I spent a good majority of my life on my grandmother's 40-acre farm. An old plantation home still stood there, and one of my fondest memories is sitting in there at the kitchen table and hearing my grandmother say grace before eating breakfast.
There were always goats there to milk, chickens to give eggs, fruit trees, and a garden that all served an important purpose when it came to providing for us. But one of the things that the farm also provided is not tangible: It is the personal experience and knowledge that I could only have gained by spending my childhood at the farm.
My grandmother was known as a firm, yet loving soul, who provided for her family through the work of her hands and the sweat of her brow. I admired her, but at the same time, I respected her. She taught me what it meant to reap the rewards of something you put your full time and effort into, because only giving half your effort would lead to consequences!
As an example, her goats were always kept in a pen surrounded by electrical fencing. If you turned the fence off to go in and feed them, but did not double-check to make sure you turned it back on, you would spend hours trying to chase them back in later!
Another important lesson learned was tender care for the animals and crops she raised, because they were vital to feeding us all. Neglecting to cover up plants during a frost could kill them, which meant a loss of good vegetables on the table. Failure to keep water troughs clean could lead to a sick animal, which meant losing your meat, milk, and egg producers. Farm life required putting forth full effort — it takes time to make sure you provide for the plants and animals that provide for you.
A hard work ethic was always key in keeping the farm running smoothly, because nothing could be accomplished by sitting there and expecting chores to do themselves. Grandmother was stern but meant well, so if I was just lazing around indoors she would often yell, "The sun is shining and it's a pretty day! There's plenty you can be doing outside!"
I would get up quickly and run out the back door, immediately finding something to keep me busy. But even when the sun isn't shining and there's rain pouring down, the work does not wait for clear skies. You cannot put off feeding the horses or closing the chicken coops so predators won't hurt them at night. You have to be willing to earn the good things in life.
The most important quality of all was clearly the love and teamwork of your family. There are just so many projects you cannot get done without an extra person, and it makes it much easier when you have a spouse, children, or other relatives there to lend a helping hand. I cannot even imagine what moving a 1,500-pound, round bale of hay would have been like without a tractor and some strong folks rolling it into the barn!
After a long day of helping to clean stalls or chop firewood, nothing was more rewarding to me than to sit outside under a huge oak tree next to my grandmother and relax with a cup of coffee. Then it would be time to turn off the lights and rest up for another day of hard work. I can't help but think of Benjamin Franklin's wise words, "Early to bed and early to rise!"
There were many great years spent with my grandmother up until her passing in 2012, and she still remains my role model to this day. Not only did my time at her farm teach me about life, but it taught me about love, too. I was blessed with the opportunity to understand that hard work, care, effort, and family were necessary as part of my character.
The things I learned led me to where I am today, as my husband and I pursue a life of self-sufficiency through the work of our hands. I know one thing to be true as I recall such fond memories — lessons learned on a farm will never be forgotten.
Fala Burnette is a homesteader with her husband at Wolf Branch Homestead in Alabama. They are currently building a small cabin using lumber they milled themselves and raising chickens, rabbits, and ducks. In Spring 2016, they will start growing a large crop of heirloom Indian corn that they will save to sell and make cornmeal with. Read all of Fala's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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