This Place We Know

Sharon May 17th, 2009

We recently had a friend of mine and her 14 month old son to lunch at our place.  I got to chat with both, and see the full range of her bright young boy’s vocabulary.  There was “Goggie” (Doggy), “Kiki” (kitty), “Hi” “No” “Mama” and then “Moo” “Baa” “Quack” and “Cock a doodle”

What’s interesting about this linguistic range is not its adorableness (although it was adorable) it was that this little urban child, who had never seen a cow, sheep, duck or rooster in person until that day (we were able to cover most of them), had fully half of his vocabulary made up of agrarian animal noises.  Their family has a “Kiki” and he regularly sees “Goggies” on his walks around his neighborhood – since many of them are at nose level to him in his stroller, it is hardly surprising that he should take a compelling interest in them.  “Hi” “No!” and “Mama” are of obvious utility to a very small person, and need no explanation.

But there are many words of great utility and value to a very small child than the sounds that domestic animals make – one would think that “cookie” “milk” and “car” might preceed the farm animal noises.  And yet, they don’t.  And this is fairly typical – most children, who experience “the farm” and its life through books, and the occasional outing to a tourist farm, find themselves utterly riveted by these large animals with whom they know instinctively that they have a relationship.  My own sons all learned the sounds of animals long before many other equally valuable, and not much harder to say words as well.  I am a bit embarassed to admit, that I simply can’t remember right now whether it was Simon or Isaiah whose first word was “quack.”  But at least one of them said “quack” to our ducks before they said “Mama” to me.  This is perhaps less surprising, since  my children lived on a farm, and heard these sounds – but that seems to have little to do with how important they are in the imaginative world of young people.

In fact, I think it is not an exaggeration to say that the world of childhood *is* “the farm.” That is, the world that children dream of, and are told they should inhabit is that of a certain kind of farm – a diversified, nontoxic small farm, filled with animals to play with, vegetables and fruit that a child can pick and eat, hay bales to climb on, pleasant chores like egg collecting (and life on a farm has never dampened any of my children’s love for this job) and feeding of small creatures.  Children live in the world basic things – and there is nothing more basic than food, and its origins.

This is no less true whether you live on a farm, or like most children, don’t.  While there are many “city child” books, checking the shelves of any child’s library will almost certainly reveal a disproportionate number of stories about farms or farm animals – disproportionate because the world of very small children is mostly a world of familiarity and comfort – that is, most books for children under 3 do not emphasize distant things they have not seen.  Instead, they are about the world the children live in and are beginning to understand.  And the prevalence of the farm in children’s imagined world, in their toys, their play, their books, their videos suggests that young children are being told that the farm is their world too – even when it is not, even when the farms they are invited to inhabit are gone.

And not just any farm.  Modern industrial agriculture has no place in this imagined world of young children.  The farms we see are the farms that once existed – small family farms, diversified, with many kinds of livestock, pastures, orchards, gardens, and other animals.  None of my children’s books show pigs in confinement pens, manure lagoons, debeaked hens, or crop dusters as part of this world.  Instead, they show children picking food and eating, it which precludes chemical agriculture.  They show children interacting with animals on grass, which means diverse small farming – that is, the imaginative world in which we originate is the one that we have tried so hard to eliminate in practice.

Even when the books acknowledge industrial agriculture, they find that they can only contextualize it in the diversified small farm.  Consider a book that my children own, called, creatively, “Tractor.”  In it, a huge tractor is shown in limited detail.  “Farmer Hill has a busy day ahead.  He is going to plow the field in his big green tractor.”  So we are told.  But the big green tractor happens to have a rooster on it, going “Cock a Doodle Doo!” on it.  A dog is barking, a hen and chicks and a duck and ducklings are superimposed next to this giant piece of equipment. 

We then are treated to a page of “checking the engine” “filling the tank with fuel” etc… until the next page when we read “On the way to the field he passes…” and then a list of farm animals, the usual ones with the usual adjectives, (wooly sheep, brown cow, hungry pig, noisy goose…), then one page of plowing, and back to the poultry and dog again.  Of the five pages in this book, three are visually as much or more about animals as about a tractor.  Why?  Because there isn’t that much to say about tractors – oh, later there will be for those interested in such things, but for 2 year olds, tractors are interesting because they are big, and because they are associated with farms.  Never mind that this particular tractor is radical overkill for the sort of farm would actually have these animals on the scale shown – the implication is that the tractor is interesting in large part because it is part of the farm of childhood, even when it isn’t.  The tractor is not just exciting, but interesting, because it is a vast thing in a comfortably known world, with plenty of other important things, living things, to lend interest to its big, green deadness.

Books for young children are about familiarity and comfort, about  pushing back the necessary and real strangeness of the world, even as you recognize that it is strange – yes, there are wild things and children go off to visit them, but when you come back, dinner is waiting and you are loved “best of all.”  Yes, you may be alone in the room with someone who is not mother or father but a nameless and different ”old lady, whispering hush” but here is your room, and your mittens, your comb and your brush and the moon, and all is well.  And yes, you will go out into the world, which is full of strange and large things, but it will be filled with things to eat, and animals to touch and places to run and trees to climb – that is, it will be your world. The ubiquity of the farm in children’s books implies that there are places like this in the world, where children can roam, and meet eyes with other living creatures, can find food and explore, not confined by the fences around the playgrounds or other spaces.

So children learn now, even more than before, that cows say “Moo” and that the farm is the world of childhood – but a world they will not often experience.  The kind of farm they dream of exists mostly in the memories of their parents and grandparents.  It was once possible to feel that most children had a farm somewhere in their experience and family – that is no longer the case.  If they do, it is most likely an industrial farm, with one or two kinds of crops and animals on it, probably kept in confinement.  While it can be fun to hide in a cornfield, a thousand acres of corn leave little space to play.

One of the first chapter books my children ever read, and one of the first movies they saw as ”The Wizard of Oz.” One of the things that struck me about the difference between the books and films is the subtle, but not unimportant role of agriculture.  In the movie, Dorothy’s family’s grey, dustbowl farm is “real” if troubled, whereas Oz is shown as magical, a place where food appears by magic – by trees that throw apples, say, or by servants in the Emerald City.  Dorothy longs to go home to the farm, which is a place prosperous enough, despite the times, to feed not just Aunt Em, Uncle Henry and Dorothy, but three farmhands as well.

In the book, the situation is reversed.  The dustbowl farm barely feeds them – it takes the light from their eyes and leaves them desperately impoverished and suffering, and a large part of Oz’s magic is its fertility – instead of the dance of the Lollipop kids and the Wicked Witch to astound her, Dorothy is as much astounded by the creeks, the lush fields and prosperous farms of Munchkinland as she is by the good witch of the North.  The books do not rhapsodize so much about home – in fact, in a later volume in the series, Dorothy escapes Kansas to Oz, and manages to bring Aunt Em and Uncle Henry with her.  

In either case, the place where the farms are real ends up being truly home – all the love Dorothy feels for the scarecrow can’t keep her in Oz when Auntie Em needs her, and she’s returning to a troubled, but possible land.  All the ties Aunt Em and Uncle Henry have to Kansas can’t make it home, when the land gives out and they eventually lose everything, and the lush land of Oz beckons.  Home is where the farms are.  Ironically, though, Dorothy’s grey dustbowl farm, where she walked the pigpen fence, where Auntie Em and Uncle Henry could provide work for three employees even during the Depression, is as lost to us as Oz is, in some ways – or is it? 

There are a number of farms near me that have become tourist farms, and I think these fail just as deeply to connect children to farming in some ways, as the industrial ones do.  For reasons of legal liability, children can mostly not actually do very much interacting with these animals – so they see sheep who have become accustomed to being fed pellets from small hands crowding to a fence to stick their noses through.  It is certainly valuable that small children get to pet a sheep, to feel a warm, damp nose against their hand, and the feel of tangled wool.  But it isn’t enough – these sheep aren’t busy being sheep, they are busy rubbing the hands that feed them.  They are pets, by necessity.  Yes, it is wonderful for children to get to witness shearing, or collect eggs – even if the eggs are purposely left in the nest boxes, and the sheep’s wool is composted afterwards. 

None of this is bad, but it also gives you little sense of the relationships that attach to domestic animals, that are implied by them. That is, small scale farm polyculture is to a large degree about relationships with animals.  In our society, the only way we make relationships with animals to turn them into pets – and certainly, some farmers and some farm animals do turn their creatures into pets – even the best intentioned working farmer will have some animals that crossed the line from “farm animal” to “companion.”  But it is worth knowing that human beings and animals have had intense and meaningful relationships which were neither “pet” nor the deep inhumanity of industrial agriculture.

And there are some people who might say that this traditional and complex relationship between domestic animals and farmers is bad – after all, it involved measures of trust and care, and in many cases, ended in death for the animal at the hands of people who cared for it.  My turkeys run to me for food – and I give it to them, give them one perfect summer and autumn on the farm, and then we eat them. Most people these days would shield their children from that reality – the animals they want their children to see are always cute, always safely penned and neutered, usually babies.  Their future is not something children are supposed to contemplate. 

And yet, most of the stories we tell children have a dark part as well, and this is no accident.  In _Goodnight Moon_ the child, clearly from an affluent family, is alone, apart from his parents, isolated in a separate space, with an unrelated “old lady” whispering hush.  I’ve written before about the absence of the mother in _The Cat in the Hat_.  The place where _The Wild Things Are_ is frightening.  Children “go” there, when they lose control and become “king of all the wild things” and get so angry at their parents that they tell them “I’ll eat you up!” – and thus must process their fear that their parents will stop loving them because of this dark and frightening anger.  The fairy stories we tell children are frightening – we sanitize them, but it is not clear that the old versions were not better for children.

The dark part of the diversified farm is this – our food did not begin on styrofoam trays in plastic wrappers.  The dark part of the farms is this – that we love and relate to the animals and then we kill some of them. Unless there are no animals on the farm, farms are steeped in death – sooner or later even the most ardent vegetarian farmer will have to put down an injured or ailing animal, may have to choose between a pest animal and one they wish to preserve and protect.  There is no retirement home for extra animals.  Death is, at every level, from the microscopic to the macroscopic, at home on every farm.

The funny thing is, it is adults, more than children, that are traumatized by this.  Oh, plenty of children go through vegetarian phases, but my own children are surprisingly capable of sustaining multiple knowledges – that some animals stay on the farm, and others do not, that the meat we eat comes from somewhere, that it had a life that preceeded it. 

In my copy of _The Year at Maple Hill Farm_ which, in the late 1970s, I read aloud to my own baby sister, the cycle of the year, wild and tame on a farm, is described in minute detail, from the hatching of eggs of all sorts (chicken, goose, robin, cuckoo, duck) to the end. In November, we are told “…before winter comes finally, a few of the animals leave the farm.  Some are sold.  The finest are borrowed by neighbors for breeding.  A few ganders are sent along as gifts.  Everyone likes ganders – you can’t have too many ganders – except in the barn through the winter.”  This is as closely as most of the books dare approach this subject.  Why does everyone like ganders?  Well, they are tasty (although you can tell this is a product of an earlier era – I love the idea of sending live ganders to my family, just to see the expression on their faces “here’s Christmas dinner, I assume you’ll know what to do with it.”;-)).  Why don’t we want them in the barn through winter?  Because the hay and grain may not hold out, and we can afford to keep only a few males for breeding.  It is the way of farming with animals.  It is the dark part of the story that lurks around the edges of the surface.

And it is one of the reasons I don’t think that the farm of childhood is simply nostalgic – that is, the farm is a good place for children for all its ambiguity.  It is not all that there is – children need contact with wild things too, and with the cities and towns they live in – but it is important that children experience farms, and food, as they really are – and as we want them to be.  By “want them to be” I do not mean sanitized or purified into petting zoos – but real farms, where real fiber and food, real things that matter to children come from, and where children can participate, can see that work and play are not always easily divided from one another.  This includes some knowledge of life and death, and of the cycle of life.  Without connection to the origins of their food, and the pain that sometimes underlies it, children risk growing up, as so many have, without a sense of the value of that food.

In the world as a whole, the farm, as I have described it, is part of most children’s world.  85% of farms worldwide are diversified small farms – many of them tiny farms on the edges of cities, others large farms in grain raising areas, or small dairies.  Children live and grow on these farms, and in the developing world, and through most of human history, were tied to them – they may never have lived on a farm, but there was a grandmother or an uncle with a farm, or a farm down the road that would employ them in the summers.  Never have children been so far away from the sources of their food and their imagination as they are in the western, developed world.

I had a farm as a girl – it belonged to my great uncle – my cousin Amy and I would load vegetable from their truck garden to be hauled to market, would chase each other in and out of the dark, cool hen house, and dare each other to climb to the hayloft to see the kittens.  I did not spend nearly as much time there as I would have liked, and it was not perfect, but it lives in my memory, imprinted, in ways that other experiences do not – as a memory of perfect summers, in a child’s place.

We would not repeat to our children endlessly the noises of domestic animals if they did not matter to us, even if we can no longer fully articulate why they matter.  We would not show them the farm so constantly and urgently if the farm did not matter to them.  They know it does.  We know it does.  But just as urgent as teaching them the language of animals and showing them where carrots come from is the work of making these farms real again, in all their imperfections, with their dark side intact, but whole, and a place where children can visit.

We invite as many people as we can to our farm, knowing that it will sometimes disappoint – the children will get dirty and sometimes even get manure on them.  The barn will have flies sometimes.  The animals won’t always want to play.  At some point the hens’ eggs will all be collected, and there will be no more until tomorrow, or we will be hatching, and will say “no collecting.”  At some point, a creature will become ill, or die. At some point something will kill and eat something else.  Sometimes the meal on the table derives from a former playmate.  I don’t think these things are bad for the children who visit us – some of whom knew all of these things before, and some of whom did not. 

If I ever accomplish one thing, I hope it will be to encourage more small farms, perhaps enough that most children in the so-called “developed” world, will have a farm in their lives – not a petting zoo, but an actual farm.  These can be city lots turned into microfarms, or CSAs that allow families to come pick up their share and see the land that produces their food.  They could be the truck farm that grandmother and grandfather made when they retired, or the farm that grew out of a neighbor’s suburban lot and backyard chickens.   I do not wish to see the farm dwindle to an Oz or fairyland, lost entirely to the children raised on its tales.

The story of the farm was never wholly clean, never perfect.  The role of the story has been to teach children that underneath the strange and dark parts, is an overarching comfort – a place where they can discover where food comes from, and wonder what another creature thinks of them, where they can touch and feel things both warm and beautiful, and a little ugly, with the hand of a grownup reassuring them that all these things, dark and light, go together in perpetuity, like children and the farm. 


17 Responses to “This Place We Know”

  1. vera says:

    Beautiful Thank you, Sharon. I discovered a true farm when I was twelve. My grandfather took me to visit some friends of his with a large (still old-fashioned) homestead. Two boys similar to me in age. I flew into the place with all my energy and delight, exploring and playing with the boys. After a few hours, my grandfather was ready to take the bus home. I was not a particularly rebellious child. But this time, I hid. I refused to come out. He finally gave up. After he left, we kids came out of hiding and celebrated. Thereafter, I spent part of each summer and winter there, and those are some of my best memories. My heart is full of gratitude when I think of that farm, its creatures, and the people who opened their hearts to me. :-)

  2. Mary in MD says:

    I read a book recently–Unnatural Order–about the place of domestic and wild animals in human imagination. Philosophy is hard reading for me, but he made some cogent points.

  3. Sara says:

    This post really struck me. My best friend and I come from very different backgrounds, except for the fact that when we were children, both of our families had a few acres, a garden, and some livestock. Although we may not have always appreciated it at the time, we both agree that growing up this way had a radical impact on our characters–our ideas about food, work, nature, life and death. I wonder what is to become of a culture so bereft of this primal knowledge, alienated from something so basic to humanity. Now I myself am the mom of a 14-month old who is enthralled with animals. She has yet to say “Mama” but exclaims enthusiastically when she sees a doggy, duck, cat, or chicken in her books or in life. I want to give her at least part of what I had, even though we (for now) live on 1/4 of an acre. We have chickens in the backyard and she sees pigs and rabbits when we visit grandpa and grandma. I let her play in the dirt in our garden, and before we know it she will be able to help harvest vegetables and pull weeds. I think having a child has led my husband and me to intensify our quest not only for “real” food, but for real life as well.

  4. Boy, did I need this post just now.

    We live on 6 acres that we are in the slow and bone-wearying process of turning into a ‘real farm’. Small, yes, very. But, it’s like the story books, and I hadn’t thought of that. What a cheerful thought. :)

    We have a little red barn (ok, I knew that was a story book thing – I’ve wanted a little red barn forever and even without a gambrel roof, it’s still just wonderful), chickens that run around the yard and give us eggs to collect (and all the kids here think that’s just an amazingly awesome job), a milk cow and her calf, and a bunch of wooly sheep that get fed and shorn and the wool turned into actual clothing via wheel and loom and the meat turned into dinner.

    It’s a good life, and one I would wish for as many people as feel the calling for it … it’s not for everyone, to be sure, but I didn’t realize how deeply it was in my blood until I started doing it. Maybe if there had been more opportunities earlier in my life to have ‘tasted’ this way of living, I wouldn’t have spent so long in the artificial world of Popular Culture’s Idea of Life In The City. I had no ‘family farm to visit’ … instead, the whole thing just smacked me over the head as I approached 40. :) Ah well, better late than never!

    Most people look at this life and see only the work involved (and the workload is indeed non-trivial, especially living as I do with one foot in each world) … thanks for helping me see it as a story, complete with sound effects. :)

    (and as I typed that, a rooster just hollered cock-a-doodle-doooooo!) :D

  5. Stjepan says:

    Esteemed friends,
    Allow me to greet you, and at the same time to involve in this talk. namely, I also live i a large city, and I’m Dr. vet professionally, and personally I’m disturbed when I see big animals in flats, I consider it to be manners of small town people, and depriving of freedom to those beautiful animals. I don’t say that small animals could be kept, small fishes in a aquarium, small birds in cages, then little dogs and cats,except the terriers, which are bloodthirsty. I’ve had a friend in Germany, who had a python in his flat. I, who stayed next to him, one morning his pretty wife Helga was screeming on the balcony, calling to help. I ran up upstairs into there,not waiting for a lift. I wasn’t able to come into the flat, having no key, while she was there on the balcony, I had to break the door to get in. I saw what I saw. The python tightly held Hans all around him, so I had to grab the golf bat to hit the snake at its head several times. Later I saw that he was already killed with broken back bones and broken neck. Before that Hans treated it like a kid in a trolley, ordered a hen to have to eat, or it was fed with mice, asking me to be aquainted with “his kid”. He was sour with me when I didn’t like it.
    Esteemed friends, think well when you buy your pets. If you buy one you must give the their natural room. Every missmanaging will be returned like to Hans. Besides, nobody could tell me that I like animals lesser and more than me. But if science is mother of knowledge, then alert is mother of wisdom.
    If you want your kids to see and to learn about animals take them to a village and to natural animal habitats.
    Thanks, and the best wishes.

  6. Green Hill Farm says:

    Good post as usual. I had farms in my childhood my Grandfathers chicken farm, the man across the street with large garden and a couple cows, then our own med/small garden, sheep, pony and two horses (I was a kid it was my parents who wanted this stuff). I learned to ride fairly well, learned to recognize and enjoy garden veggies. Ate a chicken from the man across the street and remember my mother grumpling because he hadn’t gutted it (she did, guess she knew how from being raised in the 30′s and 40′s on the chicken farm). It also had black spots where the wings had been, pigment from the feathers I guess.
    We got a side of beef from a local farmer, I ate beef heart, tongue and liver, don’t think I’ve eaten any of that since :) although I’d like to get liver from our next Highland (raise our own beef now, shared it though, others took the liver).
    I have eaten chickens I’ve raised although I did not butcher them though.

    I am for the 3rd year participating in a local elem. school’s “green day”. Before I went as Green Hill Farm CSA, this year while I’ll still be the farmer from Green Hill Farm my theme is to be “Recession Gardens” dh and I can’t meet the demand for members so I need folks to grow their own :) . Plus that whole Nation of Farmers thing :) .
    I am going to include chickens in my display. Oub town is thinking about banning chickens, put I just found out its been tabled. I know one town cop who has chickens and one of my new CSA members who works for the town is interested in getting chickens so maybe the ptb go internal flack ha ha.

    I’ll give out my email for questions, not sure I want to be running around physicaly consulting….although the green day coordinator who is also another farm member wants to start town community gardens (not much interest in tptb) and I’d help with that and I am going to volunteer to work some hours this summer in an urban garden (haven’t cotacted the coordinator yet).

    And of course our CSA folks and kids love our animals, we have baby calves again (we sometimes don’t takes a bull you know), have one whoops chick yes you need a rooster for that (but not eggs)………

    Beth in Massachusetts

  7. Jerry says:

    What a great post Sharon you have really caught the essence of small time farming and the relationship a farmer has with his animals. There can be no denying that sometimes one ends up eating what was running around the farmyard in the morning.

    On a personal note it is not just the child who feels a bond to animals one has raised. I have sold my milking herd three times in the past 14 years and each time the tears flow rather freely when the last trailer is leaving. What keeps me going is all those heifers I have to feed knowing that I will have a new herd to milk.

  8. Jen says:

    I agree with kids being able to “take the trauma” of animal butchering. My kids know the farm where their meat comes from 12 miles away. We pick it up. At dinner they call Farmer Rollie by name asking if this was his chicken. They have visited and when they are older, if we don’t have animals and land by then, they will help out there to learn more. I talk often to my son about being a farmer (oldest daughter has already decided to be a mom:). They are set to help our dairy farmer (3 miles away) milk cows. We live in a small town of a bigger city, but have built relationships with farmers for food and experience. I’m not one to sugar coat things and food and the importance of raising an growing food are important endeavors in our house.

  9. [...] she wrote about This Place We Know on Casaubon’s Book. How a visiting toddler knew farm animal sounds better than some of the [...]

  10. Lori Scott says:

    So many feelings this piece evoked. My first thoughts were of the little girl who lived next door to us.

    Our cat was a talker – you know some of them are very noisy. This toddler was the youngest of three small children and didn’t talk, never having much chance amongst the noise.

    Their mother didn’t talk to them, entertaining with the TV. This little girl fascinated me in that she spent such a long time ‘talking’ to my cat. She could mimic his meows perfectly and you couldn’t tell which one was making them.

    She was convinced he was talking back to her and I think he might have been the best friend she ever had. I wonder if she ever remembers him.

  11. Michelle says:

    Thanks for a great post. I grew up on three farms in Australia, I only left the farm when I was 17. That said, I wouldn’t call myself a farm girl – much preferring books to taking food scraps to the chickens. My two young girls have many farm books and know all the animal sounds. I didn’t realise how much farm was still in me until I took my two young daughters to the countryside to visit their grandparents. I work overseas and we live in an apartment in Mongolia (no garden, no pets). My girls got out of the car and immediately started crying when the friendly farm dog ran up to say hello. It took two days of “dog therapy” to get them to sit and pat the dog without fear. I am now annoying my husband by insisting that when we return home I want to buy a home on a site big enough for a micro-farm. I can’t go back to the family farm though, they have upscaled since I left and are now players in the industrial farming world.

  12. Deb says:

    Sharon, wonderful piece! I was lucky to have two farms when I was a kid. The first was my aunt and uncle’s small dairy farm. The barn with the hayloft and kittens, the milk room, the pasture next to the house, the chickens that pecked when we tried to get eggs, and Brownie, the dog who was trained to bring in the cows for milking were all part of my childhood.

    I think the only time my uncle got angry was if you went near the pig pen–they were mean and he worried I’d be hurt. Or if you made too much noise in the barn when the cows were being milked–if frightened the cows and they gave less milk. He had a pet cow that he would let me pet on the nose and sometimes let me sit on. And if there were calves in the calf pen he would let me dip my fingers in the milk and let them suck it off to feel how raspy their tongues were.

    And then there was the farm my mother grew up on during the Depression. It was just down the road from my uncles farm. Her parents were gone and the farm sold but all the stories my mother told about growing up there are still fresh. I have the blankets that were woven at the local mill from wool sheared from the sheep she took care of as a child. I have my grandmother’s sock knitting needles she made the family’s socks and stockings with. I have one of her aprons, complete with a stain, that she hand sewed and decorated with bright green rick rack. I have my grandfather’s hand wood working tools he used to make the bedroom set I have in my room. I have the canning jars my grandmother got when she bought coffee–the coffee came in the jars. I even have some of the flour sack towels my mother did hemstitching on to make them prettier when she was a girl.

    She talked about home when we were canning peaches or putting up pickles or making the apple sauce. She talked about home when she taught me to sew, to hemstitch towels, to turn the heel on a sock, and especially to plant the onions in a straight, not wibbly wobbly, row.

    We live on a farm now. Mom is gone almost 5 years now but when I go to visit my aunt, she always sends home something she’s growing even tho she’s 95….it’s in her blood.

  13. Anisa says:

    Wow – beautiful. This captures everything I want for my children… to be connected with their food and what a farm is. It is amazing how quickly they understand and are not bothered by the “dark side” of farming. In fact, I don’t think they see it as dark at all. My two year old always knows what he’s eating, and has even made comments about live animals being good to eat. It’s amazing to me, because I wasn’t sure how he would react to these teachings… so many people are so disconnected from thier food. They can’t stand the idea of eating Bambi or a rabbit or a chicken they’ve actually seen.

    This post really moved me. I needed it today.

    Thank you!

  14. Carrick says:

    Really interesting article. I’d just been thinking the other day about how when I was a kid, I thought living on a farm would be the coolest thing ever (getting into the DIY world has brought all this stuff up). Even just morning chores–feeding the chickens, milking the cows–seemed so fun. Of course, anything in a completely different world seems fun, so I’m sure farmer kids were totally bored by it and I’m sure I would have been bored by it after just a few days, but I also loved the outdoors in general, as well.

    I guess most kids do. But I mean, I was kind of hardcore about it. Every so often we would go up to the mountains where we had a cabin and I would spend hours exploring or feeding the birds and squirrels. I loved books about kids who had to rough it outdoors on their own.

    Now, as an adult, that affinity has been almost completely died. Is it because I’ve grown up in an industrialized world? I dunno; I know lots of people my age who have grown up in the same world love the outdoors. Is it just my personality? Possibly. However, I don’t think that growing up on a farm would have changed that. My great-grandfather grew up on a farm and hated it–he wanted to be a lawyer instead.

    While farm living is fascinating to me at the moment for practical reasons–because the old ways of farming were so much more sustainable–I don’t think there’s anything inherently virtuous about it.

    I would also argue that teaching children farm animal sounds in spite of no longer living on a farm is more due to tradition than anything. Think of all the nonsensical, centuries-old nursery rhymes we still teach children. Raising children seems to be steeped in tradition, no matter what it is.

    But even that tradition fades. The oldest nursery rhyme still in common use is only from the 1600s or so (I happened to look this up recently, coincidentally). If the majority of people continue to live in cities instead of rural areas (this switch happened just a few years ago or something)–assuming massive social upheaval from peak oil or climate change doesn’t happen–then I think we’ll see a shift in what parents teach children from rural to urban topics–such as switching out cow sounds for car sounds.

  15. Sophia MacRae says:

    Lovely writing.

    But I have to say that this hasn’t been my experience with my 3 year old son.
    He LOVES tractors. And cars, and trains, and bikes, and trolleys, and wheelbarrows, and anything with wheels. He shows very little interest in most animals, even when given the opportunity to interact with live ones. In his picture books, on the farm pages full of animals, and a few tractors/harvestors, his only interest is in the machinary. His first word was “ball”, and currently he loves saying “WHEEL!” pointing to anything that has wheels.
    This is hard for me! I am vegan, living car-free, we go EVERYWHERE by bike, and he likes that well enough, but his world is focused around oil-age machines… (and me, I guess!)
    He likes his books about ducks and bears, but doesn’t say any animal sounds, instead he identitifies Mama duck, and Baby duck, and Frog… (he likes jumping like a frog).
    The farm paradigm is absent from his world, and maybe that is partly my fault, as I have not read traditional farm stories to him. And we live in an urban environment. But we never have supermarket tantrums, because we never do our shopping in a supermarket, luckily there are wonderful small organic stores and markets around us. He sees food in its unpackaged, unplastic, unprocessed state in my kitchen. And when he is older, I hope that food origins and small-scale food production will be figuring MUCH higher than cars and trucks in the general paradigm… I want to go back to the farm too.

  16. Robin says:

    Twice a year I used to bring a goat, a rabbit and some hens to a local park where a friend of mine taught a bilingual Spanish/English parenting playgroup. I noticed the recent immigrants from Mexico always asked me if I also ate the animals, but the Americans rarely did. My affirmative answer was usually met with surprise and even disbelief, as if the person asking was just teasing, and hadn’t expected that they would actually find that the animals were more than just pets.

    Also, when my children were in bilingual preschool the first words they each really learned were all the names of the farm animals. So many songs for small children are very agrarian, as well.

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