Every meal is an adventure for this young chef and his kids. They've turned their vegetable garden--and kitchen--into the ultimate playroom.
Fresh Food and Family Fun
Credit: William Dickey / Styling by: Buffy Hargett

Fresh and Fun Menu:

In a sun-drenched garden in Maryville, Tennessee, Jackson Fleer heads over to monitor the progress of his lima beans. His father, John, renowned chef at Blackberry Farm, smiles at Jackson's enthusiasm. "Getting children involved in the garden automatically creates an interest in the end product," says John, who understands the relationship between garden and kitchen. Since 1992, he's been serving up his unique brand of Foothills Cuisine, combining the bounty of the Great Smoky Mountains with the flavors of his Southern upbringing.

In an age when many children are more interested in the latest video games, the Fleer boys, Jackson, 11, Daniel, 5, and Justin, 2, are learning where beans and tomatoes actually come from--and loving it. Using their backyard as a land of discovery, John and his wife, Katy, encourage their kids to explore the almost limitless world of colors, shapes, and sizes awaiting them in the garden. But the fun doesn't stop there. The family then heads inside where they combine the fresh ingredients with simple cooking techniques to create dishes bursting with flavor. "When we cook together, everyone gets to participate; no one is a spectator," John says.

Back in the garden, Daniel skillfully selects a handful of tiny tomatoes. Aware that he's being watched, Daniel turns and confidently says, "Me and daddy are good cookers." Of course, when asked for his favorite thing to prepare, without hesitation he replies, "Chocolate chip cookies." I reckon some things never change.