Here are some things that we are doing to instill a love for farming and growing things in our children.
1. Emphasize quality foods.
My kids are kind of becoming food snobs. They won’t turn down a pizza or a burger, but after a few days of being away from home, they rave about my food. Now, I am far from a gourmet cook, but I do use high-quality, homegrown ingredients. I avoid processed foods and the kids love what I serve them. My kids taste the difference in store-bought, trucked-half-way-across-the-continent tomatoes and a warm, juicy, sun-ripened tomato freshly picked from the garden.
2. Work together as a family.
Many hands make light work. Even small kids can help out by carrying water and picking bugs off of plants. I have a problem with part of my family sitting on the couch watching TV while others are outdoors sweating. So no matter how big or small they are, we are all outside together. My big kids especially appreciate this policy.
3. Watch your own attitude.
More is caught than taught. If you routinely grumble about your chores, your kids will pick up on that attitude. Last week, my children and I went bowling. I saw a young man with some obvious physical handicaps on the next lane, bowling by himself. I watched him bowl one gutter ball after another. But he kept trying. I thought about how often I take my healthy body for granted, and resolved that I will make good use of my body rather than abusing it with lethargy and laziness. It is a privilege to be outdoors and physically able to pull weeds and pick veggies. Remember that, even when you are overwhelmed with your chores.
4. Properly equip your kids.
If you expect your children to help out, invest in equipping them properly. In the winter, buy them adequate cold-weather gear. In the summer, make sure that they have appropriately sized tools.
5. Reward them.
Every now and then, buy some ice cream or some other treat when the garden is weed-free. If you sell eggs or veggies and the youngsters help with the chores, give them a portion of the proceeds if at all possible. They need to see a tangible return for their efforts. We also have contests for growing things. Who grew the tallest corn, who is the best planter, who had the best attitude when it was hot are all causes for recognition on the farm.
6. Create some fun.
We are not into soccer, Little League or ballet. We don’t own gobs of electronic gadgets for entertainment or have cable TV. However, we have our own version of fun. We keep horses for the kids to ride, and have a trampoline and tree-house for outdoor play. My kids can raise chicks, go fishing, and bottle-feed calves. Yes, things like horses are costly, but I want the kids to enjoy their life here on the farm and have fun here. It also gives my kids the chance to share farm fun with their friends.
Photo: Fotolia.com/Dusan Kostic
7. Have an open door policy for teen friends.
It is so easy to get overwhelmed with chores that you don’t want extra people around. However, teens really don’t care if you are behind on your household and farm chores. Most of my daughter’s teen friends don’t mind tagging along while she feeds chickens, takes care of horses, or does other chores. We do try to plan visits around major chores, like mowing or stacking hay bales, but for every day work, I think it is good for young people to be exposed to what real farm work entails.
8. Share the why of what you do.
As your kids get older, be sure to articulate the why of farming to them. My kids are starting to understand the importance of protecting our land for the future by building the soil and minimally using pesticides. We sometimes do things the hard, labor-intensive way because it is the BEST way to do it.
9. Grow some stuff just because.
My son asked to grow peanuts this year because he loves peanut butter sandwiches. I specifically chose my seeds from a company that offered peanut seeds so we could grow what he asked to grow. Also, kids love growing veggies like sunflowers, Indian corn, and bushel basket gourds for no other reason than they are so impressive to see. Grow some stuff just for the fun of it. Give your kids the seed catalog and let them choose a couple packets of an interesting seed variety. If nobody likes it, you can probably just feed it to the chickens.
Those are some of the ways that we involve our kids on the farm and cultivate their love for this place. How do you draw your kids into a love of rural life?