Friday, June 19, 2015

So Your Kid Wants to Be a Farmer

Me: So, Ming, what do you want to be when you grow up?

Ming (my oldest, and no, Ming is not her name): I want to be a farmer, a teacher, and a veterinarian.

Me: Hmmm. Um, all three?

Ming: Yep. I can be a farmer and a vet and then teach people about farming and taking care of animals.

Me, after a short pause, eyes filling with proud tears: Be still my heart!!

I wanted to be a vet once. Yep. Even went to school for it for a couple of years until I joined the Army. Side Note: Contrary to what any recruiter will tell you, the Army does not allow you to just walk in off the street and be a service dog caretaker...

I had the opportunity to see fully-operational dairy farms, cattle ranches, hog farms, and poultry farms. I was able to bear witness to the educational entryway for anyone looking to become a vet through a large brick-and-mortar university. I gotta tell ya, it scared me a little bit....even then. Even then, back when I loved McDonalds, before I watched Food Inc., before I started ranting about how traditional meat production is literally poisoning our country.

I remember standing in animal science lab, staring at the vast number of bovine stomachs set out on display on the tables in front of me, thinking back to the heifer I'd just witnessed, the one with the huge (painless) hole cut into her stomach so we could study the devastating effects of corn on a ruminant's stomach, and I realized right then and there that I wasn't learning how to save animals. I was learning how to extend the life of animals so humans could make more money. Not animal welfare....human welfare. And not even welfare....profits. Money. Something I grew up without and never wanted to focus on ever again. It made me, the naive little college dreamer with a moral compass untouched by the harsh reality of profit-driven behaviors, sick to my stomach.

Not long after (because let's face it, I'm obviously only a few years older than that youthful college girl...) I swore off traditional agriculture, period. Seemed to be a lot of "feed the world" mottos covering up massive biochemical contamination and dollar-conscious ecological irresponsibility.

But see here's the catch ... the hiccup in my steadfast mission to change agriculture forever, at least in this home...

Many of the farmers I know and love farm exclusively using traditional practices, like monocropping (one or two crops over acres and acres of land, normally corn and/or soybean, all genetically modified so they can withstand heavy amounts of pesticide, some plants actually produced with the pesticide already inside their DNA, which we then of course ingest and feed to our kids). These farmers still operate cattle ranches with huge troughs overflowing with the corn I described above. They still raise chickens for heavy producers like Perdue, who shamelessly "believe in a better chicken" yet single-handedly monopolize the market, force farmers into poverty, and operate the nation's worst, most disgusting living environments for these "better chickens." PS, ever notice how f-you and Perdue rhyme? Neat, huh? 

But these farmers are my friends, you see. This is how farmers can make money in America, so this is how farmers operate. We've got biochemical terrorists like Monsanto on one end of the spectrum, consumers like me on the other, and the majority of Americans and farmers stuck right snack dab in the middle, just doing what they've always done because that's the way it's done and it's too hard and too expensive to do it any other way.

And my baby, my precious, naive little 4th grader, wants to jump right into the thick of it.

She quit Girl Scouts to join 4H. When asked who she'd like to meet if she could meet anybody, dead or alive, she told me she'd meet Joel Salatin. She stands next to me as I cook so she can write the recipes down into her little pink notebook. She wants in on the food movement and I'm just not sure how to feel about it. It's like a thrill ride....terrifying and glorious all at the same time.

What do I tell her? Do I expose all the deep dark secrets of the traditional educational model for agriculture? Do I enter her into the very testy conflict between traditional farmers and more forward-thinking minds, like Joel? Do I allow her to skip a brick-and-mortar college degree so she can apprentice with some of the best permaculture groups in the world? Do I say nothing and allow her to figure everything out on her own?

I wonder how long this farmer-in-training mentality is going to last (so far we're going on 3 years). She's not exactly the world's most motivated kid, I can tell you that right now. She doesn't even remember to take the compost out. Nothing like good ol' Ree Drummond's kids, who seem to always be working and working and working and smiling and working. So maybe my kid will change her mind. Maybe I say nothing, and she figures out how hard it is on her own, and hates it so much she walks away from it.

.....but hang that really what I want? Is that really what we need? More young minds turning away from agriculture because they see this impermeable wall of hardship and greed in front of them?

My job is to raise someone who can contribute to society and understand what it means to be content. So I think instead of passing this off as a MingMing oddity, or falling back on the whole "she'll change her mind," principles, I am going to nurture this little seed of hope. I'm going to share what I'm learning with her and...

  • Take her out gardening with me. 
  • Introduce her to my homesteading handbook. 
  • Teach her how to respect our farmers regardless of growing practices. 
  • Let her care for the chickens. 
  • Show her why I choose to buy my seeds from heirloom suppliers. 
  • Teach her how to articulately debate. 
  • Explain how I came to choose companion planting over traditional garden rows. 
  • Show her how to instruct others. 
  • Teach her how to install hardware cloth over raised beds so the chickens can't eat all of her future cauliflower. 

Because that's all any of us can do, right? Grow within ourselves, respect others, and then share our knowledge with our kiddos? I gotta tell you, I think that's what parenting is all about.

And who knows, maybe I'll get a little homesteading partner out of the whole deal ;)

Any of you have a good story about what you wanted to be when you grew up? How many of you have kiddos that want to be farmers? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading :)



  1. I wanted to be a shoe salesmen, so I clearly wasn't as bright as your daughter! But I think you are on the right track! And when she's older yes, expose her to everything and let her make up her own mind. Kids are like sponges, it's good to teach them but also to let them learn to form their own opinions. Sounds like you are a wonderful influence!

    1. Hahaha I love it - you would've been an awesome shoe saleswoman! You've got the marketing personality - nice, knowledgeable, and comfortable talking to strangers! :) Thanks for stopping by, Kristen :)

  2. Getting her started actually doing the skills to grow from scratch and learning the processes that go into making food is precisely the right sort of thing to do, especially when she's showing interest in the topic. My Mom was just talking about how hard it is to predict what kids will actually end up doing as adults--the parents want to prepare them with the skills they'll need most, but it's hard to predict what those are. We were just talking about this: My parents are both engineers, and all of my mom's siblings are in the medical field (vet, surgeon, 2 nurses). My parents decided that science and math seemed to be really needed skills for these sorts of professions and decided to really push those in their homeschool curriculum. Which means, that, for homeschoolers, all of us had a really, really strong math background. I graduated high school at 16 and had already taken a year of calculus and college level chemistry and physics as well....And I turned around, and somewhat to their dismay, discovered freshman year of college that I'm a linguist and a writer at heart, and spent my entire B.A. studying writing and the intricacies of English, along with Chinese, Japanese, and Spanish.
    It would have been nice if my parents had been able to predict where my heart actually was, and had planned more in the way of foreign languages into my early curriculum instead of more and higher math....but it all ended up well. I'm doing what I love, and it's okay that I didn't learn how until later. But I am advising them to possibly give up on their dream of raising 7 engineers and medical professionals because thus far my brother is the only one who is actually going for that plan. It's a very practical plan, and it matches the passion, interest, and skills of my parents, so I understand why they went for it.

    1. That is too crazy, Rach! I was actually particularly interested in your take on this subject primarily because you were raised in a homeschooling household. I hate to admit it but there's been a few times I've momentarily considered how I could teach my kids more, better, and in a safer environment. My oldest had a terrible year last year because of her horrific teacher and I'm so turned off to the idea of another fight-filled school year. Plus this summer has been so inspirational as far as teaching her life skills.

      But you're so right - where would I begin? I don't think I have the discipline to get it done right and I would absolutely struggle with what you mentioned above....what would I ultimately choose to expose her to?? Such a hard choice!

  3. Ming is very smart. Instead of settling for just one, she figured out how to make all of them work.

    1. Thank you :) I am proud of my lil genius baby....she is my creative child :)

  4. I grew up on a farm. My grandma's on both sides had huge gardens as did all my neighbors. The first thing I did when I moved into my husband's house was to put in a garden. I was 35. I so wished my grandma's were still around (or remembered - my grandma who was alive didn't) or that I had paid more attention back then. I think you are on the right track teach her as much as you can. I don't think you ever lose a love of gardening or nature once instilled.

    As to my old farm, when I asked my niece if my brother (who know owns it) would ever become part of the organic movement. She said are you kidding he's deeply entrenched it the more fertilizer the bigger the produce etc movement.

    1. That is so neat to hear, Savvy, and gives me a little hope that no matter what, my efforts won't be in vain. Shame about your old farm! I can tell you, there are a ton of neat, organic ways to grow food so it comes out just as big and abundant ;) But that's just the organic lover in me trying to share the love!! :) Hope you have a great week!!

  5. I wish I could grow stuff! I try and they all die.

    1. HAHA That was my way......I can only grow stuff outside, I've figured out. The plants I keep indoors always die, even if they are the exact same plant as the one outside.

  6. That's wonderful that your daughter already has direction! :) Life will always be complicated and challenging but if you love what you do then it's always worth it. Just focus first on instilling love, passion, and motivation then proceed to make resources and skill building tools accessible. The rest is up to her. :) Time will tell right? My son is 8 and he goes in and out between being a scientist, building robots, and making games. We'll see for now programming classes and focus on math. Lol. :) So how do you buy your bacon!? Nitrate free or what? If so, why!? Have a great one Jen!! Have a fabulous 4th of July holiday weekend! -Iva

    1. Thank you, Iva!! I love how you wrapped up your son's passions into one direct focus - programming classes! That will literally fufill many of the requirements needed to be any one of the things he mentioned. So smart! You're sucha good momma!

      As for the bacon YES - I get it from Wallace Farms, nitrate free, and I only order my meat once a month. I typically spend about $50- $75 on my monthly order - and most of that is spend on ground pork sausage (SOOOOO good) and turkeys for lunchmeat. Nitrates are the devil, that's why! You want bacon? Go with a local farmer who allows his pigs to live healthy lives on healthy property and slaughtered in healthy ways! ORRRRRR just come over to my place and I'll make you a bacon sammich ;)