For many growers, the opportunity to raise their family with fresh, healthy food, easy access to nature, and a connection to the land is a significant part of why they chose farming on an organic small-scale farm as a profession. But balancing family and farming is not always easy: both jobs require a great deal of time, care, and a willingness to adapt to the unexpected. Also, every farm is different, just as every child is different too!
We spoke to 5 market gardeners with children of different ages about their experiences, challenges, and tips. We invite you to embark on this journey with them via this miniseries of 5 articles which chronicle the biggest takeaways from those conversations.
Comparison Is the Thief of Joy
The number one takeaway from our conversations with growers is that farming and parenting together is rewarding, but also very challenging! Peace of mind requires letting go of certain expectations regarding what your days will look like, as well as not comparing yourself to other farms, other parents, and other lives. As Anna Raines of Rains & Sun Hilltop Farm says: “Parenting is a lot like farming: there’s no one right way to do it. You need to be really flexible and give yourself a lot of grace.”
What you can work on is setting up your particular situation for success and trying to meet the needs of yourself and your family, while building your farm.
Listen to Your Children’s Needs
It’s important to remember that there are no ‘one size fits all’ solutions, and your children’s needs and interests will keep changing as they grow. Every child is different and some kids will naturally be more interested and engaged in the work you’re doing. They may have a passion for tools or be excited every time a delivery vehicle comes to the farm. They may only have eyes for animals, or maybe they love people and want to accompany you to the market. Whatever their interest is, the growers we spoke to emphasized trying to nourish and build on their interests, rather than forcing them to engage in every part of your job.
On Rains & Sun Hilltop Farm in Northern Kentucky, Anna Raines and her husband, parents of 3 children between 6 and 11, learned this lesson early on: “even if they’re not with us every day, I want their time on the farm to be a meaningful and positive experience for them. Building those positive memories is the way my kids keep coming back to the farm, rather than seeing it as a burden.”
Misha Shodjaee of Zawadi Farm in Southern Ontario has been lucky with his first child: his young daughter was happily able to accompany him for 3 hours during CSA deliveries, sleeping in her car seat and listening to books on tape. However, he isn’t counting on that peaceful driving time with his newborn son – he knows to expect that every child is different.
Everything Can Be a Learning Opportunity on a Farm
Misha’s farming partner, Jessey Njau, has older children and they love being involved on the farm. Among other tasks, his 12-year-old son operates the tilther and his daughter washes bins for the CSA, each earning 5$ per job. Because they’re so involved in the business, his kids also have genuine insight: they help to navigate on delivery routes and have come up with better systems for washing bins and packing.
For growers with babies and young children, the idea of kids giving directions on a delivery route may seem like a far-off dream but involving babies and toddlers on the farm may involve much simpler sensory play. Ben Street of Street Fare Farm in North Carolina, father of two kids under 2, repeats the maxim “a dirty baby is a healthy baby” and recommends letting young kids play in the dirt, discovering soil, rocks, and plant life. Keeping an eye out for safety while allowing them to explore is a balance he strives for: “It doesn’t matter if they pull out a turnip – there’s more in there!”
Adapting to Changing Circumstances
For some growers who plan to have children, there are discussions about when to ‘time’ your birth to lessen its disruptive impact on the growing season. For Myrtha Zierock in Northern Italy, this wasn’t an issue- her son Pacifico was born in July, in the middle of her second season on her new farm Agricola Foradori where she was the primary farmer. But she welcomed the new arrival and adapted her farming business to fit her new circumstances – training her intern and family members to take on more farm tasks, adjusting her crop plan to simplify the season, and dropping some of the projects that were less essential to the success of the farm. Now, heading into her third season with Pacifico in tow, she has a strong team, a thriving farm business, and a clearer sense of her own priorities.
In 2020, with schools closed across North America, many families also had to adapt to having their kids at home throughout the year. For Jessey Njau, his kids have always been really involved and interested in participating in the farm – when Covid hit Toronto and schools closed, they were at home with him on their urban farm. Jessey felt that “it wasn’t taking anything away, but rather added more teachable moments and allowed more learning opportunities”. The children got to see the spring seeding and the fall harvests in ways they usually don’t because they’re at school. This family engagement in the farm’s day-to-day work is built on years of age-appropriate learning, taking on tasks when possible, and following each child’s passion.
Parenting and farming can be quite a journey! Every child is different and you will need to adapt to their specific needs. We have prepared a series of articles that will help you navigate those exciting experiences.
We invite you to consult the following articles: