My husband’s grandfather, Kenneth, left school in the eighth grade and started working in the fields of rural Wisconsin. Before he was even 18 years old, he and his brother saved up enough money to buy a farm themselves. Not long after, he met a lovely young woman named Magdalen, and soon, they were married. Kenneth and Magdalen had four children, and as they grew up, they were expected to work the fields, pick the produce, feed and manage the animals, and help sustain their family’s livelihood.
One of those children is my father-in-law, and in his case, he learned that he didn’t want to farm for a living. We can’t blame him – it’s hard work. But underneath that notion, there were many life lessons learned from farming.
An Appreciation For Land and Food
In the United States, we have incredible access to every type of food we could ever possibly want. Not only in immigrant-run restaurants on every city corner, but in 1,000 different grocery stores and specialty shops across the country. Most of us take that for granted. So much so that if we were to walk into a grocery store looking for an obscure produce item called for in recipe we found online, and that grocery store didn’t have it, we’d be outraged.
But if you grew up working on a farm, you’d know better. Every item in a grocery store is seasonal. If you stroll into Kroger in south Tennessee looking for chicories in July, you’re out of luck. They aren’t in season then, not to mention they’re mostly grown in California. Understanding each item of produce in a store and what it takes to grow it is easily overlooked by most. But that knowledge can give a person a much deeper appreciation for the food they’re eating and the land it came from, not to mention the person who farmed it.
Gaining a respect for the food you eat transfers over to many areas of your life. If you learn how to appreciate something as simple as the source of your food, you’re bound to have a propensity to appreciate other big things in your life like your home or your child’s laugh, or even something as simple as a sunny day. Being able to see beauty and value in each aspect – both big and small – that make up your life, well, that leads to happiness. And who doesn’t want that?
Don’t Put Off Until Tomorrow What Can Be Done Today
Livestock can’t wait to be fed or given water at your leisure. Those animals are depending on you for their sustenance and well-being. When a cow needs to be milked, there’s no bargaining with her. When a drought hits and crops need to be watered in order to survive, you don’t have the luxury of sleeping in and watching your favorite show inside all day because it’s hot and you’d rather do it tomorrow.
There is a certain level of inflexibility that exists on a farm – procrastination is not a possibility when it comes to keeping animals alive and crops growing. Not when your family's livelihood depends on it. Building a sense of responsibility towards your day-to-day tasks can help you learn to get through aspects of life that aren’t always fun, but are often times necessary. For example, once you get into college, there are no parents there to push you out of bed and go to class. It’s up to you to do that. Most of what you learn in college is simply how to learn, not necessarily what you learn. And a big part of that lesson is simple responsibility, follow through and integrity. If you were a farm kid, you already learned that lesson. It’s ingrained in you for life.
Creativity Is Learned
In a world without cable television, social media or video games, children who grow up on a farm in a rural area have to make their own fun and entertainment. The great outdoors is a real-time video game, filled with trees to climb, bugs to catch, and sunshine to soak up. Kids who grow up on a farm don’t have to play with farm animals on their iPads, because they actually have farm animals to watch and touch and enjoy. Mind you, they also have to work to keep them healthy and productive, but they’re still cute animals nonetheless.
Outdoor activities and face-to-face fun with friends rather than indoor lethargy in front of screens is part of daily life. And over time, that lifestyle becomes woven into the fabric of a person. Once you get a taste of the outdoors and what it’s like to experience life in reality rather than in a screen, you will crave it. On a farm, no one tells you what to do outside for fun. Most of the time, parents just tell their children to simply “go outside and play.” From there, it’s the child who determines what that means. Farming teaches a person from a young age to appreciate the ability to create your own fun, rather than rely on devices or others to do it for you or tell you how.
For farmers, the weather is never predictable, and there’s always something that needs to get done before the sun goes down. But at the end of each day, they can achieve something palpable. Without even noticing, working on a farm can develop a level of patience and integrity that takes many people years to learn. In life, character traits like independence, patience, flexibility and creativity are what employers fight for, not to mention what most people would describe in the spouse of their dreams. We could certainly use more people like that walking around the planet. Maybe we need to recruit more farmers...