Tomatoes grow on a vine

Tomatoes grow on a vine at the Bradford Research Center. The U.S. Department of Agriculture acknowledges more than 25,000 different types of tomatoes.

If you want to get your kids involved in growing their own food, to spend time outside and to learn resourcefulness, start a vegetable garden.

Katherine Hagely, a food science instructor at MU, has been gardening for 10 years. She introduced her children to vegetable gardens when they were young.

“I remember gardening with my mother when I was young, and I think there’s nothing quite like growing vegetables with your kids,” Hagely said. “It helps them have an appreciation for where their food is coming from, and it’s delicious produce right there.”

Hagely recommends introducing children to gardening at age 2 or 3. Children are naturally curious and will find planting, growing and harvesting produce engaging.

Foster curiosity

Hagely said children can get into the habit of gardening by learning to grow their own food and having it for dinner. “If you start with an appreciation when they’re really young, then they know it’s just what we do,” Hagely said. “If we’re going to have salad for dinner, we’ll go outside and pick greens.”

She also recommends starting a vegetable garden inside right before the weather warms up. Buy seeds, fill a tray with soil, plant the seeds and make labels that kids can understand so that they can observe how a plant develops from seed to sprout to plant.

Even at a young age, delegate the tasks, Hagely said. Have kids put the plants into the ground, weed around them and harvest the results. She said being a part of the process is important, no matter the level of engagement.

Skills and tools

Hagely recommends growing carrots with children in a vegetable garden. The process, while satisfying, also allows children to see the different shapes of the roots as the carrots mature.

Greens such as kale and lettuce are also great choices. Kids may not always be big fans of greens, but they might be more willing to try them if they have watched them grow, Hagely said.

The food scientist also suggests adding tomatoes to the garden, describing the fruit as popular and forgiving. Start by germinating the seeds indoors or buy starter plants from a commercial greenhouse. Other choices that are easily available in local greenhouses are peppers, squash and cucumbers.

Beets, corn and beans can be planted directly in the garden once the weather is warm enough.

Hagely orders her seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Morgan County Seeds, but they are readily available at greenhouses and home stores.

Her biggest tip for gardening with children is to start with small goals and not become impatient.

“Just having manageable goals that you can meet and realize that while you might think the task is to get an entire garden bed planted, it is actually to instill some appreciation for gardening in your kid,” she said. “That’s just as important as getting the bed planted.”

  • Community reporter, fall 2022 Studying journalism Reach me at, or in the newsroom at 573-639-5517