Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
“You mind holding that door for me, bud?”
The young Salatin boy, one of Daniel’s, holds the door of the hoop house open for me while I step over the board that’s holding back the bedding, and I step into the winter world of the chickens.
I was there that fine frozen morning to tend to the hundreds of birds that we had brought in to weather the cold Virginia winter. The little fella was there to take care of his ducks and gather their eggs. We worked side by side for a bit, me opening nest boxes to allow the chickens to begin their day of laying, while he carried a half-full bucket of water over and topped off the duck’s rubber pan. We spoke now and then, but this wasn’t the first time we had completed these repetitive tasks, and we mostly just went about our business. In some ways this situation, one in which I find myself working alongside a much younger farmer (call him a kid, young adult, whatever, I prefer young farmer) is familiar to me, and it strikes me that I am very fortunate to not find this a novelty.
I grew up in a large family. Not on a farm per say but, thanks to my parents, we were always doing some level of homesteading. Nothing big or fancy, but things that would put good food on the table. Through this form of childhood, I was on the receiving end of some crazy awesome instruction. More fundamental and hands-on as opposed to audible theory. It was a childhood that I can now look back on and see a few of the many ways that working outside with my parents and being responsible for the lives of several animals has influenced my life.
So, here I am, starting my own farming venture. I look back to when I was a young farmer. I also look back at my time with Polyface where I got to watch three different generations work together. I got an up close and personal look at what family farming is, with all the wonderful, laughing, exhilarating highs, and the snapping from frustration, yell at the kids, I can’t deal with my family right now lows. It seems that a family business is going to have both sides. It’s the nature of the beast.
So why is it worth it? What are some of the positive elements that come out of a childhood of hard work, dealing with others, and carrying out responsibilities? Here are a few things that I have personally observed. These, of course, are generalizations, but you get the drift…
Children that are expected to work (strangely enough) end up learning HOW to work. I have come to believe that people (especially younger people) generally only rise to the expectations that are placed upon them. This goes for many areas of life, but I see it prevalent in work ethics of those that I have worked with. It’s always interesting to note the difference, and general higher level of work, that is accomplished by someone who was instructed and expected to work as a child.
Being observant is a trait that comes naturally to some people, while others are forced to acquire this skill. I believe that it is something anyone can learn. How can we work on this? Teach the young farmers to be more observant.
Now, this isn’t just a “why can’t you be more observant” conversation where it is communicated to them and we expect results. We must follow-up the instruction with hands on execution of this skill. I worked as a camp counselor for several years, and I was once standing in a clearing with several children. I was expected to teach them about being more observant of our surroundings. When I asked them to be observant (these poor kids who had known nothing about nature aside from their public park and now found themselves out in the woods) they just looked at me. That wasn’t enough. I had to follow it up with practical execution.
“Use your eyes, and look at that bird,” I told them.
“Now use your ears and listen to the river, the wind in the trees, the songs the birds are singing. Now use your nose and smell the smoke from our campfire.”
That sort of thing.
You had better believe that the next time I asked them what they saw, they were much better able to tell me. I helped them learn WHAT to look for. This goes for farming and other day to day activities. I have to teach my little brother what to look for when he is feeding our rabbits. We are looking at how much they are eating, if there is a problem with a waterer, if there are ear mites. After these instructions, I can now just ask him to take care of the rabbits, and he better knows how to approach the situation.
You don’t know someone ‘till you have to work with them. I think working with someone is one of the best ways to get to know them. It is much more effective than dating if you ask me. You will learn more about how a person responds to surprise/stress/frustration/critical thinking if you work with them. Much more so than if you were to sit down and enjoy a coffee with them. So if you work with your young farmers, you have the opportunity to create a bond with them. A bond that could grow strong and that they can carry into their work field once they get older. If they are smart, they understand how this bond can help them in their future occupation. Some people, of course, respond better to this than others, but I think that we all can benefit from this. Team building is more important than a lot of people might at first think.
So, there are three benefits. There are others of course, but let’s focus on those. Do you farm or homestead? Have a job that takes you outside? Incorporate your children of you have any, and if you don’t, find someone that could benefit from that exposure. I’m betting that there are more individuals that could benefit than you might think.
Share the knowledge that you have accumulated. It’s selfish of you not to. It really is. Others need you and what you have to offer. Reach out. Give a helping hand. It doesn’t take much. One day a week. One day a month. Find a young farmer who could use a little dirt under their fingernails.
I guarantee you can find it satisfying.
Also, we can often learn more while we are trying to teach someone than the people who we are trying to teach learn from us. Chew on that.
Interested in seeing more of what Tim does? Follow along through the lens of his camera on Instagram, username MyPolyfacePerspective.
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