As we begin to figure out what direction we want our farm to take, we’ve tried to set everything up to include our two little boys. The original intent of this endeavor was for our family to eat really great, clean food. People have become so disconnected from their food that we felt it was important to not only educate, but include our children in the process of our food production. While our boys aren’t old enough yet to have daily chores they are accountable for, they often help out in whatever ways they can. Children have this wonderful sense of self and purpose when they carry out meaningful work and it is our hope that as our boys see us striving for our goals, they too will develop a work ethic that can drive them toward their passions as they develop.
We are not super parents with perfect kids, but we try really hard to nourish our boys’ minds and provide opportunities for them to take responsibility in meaningful chores around the farm. We do not expect a 4 and 6 year old to pull themselves out of bed at 6 in the morning for chores, but we encourage them to contribute when we are tackling tasks. It may be as simple as lifting them up to gather eggs from the nest box, filling a dog food bowl, scattering some compost, or cutting some asparagus. The important thing is that they’re included. We’ve found that if our kids help out in the garden, they’re more likely to eat the things we harvest. If you are a parent, you know that any advantage you can find at dinnertime is invaluable! So, this year, we decided to give each of our boys a raised bed garden of their own. With some guidance, we sat down with a seed catalog and a list of seed we already had and planned out a 16 square foot garden for each of them. We provided the boys with the basic list of what would go in their garden since planning something like that would likely be too difficult for them, but with an established list of what would go where, we allowed them to select a few varieties of crop. At first we thought we might just plan the gardens and make them identical to make it “fair”, but after some thought we decided that it would be best to let each kid make their own selections. Obviously we had to limit the options since we were working in a confined space and within a specific climate, but it was important for us to allow some choice and ownership in the matter.
When all was said and done, the boys excitedly selected some cherry tomato varieties and some cute little lettuce heads. Our oldest son wanted to plant a small eggplant variety, so we acquiesced even though he’s never even had eggplant. To get the garden going this spring we loaded it with radishes, lettuce, kale, carrots, peas, and onions, but we will be replacing some of those blocks with their longer-term selections once those crops reach maturity (namely radishes and lettuce). The boys have helped water the transplants and have begun to water the outside beds now that they have some vegetables growing. We water the gardens every day, but they often ask if they can go water their gardens. You can see their enjoyment and pride as they shower their crops with water. The important thing for us is not that the gardens are solely maintained by them, but that they are there for the boys to have a place to experience ownership and responsibility. We are not going to let the gardens die if the boys forget to water them because they are not old enough for that kind of responsibility. We want to foster a love for these types of tasks and not make them seem like a dreadful farm chore. So many people our age that grew up on farms were forced to labor on their family farms with little return for their efforts and grew to resent farming. Our goal is not to sugarcoat what it means to produce our own food, but we want the experience to be full of positive lessons with some type of reward. Right now, the reward is pride and yummy food, but we hope that as the boys age they will see the community value in what we’re doing. Most of this is a little mature for 4 and 6 year-olds, but we hope that guiding eating habits and work habits now will benefit their success (whatever that means to them) as they mature. In the mean time, we can’t wait to roast a Cornish cross chicken with some of the boys’ radishes later this spring!