Every once and a while, as Leza Carter strolls between fourth- and fifth-graders at farm camp, she scans the farm looking for her son, Nico Powell.
“Oh, look at him,” she says, when she spots the 8-year-old, elbow-deep in mud. “He’s Pig-Pen,” referring to a “Peanuts” character who is often accompanied by a cloud of dirt.
The mud smeared across Nico’s white apron comes from a large planter full of moist soil and worms. Nico loves the worm composting station at Tucson Village Farm, 4210 N. Campbell Ave.
He’ll need a hose-down, says Carter. Not uncommon.
Nico and his 11-year-old sister Luna Powell have grown up on this farm smack-dab in the middle of urban Tucson.
Carter, 47, the farm’s program director, noticed years ago that her kids would “snack their way around the garden,” eating peas and tomatoes by the handful.
“They just grew up eating fresh foods, which is why I wanted to start a farm, so other kids could experience it, too,” Carter says.
The Tucson Village Farm walks kids and young adults through the process of food production, from seed to table. Kids plant and harvest produce and learn to cook it with other healthy ingredients. Then they enjoy the fruits — and veggies — of their labor.
Carter finds that this hands-on approach rinses away any food phobias that parents might inadvertently pass on to their children. Getting to see the food grow and then munch on it, fresh and unprocessed, often surprises even the pickiest of eaters.
Right now, the farm is on a mission to make kale cool.
Greens do well during Tucson winters. Kale, Swiss chard, spinach and lettuce cropped up about a month ago at the farm. From October to April, Carter can pick fresh greens and skip the grocery store.
Tucson’s cooler months are the perfect time to plant for beginners, Carter says. Starting with little plants instead of seeds will yield a faster harvest, and whether you’re planting in a garden bed or a pot, don’t skimp on soil.
Kids should get involved, too, and the earlier, the better — as young Nico demonstrated at the tender age of 3.
Back during the farm’s early years, a volunteer noticed the toddler in the carrot patch, pulling greens from the ground. Thinking he was yanking the carrots prematurely, she rushed over to him.
“He looked at her and was like, ‘I’m weeding,’” Carter says. “I could totally trust him, and there he was with his pile of weeds in the carrot patch. It’s so cool for kids, especially in the city, to have a wild place where they can be outdoors and explore and experiment.”