Some people have rabbits and woodchucks sneaking around backyard carrot, green bean and broccoli patches.
My friend Betsy has two rascals who make regular visits to her Niskayuna garden. It’s OK — they’re invited. Neighbors Maddie and Lilly Hanna, ages 5 and 2, happily nibble fresh vegetables. Betsy Sandberg and the girls’ mom, Jessie Hanna, apparently have come up with an answer to the endless enigma — how can adults persuade children to eat and enjoy their vegetables?
“They eat everything out of the garden, but not vegetables from the grocery store,” Jessie said. “It has motivated me to keep the garden going.”
Betsy, who grows carrots, beans, peas, kale, blueberries and tomatoes, among other crops, said it’s all about freshness and sugar. Fresh-picked goods, she said, are full of natural sugars. Fruits and vegetables, she adds, will lose some freshness points during transport time from field to market.
“The sugars have turned to starch,” she said. “When you buy them in the grocery store, they’ve been there for a day or two.”
Jessie said her daughters also like lunch and dinner right out of the garden because they’re involved in product production. “They plant the garden, they water the garden, they harvest the garden,” she said.
Kids might also go for fresh veggies because many of them can be held in small hands. “They don’t have to use forks,” Jessie said.
Maddie, a bubbly, blue-eyed blonde, smiled as she chewed bits of carrot and broccoli — one in each hand — on a recent summer night. “I pick them from Betsy’s garden,” she said.
She’s also a fan of edamame beans, which come conveniently packed in their own pods. “You get to pop them out and I like the way they taste,” Maddie said. Zucchini is another favorite. “It’s green and yellow,” she said.
The youngster, who will begin kindergarten at Veeder Elementary School in South Colonie next month, visited Betsy’s house on Halloween a few years ago and asked for broccoli. She may have eaten more vegetables in five years than have some adults in the last 25 years.
“She always prefers raw vegetables to cooked ones,” Jessie added. “If we have broccoli for dinner, she always asks me for the not-cooked broccoli.”
Some cooked vegetables are OK. “Their favorite dinner is stir-fry, because of all the vegetables and the chopsticks,” Jessie said.
Betsy said other neighborhood kids are welcome to pick and sample in her garden. She reminds the kids that because no pesticides or herbicides are used, they can eat vegetables as soon as they’re picked. Betsy tells her customers they might not be able to do the same thing in other gardens — they have to check for assorted sprays.
Betsy said kids — and adults — appreciate her broccoli salad. “It has raisins in it, sunflower seeds, raw broccoli, little red onions,” she said. Bacon also is on the team.
How to make it
“Fry one pound bacon until crispy and crumble into bits. Chop one head broccoli. Add cauliflower to add some white into bite-size chunks. Slice one medium red onion thinly and then chop the slices. Combine in a bowl with one cup of raisins, cranberries or whatever dried fruit you like best. And half a cup of sunflower seeds.
“For the dressing, combine one cup salad dressing or mayonnaise, one-half cup sugar and two tablespoons vinegar. Pour over the vegetables, raisins and seeds and chill. I mix in the bacon just before serving, so it stays crispy.”
While Maddie likes her vegetables, she also admitted an appreciation for chocolate chip cookies. And Jessie said her daughters won’t turn down candy.
“They’re still normal,” she said.
This story by Gazette Reporter Jeff Wilkin originally appeared in The Daily Gazette.