I am guilty of having been the best parent before having children of my own. My kids were going to be the hippest kids around. They would become the most environmentally-conscious-vegetable-eating-adventurous little bodhisattvas around, for sure. I definitely knew how to curate kids to embody these traits!
Well, it turns out kids are people, too. And while my girls are the hippest kids around (at least in my mind), I’ve discovered that I’m not here to mold the people my children will become. I’m here to support and help develop the people that are already right here with me. With that said…I obviously have a huge influence over the experiences that help realize those people. Lately, those experiences have been outside on the farm.
Our beloved babysitter/nanny Leila recently started school, so I’ve cut back quite a few hours on the farm because I have to bring the girls with me. Farming with young children can be a super fun experience for everyone involved, but it definitely comes with a dose of stress.
Several years ago I was teaching environmental education and “farming” with school aged kids. We would tour the gardens, mix soil, plant seeds, maybe transplant some things, and harvest potatoes. It was fun and took all of thirty minutes per farming activity. Farming with kids was easy, right?! Fast forward to this afternoon: I was dusty dirty and crazy-haired, digging potatoes with a filthy baby at my breast, one pants-less toddler digging out potatoes with a spoon, and an almost five year old repeatedly sitting exactly where I was about to start digging–also with spoon and SO MUCH curiosity. I found myself getting increasingly disenchanted with my life choices to this point. I seem to get to this low in the potato bed when I am 4/5 complete, it has happened to me several times!
Opal, in her 2.5 years, shows real potential as a farmer; she is a big helper and is great at harvesting broccoli side shoots. Ava knows that we shouldn’t keep the green potatoes and can spot and pick the best shelling peas. Ava likes to eat broccoli, and Opal likes to eat peas! Fern likes to eat dirt. The big girls really enjoy riding in the farm carts and wheelbarrows. They can spend big chunks of time digging holes and making little structures in the recently cleared rows.
It’s easiest to have them around in the late season because it is very apparent where there are and are not things growing. Sometimes the kids can be a bit destructive when everything is little or not even above ground, yet. Throughout the summer when the girls do have a babysitter they are always requesting to come out and help me. Their “help” usually isn’t very helpful or productive, but it’s nice that they are eager and willing to come out and work with me.
Like I said before–it can be stressful farming vegetables with young children, but it can also be very enjoyable and memorable for everyone! Here are a few tips for anyone eager to grow a big vegetable garden or bring their kids or grandkids out into their farms or gardens:
1. Be Flexible
Sometimes working with kiddos in tow isn’t going to work. I only work for 2-4 hours at a time with my kids along. If everyone is crabby and I feel like I’m about to lose my mind, I go home. Sometimes I have to come back in the evening after Evan gets home. This is part of my set up with the farmer–we play it all by ear!
2. Delegate specific jobs
I find it best to have jobs that are similar to what you are doing or directly involved with what you are doing. When harvesting beets, I let the girls carry some of them to the cart and “count” them for me. They also get to “prewash” them for me if they are wanting to help process produce. They each get their own bins for harvesting potatoes and run around gathering the potatoes that have been unearthed (they rarely actually dig for potatoes! I find it fascinating that they don’t…). They search for the biggest Brussels sprouts and point them out to me so I can harvest them and they make cool fashions out of the Brussels Sprouts leaves. They also get to feed tops, leaves and ugly veggies to the cows who have been very vocal about their hunger recently (they know that winter is coming…).
4. Bring food. Lots of food.
My kids eat so much while we are working outdoors. They have at least one meal and one snack (often two or more) while we are there for a few hours. Sometimes, they even eat vegetables fresh from the ground…but not as often as my “before kids” self imagined! The most popular straight from the field foods are carrots and peas. Ava will munch on shuko bok choi once in awhile, but she likes to remind me that she prefers her veggies cooked!
5. Music and stories
After about 2 hours of work, my kids start to get really antsy for a change of pace so I play music or stories for them from my phone. This is often when they play in the dirt, it’s like downtime with them quietly digging and building while listening to whatever is on. This works well, but if you don’t have a smart phone I imagine just encouraging kids to do some quiet creative play would work, or if you are an adept story teller or singer, who needs electronic versions?
As summer comes to a close with the autumnal equinox just a few days away, I find myself reflecting on this summer. The last few weeks have been gloriously sunny and pleasant, so we’ve had a good chance to finish off the summer right! I’m lucky to have these little Farmgirls alongside me, even if it is a struggle sometimes. I hope you have the joy of having not-so-helpful helpers in your gardens and chores from time to time!
Sending you peace and love from Alaska,
Until next time,
Alex, the Rural Farmgirl