Even though my career took me off of the farm and into the city, I tried to keep my farm roots and connect my own city-raised kids with farm life. Growing up on a farm is a wonderful life for kids. We had kittens and chickens, pigs, cows, dogs, horses and lots of green grass in which to run, and creeks to play in. All of the barns, corn cribs, chickens coops, farm fields and line fences filled with choke cherries, and rock piles – these were our playground. In the summer our bare feet were black on the bottom with ground in dirt that could not be removed even by a long hot bath. We usually looked dirty and we were happy and free.
When we had kids I knew I wanted to give them a taste of that open range and of being able to get dirty and do exploring, so I knew a town size lot would not do. We bought three acres in the northern suburbs of Minneapolis, adjacent to a large preserve. We had heavy woods and a large pond to explore. My kids got dirty, they collected frogs and they loved to climb trees and play in the woods.
We took our kids to the Minnesota zoo for animal time and one of my favorite parts is the farm area with goats to pet and baby animals to hold. But we also took every opportunity to visit my friends and relatives’ farms whenever we could manage it. We took them when they were quite young to a dairy farm during calving season and they actually saw a calf being born. My kids got to bottle feed the calves and they watched the elaborate milking operation. It was a fun visit for them, but I enjoyed getting back to the farm more than I had expected. I forgot how calm things are and how relaxed I felt around the animals.
I sat and petted the barn cat while watching my kids bottle feed a little calf. They were hesitant at first, but quickly became very comfortable and seemed to be enjoying the fact that they were helping in the chores that needed to be done. It was not staged for them, this was work that had to be done to feed the animals on the farm and they really had a sense of purpose and accomplishment in getting the job done. It helped that my cousin was very patient with them, and as he handed them a bottle he said we have to feed the calves twice a day so they grow big and strong.
As they would finish he would assign them another job to feed the cats or use the fork to spread hay for the cattle. They fed chickens and they rode the four wheeler to deliver more hay to the pasture. The kids did not want to leave and neither did I. As I petted the animals and watched the cattle being milked and saw the milk being collected in a bulk tank for transport, I felt a sense of loss for no longer being on the farm. There is such a basic sense of purpose when you have animals dependent upon you for life and you are producing the most basic of healthy food. There’s a lot of work to do, but it seems relaxed and everything is moving at a slower pace. The cows are fed, but they also get a little pet on the head as we pass each one. The cats are picked up and cuddled. It is that extra love that goes into the farmers work.
We visited often to give the kids the appreciation for a simpler time and real things that matter. They were so present in the moment as they helped and enjoyed everything that the farm had to offer. They learned to treat animals well and to share and enjoy the days outside. I miss the farm and especially the animals. The farm is a way of life and a connection that we lose in the city if we are not vigilant. Make the time to be outdoors, to visit the zoo and to visit the farms. Almost everyone knows someone on a farm and
most farm families love to share their way of life. They now even have farms you can visit for a day or stay overnight. It is actually becoming a tourist thing.
Do what you can to keep your connections to the farm, the animals and the crops. Have a garden in your backyard or a pot. Let the kids dig in the dirt. Pick berries and go to the apple orchard. Make butter from cream just for fun. It is sad when kids don’t even know where our food comes from or how to grow simple food. When we do these things for our kids we are many times very surprised by how much fun it is for us and how relaxing a day outside on the farm can be. We don’t think of a farm as entertainment, but it is the most entertaining and relaxing day you can spend with your family.