If Sandy Gates had hopes of claiming a blue ribbon at the county fair, the Los Angeles mother would keep her young sons and their indiscriminate hoes far from her rose garden. But Sister Gates and her husband, David Gates, realize they aren't raising champion roses. They are raising boys.
Indeed, a garden of any sort remains an ideal classroom to teach children the law of the harvest. The work ethic. Essential lessons of provident living.
For many Church members, raising corn, squash or maybe a bushel of tomatoes in the backyard garden has become a family summer tradition. Members worldwide, remember, in communities both urban and rural, discovered their green thumbs more than three decades ago after President Spencer W. Kimball encouraged them to plant and care for a family garden.
"We encourage you to grow all the food that you feasibly can on your own property….Grow vegetables and eat them from your own yard," President Kimball told his general conference audience in 1976. "Even those residing in apartments or condominiums can generally grow a little food in pots and planters…. If there are children in your home, involve them in the process with assigned responsibilities."
Much has changed since President Kimball called for more family gardens 31 years ago. The LDS migration from farming communities to cities and tightly-zoned subdivisions continues. Meanwhile, mega-stores boasting mega-produce sections are popping up like, well, weeds in towns of all sizes.
Still, President Kimball's counsel on family gardens has aged well. A recent priesthood and Relief Society lesson on self-reliance and preparedness from Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball again encouraged members to plant a family garden.
Rocky and Cherie Hunt of the Highland 6th Ward, South Jordan Utah Highland Stake, say their backyard garden is rich in fresh vegetables and family memories. The couple planted their first tiny garden years ago, shortly after they married and moved into a rental unit. They talked their landlord into letting them use a slice of land outside their home to plant a few vegetables.
Later the Hunts bought their own home, started a family and kept gardening. Their well-maintained rows of fresh produce became a true family garden. Even the youngest son or daughter could take ownership in the harvest.
"We always had the children involved — helping with the planting, the weeding," said Sister Hunt. "We gave each child their own (section) where they could plant whatever they wanted."
David and Amy Priestly of Franklin, Idaho, are following the Hunts lead — even though their three children are all younger than 10. Brother Priestly grew up on a farm and was eager for his two daughters and son to learn the value of working and caring for something precious. The Priestlys are careful to assign their children age-appropriate garden tasks.
"They're not afraid to get in and work — to get wet and do different things," said Brother Priestly, a gospel doctrine teacher in the Franklin 3rd Ward, Franklin Idaho Stake.
Today's LDS parents are increasingly busy with work and Church responsibilities. Even youngsters often have structured, tightly scheduled lives that revolve around, say, piano practice, soccer games and school duties. But a garden remains a unifying sanctuary for busy families. Sister Gates said her garden has become a family forum — a comfortable spot to talk with her four sons about things happening in their lives, issues in their world and community.
After a day's labor at the office, Brother Hunt enjoys being outdoors with his family. He breathes deep and gets his hands dirty.
"There is so much to learn and harvest from your garden, far more than just a crop itself," President Kimball said.
A counselor by profession, Brother Priestly said he often works with adults who have never learned a "law of the harvest" basic: you reap what you sow. The family garden teaches the Priestly children delayed gratification. They've learned the pleasure of biting into a homegrown cob of corn or discovering plump peas inside a ripe pod that follows a period of preparing, sowing and nurturing.
"When we sit down as a family and enjoy a meal of everything we have harvested, there is great satisfaction," Brother Priestly said.
Family gardens also remain an element of provident living. Money's saved when a family consumes what they've grown.
Besides enjoying fresh produce, "we bottle quite a bit," said Sister Hunt. "We make salsa, jam, apple sauce and raise our own pumpkins for Halloween."
Information on growing a family garden — the wheres and what to plant — can be found at lds.org.
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