judgement in relation to something so fundamental to life and growth and on which our health depends.
Good human health begins with the soil our food is grown in, but how many of us have ever expressed interest in the quality of the soil in which our broccoli, beef and beans have been grown? We’re just not encouraged to make these connections. Sure, we’re taught a little about food pyramids and food chains at school, but the soil sure doesn’t feature at its base. It’s as though our food grows magically in the thin, air conditioned air of a supermarket aisle.
Over the last century, our soils have been effectively mined of their goodness, stretched to their capacity by chemical fertilisers and depleted of healthy minerals and microbes. Our valuable topsoil—a resource for all humanity—has been exposed, concreted over, washed away during rainstorms and blown about by the wind during drought. Years of industrial farming with its lack of natural replenishment means plants, animals and humanity are no longer getting the best level of nutrition.
Do we have an obesity epidemic because our bodies are craving nutrients we’re no longer getting, leading us to eat more and more to fill the gap? Are cancers striking more people, at younger ages, because our bodies have been filled with artificial and preserved foodstuffs and don’t have the defences to fight back?
It’s not okay for our children to be eating food that’s been sprayed with chemicals that result in fish kills and the deaths of small species. It’s not okay that our children’s preferences are for foods with ingredients they can’t recognise over those that they can, like breakfast cereal instead of pieces of apple, or snack bars instead of carrot sticks.
Fortunately, there is another way. And it’s a fun one. It’s called: teaching your children to garden. If, like me, you’ve managed to kill pretty much every plant you’ve ever been given—even cactus—don’t worry; there’s hope! Here’s why knowledge of organic gardening is such a loving gift to share with your children:• It provides healthy, nutritious, non-genetically modified or pesticide-laced, life-giving food • It reduces your family’s food miles and therefore pollution and carbon footprint • It gets your children out in the fresh air and sunshine so they get their Vitamin D • It gives you a healthy, physical, cooperative activity you can do together • It helps develop children’s observation skills • It’s a great way to compost your own kitchen waste • It gives your children a connection to and a healthy relationship with the food they eat • It makes them aware of nature and inspires an appreciation of the seasons • It gives them an invaluable skill and affinity for plants • It gives them a sense of accomplishment knowing that they’ve helped put food on the table • It will give them food security in the increasingly insecure food chain.
Organic gardening (and Anna stresses ‘organic’, because ‘now is not the time to be teaching your kids to garden with man-made chemicals that cost money and can affect their health’) is a healthy activity. It provides physical exercise, it delivers a place uninterrupted by television or computers where you can hold a conversation, and it provides a huge amount of contentment in return for the effort you put in. Eating your own produce is definitely a feel-good moment, and sharing that produce with others is immensely fulfilling. Your children can be a part of that.They’ll also learn about the scarcity and abundance of the harvest, about good seasons and bad seasons, about giving and receiving. About having a backup and not relying on just one crop, and about the wisdom of ‘not having all your eggs in one basket’.
Anna’s award winning 90 acre family farm, Honeycomb Valley Farm in Northern NSW, offers a hands-on hosted farmstay experience – www.honeycombvalley.com.au
The photos accompanying this article were taken at Collingwood Children’s Farm. What a beautiful space this is! If you are unable to have your own garden at home for whatever reason, there are so many community gardens, city farms and permaculture societies that you and your children can become a part of. So go forth and get your hands dirty!
kids dressed by:
MIA, HENRY, SUE & LAURA