Life’s lessons learned on the farm

I had thought nothing of it when our conversation grew louder to compensate for the sound of my dad’s lawnmower starting. Occasionally Dad, when he wants to do something, will randomly get up and mow the area in which the activity is to take place. A few weeks ago, he had done the very same when he wanted to play bag toss (I refuse to call it corn hole), even though the area was not necessarily in need of mowing.

The sound of the mower grew closer and soon dad, sitting on his mower, came into view, I could tell the mower blades were not turning as no grass was being thrown from chute. Perplexed, I watched him slowly putt across my line of sight. As the rest of the mower came into view, a smile I could not control grew across my face.

Secured behind the lawnmower was a Radio Flyer Wagon, and in it sat my two boys. Dad was pulling them behind the lawnmower in the very same way he had done for me and my siblings all those years ago, when we, too, could fit more than one in a wagon. Though the lawnmower was much newer, and dad a little older, the scene couldn’t have been more reminiscent of my youth.

As I grinned from ear to ear, filled with a combination of pride, contentment and nostalgia, I began to wonder how many other “first on the farm,” experiences my boys would have, and when they would happen. Experiences like their first bucket calf, the first time they’ll feed/ water the chickens, their first lesson on driving the tractor, the first time they put those tractor driving lessons to use.

Those experiences would likely shape the person each of my children would become, much as they did for me.

Suddenly, a thought occurred to me that made me question the decisions my wife and I made about where we call home. You see, we live in town. Mom and Dad no longer own livestock. As a result, many of the experiences I remember so fondly will likely be a foreign concept to my sons.

Then I thought of all the lessons learned from those experiences. Will those be foreign to my children as well?

How do I teach my kids to be responsible and dependable without asking them to be responsible for feeding and watering livestock? How do I teach them to care for others above themselves without having to unthaw frozen waterers in the dead of winter, even though your feet are just as frozen? How do I teach them to do a job right the first time, without letting them experience the consequences of building a fence wrong?

As I began strategizing solutions to the above questions, I realized how much I had taken my experiences growing up on that acreage for granted. I recognized that for generations, the questions I was having to ask myself were the foreign concept that today, I worry the experience of growing up on the farm is becoming.

For generations, family farms dotted the nation; 4-H clubs, FFA chapters, and small town and rural schools teemed with America’s future. Those children grew up to be U.S. presidents, members of Congress, judges, doctors, farmers and above all else, mentors, mothers and fathers.

As I contemplate my own children’s futures, I can’t help but wonder, with the continued consolidation and corporatization of the ag industry, the lack of land access for young farmers and ranchers, and the price tags associated with getting started, how many future generations do we have left that will be populated by people who grew up learning the lessons taught on a farm?

Those that have grown up on the farm are already a minority, one that gets smaller every day.

Is it impossible to teach life’s lessons without access to a farm? Of course not. I’ll find a way to pass those lessons onto my boys. As their father, I have to. It’s my responsibility - a lesson I learned a lot about growing up on the farm. Maybe you did, too.