When Autumn Feeds the Horses
* In This Era Of Parents Holding Jobs No One Understands, It's No Wonder We Get Nostalgic Over The Family Farm
November 27, 2000
by Dennis T. Avery
This articles appeared in THE BridgeNews FORUM on November 6, 2000
CHURCHVILLE, Va.--My granddaughter, at 18 months of age, demands to feed the horses and chickens on our little farm. She wakes up in the morning, points to the barn and yells "Horse!" Then we accompany Autumn directly to the barn. We do not pass "Go" or stop for breakfast.
Autumn is so short we have to hold her over the feed bins while she scoops up the grain. Then she marches sturdily off to the feed boxes. We didn't teach her this. She watched us do it, and then demanded to take over the job.
Autumn also feeds the chickens, even though she's afraid of them. She'd consider it dereliction of duty to let them go unfed. She just makes her Grandma go with her into the chicken run.
The most hilarious sight is watching Autumn "lead" the donkey. Pedro won't let us lead him anywhere. But he likes little people, and she's lavish with the molasses horse cookies. So here's this tiny person stumping around the paddock holding the lead rope, with a fuzzy gray donkey tripping hopefully behind.
It's no wonder we get nostalgic about the family farm, especially in this era of rapid role changes and parents holding jobs that nobody understands. On the farm, kids could watch their parents working hard, and see them producing food that went directly to the family dinner table.
My dad got respect because he did most of the heavy work. Mom knew when to plant the peas and how to can tomatoes with onions. I milked the cows, and my sister took care of the chickens. Everybody hoed in the big garden.
Non-farm employers traditionally had to offer premium wages to lure kids off the farms. Otherwise, too many of the farm kids would have stayed with the direct, emotional satisfactions of working with land, crops, cattle and their families.
Our cities have yet to develop a comparable values-instruction system. My kids, growing up in the Washington suburbs, just knew that dad and mom went off to offices and did unknowable things.
Nor did they make the real connection with the bills getting paid, even though we reminded them frequently. They didn't see it for themselves.
City parents do an amazing variety of specialized things. I remember trying to tell my sons how my government job regulating futures trading at the Chicago Board of Trade made the world a better place.
Well-educated adults have a problem understanding this. How could I expect to get respect from teen-agers? There's little common ground among today's city jobs, except for the long commute to the office and the fact that computers are now somehow involved.
Churches and synagogues have through the years helped explain society's values and reinforce parental roles. So have the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, the 4-H Club and other service organizations, though they're hard put to compete with television and computer games.
There has never been anything to beat the family farm for teaching kids constructive, responsible behavior. Growing up on a dairy farm with a 14-hour day and a seven-day week made everything else in life seem easy.
The new trend toward in-home work, fostered by the electronic age, may help in the long run. Watching their parents in a home office may give kids a better idea of what their parents do than any kids have had since the big farm-to-city exodus began after World War II. We certainly can't and wouldn't want to go back to subsistence farming just to teach our kids values.
African families spend much of their waking hours weeding their subsistence crops by hand, but that hasn't brought even an adequate diet, let alone literacy, peace, prosperity and long life spans.
We don't all want a rural lifestyle, and it's a good thing. The world's subsistence families have little beyond the food they eat and the clothes on their backs. Most of us want much more than that, certainly including medicines and refrigeration, which extend our lives, toys for our kids and the books, movies, travel and other amenities that enrich our existence.
The 21st century will offer still more technologies, opportunities and knowledge. Cities will house a larger and larger percentage of the world's population.
But perhaps we should give more thought to ways we can carry along the values and inner discipline developed through thousands of years of feeding the livestock and planting the spring crops.
Dennis T. Avery is based in Churchville, VA, and is director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues.