If They Plant It, They’ll Eat It


Vegetables. We know they are good for our bodies – especially the bodies of growing children. But as any parent knows, getting children to eat vegetables is a task that makes the twelve labors of Hercules seem like a picnic in the park.

There are many ways to encourage children to eat vegetables – mixing them in other foods, spicing them up, leading by example and eating them yourself, etc. But perhaps one of the best ways to encourage kids to eat vegetables, is to get them involved with them from start to finish. And that means introducing your children to the wonderful world of gardening. Let them help you as you prepare the soil (what kid doesn’t love to play in dirt?), plant the seeds, and water the developing plants. Or better yet, allow your child to “sharecrop” a portion of your garden by giving them a space that’s theirs and theirs alone to plant whatever they wish. As the plant grows, the child’s excitement and interest will grow along with it. After all, they planted it and took care of it. Their pride is now at stake. When the time comes to harvest the rewards of their labors, the child will become even more proud and excited to see the fruit or vegetable that came into this world because of their efforts. And maybe – just maybe – they’ll be interested and intrigued enough to take a bite – or two – or more.

Look at it another way. Many children are rather wary when a strange person approaches them. Even if the person is known to their parents and the parents say it’s okay, the child may still be reluctant to approach this individual. In the same way, when we dump strange looking foods onto a child’s plate, they may be quite reluctant to eat it even though mom and dad say it’s okay. But a vegetable that they grew themselves becomes a known entity and not a stranger. A child may be more willing to eat something that’s known and familiar to them.

So if you want your children to eat their vegetables without a fuss, then get them involved in the growing process. Because gardening is the fuss-buster!


Take A Stand For Gardening And Spread The Word



“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

Why do we garden? Well there’s lots of reasons why – fresh food, exercise, cost, etc. But perhaps the biggest driver of our desire to garden can be summed up in one word – refusal. We refuse to put up with rock-hard, bland-tasting, vitamin- and mineral-depleted fruits and vegetables that are the standard fare at most grocery stores. We refuse to fill our mouths and bellies (and for that matter, those of our children) with pesticide-soaked, herbicide-infused, laboratory-altered produce. And lastly, we refuse to shell out our hard earned money for all of the aforementioned. We want our fruits and vegetables to taste fresh and provide a full complement of natural nutritive factors that our bodies need to survive and thrive. And we don’t want to live in fear that the produce we are putting into our mouths has been doused with cancer-causing chemicals or disease-laden poop fresh from the animal’s butt. When we grow fruits and vegetables ourselves, we know we have absolute control over what goes on it – or more importantly, what doesn’t go on it.

“What’s your point, Mark,” you may be saying to yourself. “I know all this already. I’m a gardener for the very reasons you just mentioned. And so are my family, my friends – heck, I belong to a whole club full of gardeners. You’re preaching to the choir.” And you’re right, I am. But there’s a reason for that. I want to first remind everyone why we do what we do. And then I want you to carry it one step further.

There’s a whole world out there that’s still dining on bland, pesticide-soaked, industrial produce. But we, as dedicated gardeners, can change this. How? By spreading the hobby of gardening among your family, friends, neighbors, and communities. And then by convincing your communities to spread it among other communities.

How can you accomplish this? Well, you can start by the simple act of sharing. Share your excess produce with your extended family, neighbors, co-workers, and anyone else you can think of. You’ll be showing them what real food tastes like. After they bite into a fresh, home-grown tomato, it will be hard for them to go back to the bland, store-bought stuff.

Second, convince them to start their own garden. Encourage them to create their own production center for fresh, wholesome, pesticide-free food for their family. And then, just like the 1980’s commercial for Fabregé Organics, have them encourage two friends – then have them encourage two friends, and so on, and so on…

Just think what would happen if we became a nation of gardeners and stopped purchasing all that tasteless, pesticide-laced produce. We could bring all of those industrial producers to their knees by hitting them where it hurts – in the profit zone. Then maybe they’d start growing better fruits and vegetables.

A pipe dream? Probably. But certainly a goal worth aiming for.

One more thing. If you do convince your friends, neighbors, community, etc. to start gardening, and they find that they need some help, well, just tell them to contact your friendly neighborhood Garden Troubadour. Have trowel, will travel!

The Precious Lifetime Gift of Music

You feed your children. You clothe your children. You wash them, dress them, protect them, read to them, and send them to school. All well, necessary, and commendable.

But do you sing to them?

Perhaps you misunderstood me. I did not ask if you turn on the radio, plug in your iPod, or throw on a CD. I’m talking about actually making musical sounds with your voice in the presence of your offspring.

Mother Sings to Baby

Growing up, I remember my mother and father singing all the time around the house. My father sang as he was getting ready for work in the morning; sang in the shower, and sometimes would just spontaneously break out into song whenever the mood struck him. My mother sang us to sleep, sang to comfort us, sang to make us laugh, and, like my father, sometimes sang for no good reason other than she just felt like it.

As I’m typing this, my mind is racing back in time. I can see and hear my father singing “Up, Up, and Away” while shaving in front of the mirror in the bathroom of the apartment where we lived in Chicago. I can see and hear my mother singing “Scarlet Ribbons” as my sister and I were getting ready for bed – again, in that same Chicago apartment. So many songs, so many wonderful memories. I could fill a book with them.

My parents sang many of the songs from their own childhoods, as well as some of the popular songs of the 1960’s and 70’s. My father sang Civil War tunes, Spike Jones songs (“Der Fuhrer’s Face”, “Behind Those Swinging Doors”), songs from movies (“More”, “The Shadow of Your Smile”) as well as classics such as “Daisy Belle”, “In My Merry Oldsmobile”, and “I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts.” My mother, who was blessed with a beautiful voice and sang with a band, would croon a lot of 40’s and 50’s songs such as “How Much is That Doggie in the Window”, “Oh Johnny”, and “If You Knew Susie”, to mention a few. She sang kid-friendly tunes like “The Mulberry Bush” and “Did You Ever See a Lassie?” and folk tunes like “Shenandoah” and “Buffalo Gals”. She sang novelty tunes such as “I’m a Lonely Little Petunia in An Onion Patch” and radio show theme songs such as “It Pays to Be Ignorant”. She even sang the Chiquita Banana commercial jingle.

Now I’m quite certain that my mom and dad did not wake up every morning and think, “What can I sing today that my son is going to remember all his life and years later can write about in a blog?” I have no doubt that both my folks were singing just to express their joy. But they didn’t realize that I was listening and remembering.

And what was the result of all this parental singing? Well, for starters, I have a brain as full of song as a cornucopia is of fruit. I have songs for every occasion that I can trot out at a moment’s notice without needing to have the words in front of me – a heaven-sent asset for any musical entertainer. When I sing some of these songs for senior citizens, I can see the light of recognition in their eyes and the joy on their faces as I, no doubt, stimulate a few memories of their own. I can sing “Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, I’m going to eat some worms” to children and watch the looks on their faces when I ask, “Who wants to eat a worm?”


I also have an appreciation for a wide variety of music. My cornucopia of song consists of country-western, bluegrass, rock ‘n’ roll, pop, movie tunes, Broadway show tunes, TV show theme songs, commercial jingles, folk, and even songs in foreign languages.

But most of all, I have a lifetime of cherished childhood memories that adds another facet to the love I feel for my mom and dad. All it takes is for someone to sing or hum a few bars of one of my folks’ songs, and I’m a carefree child once again.


They say that “little pitchers have big ears.” Well, with what do we want to fill those ears? Electronic Pablum to make them crazy? Or songs from our hearts that we sing to express joy and that will make them smile and laugh and give them wonderful childhood memories?

So by all means, sing to your children. And for heaven’s sake, don’t worry about whether or not you have a good voice. I promise you, your children won’t care. Sing rock ‘n’ roll songs. Sing silly songs. Sing anything as long as it makes you happy. You’ll be strengthening the ties that bind and giving your children a precious gift that they’ll carry with them all their lives.

Music is the food of love. So serve generous helpings.

Where Do You Find the Motivation?

It was Friday morning, June 27th, 2014, and I was getting ready to hit the road for a wonderful weekend at that year’s Indiana Fiddlers Gathering in Battle Ground, Indiana. I was looking forward to a weekend of great music, late night jamming, and active participation – I would be leading their Children’s Concert and teaching a workshop.

As I was packing the last few remaining items into my car, the phone rang. It was my friend Debb calling to say hi. As we chatted, I mentioned to her that in a few minutes, I would be Indiana-bound.

“Where do you find the motivation,” she asked me.

Hmmm. I never really thought that going to a folk festival was something I had to be motivated to do. But I suppose there has to be something that compels me to hit the road and drive for 3-4 hours to spend the weekend on a former battlefield in a small town in central northern Indiana. I was in a hurry to be on my way, so I didn’t really have time to give her a very good answer. But I’ve had a couple of months to ponder that question, so Debb, if you’re reading this, I’ll tell you exactly where I find the motivation.

I’m motivated by hearing the music I love in a beautiful outdoor setting. There’s just something special about listening to string band, bluegrass, Celtic, and other forms of traditional folk music in an open grassy area surrounded by trees.

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I’m motivated by the welcoming smiles, greetings and hugs from people who are glad to see me. When I’m at Fiddlers Gathering, I’m truly “back home again in Indiana.”

I’m motivated by the smiles and laughter of the families for which I perform.

I’m motivated by jamming into the wee hours of the morning with people who like the same kind of music I do. Here in the Chicago suburbs, there aren’t too many people who enjoy, much less listen to the music I love. But they are present in abundance at the Indiana Fiddlers Gathering.

I’m motivated by high-tailing it out of town for a few days and getting away from the daily grind.

I’m motivated by the joy of sharing my musical skill and knowledge with the people who come to my workshops.

It’s for all of these reasons that I’ve been motivated to attend the Indiana Fiddlers Gathering for the last twelve years and why I’ll continue to attend as long as I’m able.