Recently someone shared a list of 24 experiences that you would only have if you grew up in the country. People were supposed to count how many items from the list they experienced in their lifetime, and the goal was to get as close to 24 as possible. The experiences were things like sucking nectar from honeysuckle, picking wild berries from the fencerow, digging a hole for a fencepost, eating tomatoes from the vine, swimming in a water trough, squishing a bug with your fingers, and gathering warm eggs from the chicken coop.
It made me think of how fortunate we are to be living in the country right now, somewhat isolated from what is happening in the rest of the world. There is no doubt that fear has grabbed ahold of our society, with tremendous uncertainty from all levels about what our future holds. In fact, a recent study from John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health indicates the numbers of Americans suffering from mental health disorders like anxiety and depression have more than tripled during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Living in the country allows us to disengage from all the craziness of the world and stay focused on our role as producers feeding the world. It also reminds us that hope springs eternal, just like the perennials that come back every year, no matter how harsh the winter. That is why I am so thankful for farm life and the values it has bestowed upon us. In my opinion, there is no better place to raise a family and no better way of life than what you experience on the farm.
Here are just a few of the life lessons we learn on the farm that can carry us through both good and challenging times.
- A job worth doing is worth doing well. There are lots of opportunities to cut corners on a dairy farm, but eventually those shortcuts catch up with you. An infamous first job for children on many farms is feeding calves, and it is an area where you can see the fruits of your labor grow, literally. Calves are also quick to let you know when corners are cut, often in a very vocal way.
- There is a season for everything. I still remember, at 10 years old, watching my very first 4-H project go out the lane for the very last time. Caring for animals on a farm allows you to experience life and death in an intimate way, realizing that everything and everyone has a time and purpose.
- You catch more flies with honey. Anyone who has ever worked around cows knows how important it is to have patience. The louder you yell or the more abruptly you move, the less likely a dairy cow is to respond to you. By working with these animals, we learn how our actions affect others. We also learn quickly that remaining calm is always the best policy.
- Cleanliness is next to Godliness. Any dairy farm kid who got through their childhood without scrubbing the parlor walls or washing the tractor windows had parents who were way too lenient. Hearing that you should be able to drink out of the calves’ water buckets and eat off the milk house floor teaches you very quickly the virtue of keeping things clean.
- Early to rise and early to bed. Teenagers growing up on a farm are just like any other teenagers. They like to stay up late socializing with their friends. The difference is when 7 a.m. hits. Most other teenagers can sleep until 11 o’clock or later in the summertime, while farm kids are up and out the door, with chores waiting. It takes one or two twelve-hour days that follow five-hour nights until you realize sleep is a necessity.
- Many hands make light work. Have you ever seen the farm community come together to help someone in need? I remember times growing up when a neighbor’s barn would burn or a local famer would become injured. All the other farmers would come together, leave work undone at their own farms, and help the one in need. To me, there is no better way to experience teamwork and community than witnessing that.
- Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today. Each day brings a new challenge on a dairy farm. Putting something off only results in two days’ worth of work instead of one. You must always be looking for what needs done and working ahead. Growing up with that work ethic is invaluable and something that will serve a person well in any profession they choose.
- Celebrate the small things. Farming doesn’t leave a lot of time and money to put toward elaborate vacations. Taking long walks, impromptu backyard ballgames, fishing by the stream, or even just enjoying a bowl of ice cream together are all ways farm families can enjoy each other’s company. This teaches us that having fun and celebrating family does not require money or exotic trips. It just takes spending time together.
- Have faith. Farming requires faith. Each spring, you plant a crop and have faith it will grow to yield a harvest. With every newborn calf, you invest time and effort with hope that she will grow into a productive cow. Life on the farm gives you a chance to experience God’s miracles and see faith in action every day.
Henry David Thoreau, a well-known 20th Century American author, once wrote, “In the wilderness is the preservation of the world.” Very few people can remember a time when so much uncertainty existed in our society. To counter the uneasiness, we all need to “lean in” to those basic values we learned as children – to have patience, practice kindness, and be willing to compromise and work together. There is no better place to learn those values than on the farm and in the country.
No matter where you live, feeling overly anxious is not uncommon with everything going on. If you do feel overwhelmed, find people you can lean on for guidance and support, whether it is a loved one, friend, or your pastor. Do not ever try to carry the burden on your own. For those who are feeling overwhelmed and are not sure where to turn, the Center can connect you with resources that can help. Call us at 717-346-0849 or visit our website at centerfordairyexcellence.org/programs-resources/stress-wellness-resources/.
Editor’s Note: This column is written by Jayne Sebright, executive director for the Center for Dairy Excellence, and published monthly in the Lancaster Farming Dairy Reporter.