Local author seeks to bring joy of gardening to children

Published on Wed, Aug 3, 2011 by Jeremy Schwartz

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Blaine resident Wendy Kunst Massey has a passion for gardens and all things growing she wants to share with children across the country.

In her new children’s book, “Spenders’ Vegetable Garden: From Land to Plate,” Kunst Massey tells the tale of a skilled gardener who uses innate knowledge and the help of Mother Nature to produce a crop of healthy, vibrant vegetables. All the while, the stories of the vegetables teach children attributes such as selflessness and awareness of where their food comes from.

The Tabletop Shoppe, located at 862 Peace Portal Drive in Blaine, will host a book signing for Kunst Massey from 1 to 3 p.m. on Saturday, August 6. An “Inside Garden Kit” from Greentoys and a gift basket with vegetables from the Community Food Co-op will be raffled off. Kunst Massey will also be signing books starting at 4 p.m. on Saturday, August 27, at Village Books in Bellingham.

The Northern Light reporter Jeremy Schwartz sat down with Kunst Massey to discuss her inspirations and reasons for the book.

JS: What inspired you to write the book?

I was in the United Kingdom studying therapeutic nutrition, and I got pregnant unexpectedly and late in life. So I came back to the United States to have a baby. My father, unfortunately, passed away at a time when I was reading stories to my unborn baby every day. I had this massive storybook, at least 500 pages, and I thought “I can’t lug this back to New York,” [where her father lived]. So I had to make up stories, and that’s what I did. That’s how the whole book started. It began with one story, a sweet pea story, and it was about my daughter and these plants in the garden that were healthy but late bloomers. This was the first story created for the book.

JS: Could you describe the structure of the book?

It starts out as kind of a how-to book on how to grow a garden from scratch. It imagines looking at your backyard and seeing grass, and it takes the thought process of a child and asks what you would need material-wise to actually produce a garden. It starts with a shovel. Spenders the gardener is my father. My father inspired the book because every summer I would see him going out and turning the soil and putting a garden in. So I just went through the process I watched my whole life and figured out what tools a child would need to have to confidence to go out and do it themselves. It’s then broken up into six short stories.

JS: What concerns of yours are addressed in the book?

One of my big concerns, since I study therapeutic nutrition, is that children are really far removed from the food chain, especially inner-city children. It’s a little different out here, but I’m from New York, where I lived and worked for 20 years. I also think that children, even out here, don’t necessarily have the respect for land and plants the way we did as children. Another one of my concerns is soil levels across the globe that are depleting, and a lot of people are completely unaware of that. There is an urgency to try to maintain and protect our soil beds across the country. 

JS: How does the book help children understand these concerns?

It talks about soil, it focuses on soil and teaches children how to turn soil. You make compost and you add that to soil. There’s a picture in the book, and I don’t know how many children’s books would have this, of a manure pile next to a compost bin. It explains that manure puts back nutrients into the soil, and it’s kind of a circular process here that’s all about the body. The body and your cells need nutrients. I want children to think of their bodies when they’re thinking of eating and that you need to put nutrients into your body to grow and be healthy. Those are also the main reasons for the book. Another main goal for the book is to get it into the 123,000 libraries we have across the United States. It’s not for me to be in book stores or do signings, that’s not what it’s about. I have to do the book signings to launch the book to bring awareness. But really, the goal is to get it in the children’s hands. It’s not necessarily that kids have to spend money on the book. I would really like to have it in libraries so they can go in and experience a book. Real books, not electronics. I like a book that’s physical.

JS: What do you hope to achieve with this book?

I want children to be better connected to the food chain and to have confidence to grow healthy food for themselves. My goal for the book is really an awareness and confidence for children. It says right at the beginning that my hope for “Spenders’ Vegetable Garden” is for children to become confident to create and inspired to develop a passion–a passion, that’s really big–for nature, growth cycles and vegetables in general. If only one child experiences that miracle, then the book will have fulfilled its purpose.

JS: I know the feeling. I felt it when I started to grow tomatoes on my apartment’s deck and saw the first tomatoes beginning to bloom and develop.

The miracle of growing things is what it’s all about, isn’t it? I grew up seeing that. I’d go home, and I’d live to get up there for a vacation because I was so busy with work and life. Then I’d get up there, and I’d get the garden tour from my parents. And now as I’m older I don’t have my father and I don’t have his gardens, and it almost brings tears to my eyes. But when people show me their gardens it makes me so happy. There’s this nirvana almost.

JS: Why write this book? Why is this important to you?

Why write this? Why take the time and effort? I guess I just felt it was an important message. For children to have a passion and an understanding for something is magical, I guess. How many people have the opportunity to have that tomato experience like you did? A lot. But how many don’t?

JS: I remember when my girlfriend first told me our tomato plants had tomatoes. I was inexplicably excited. I did not expect to get that excited.

That’s it! That’s the reason, that’s the reason. Now you put that into words. You’re a writer, I’m not. I will never claim to be a writer.

JS: How long did the book take to write?

Let’s see. I tried to get all the stories written before my daughter was born. And then it was re-edit, after re-edit, after re-edit. It took almost three months shy of one year. Who’d have thought?

JS: What would you say your favorite vegetable is?

­­Oh my gosh. Green beans, I suppose. And Swiss chard. Can I have two?