At the Farm Gate: Farm Provides Summer Education

At the Farm Gate - Joanie Stiers.2

Having braved a gravel road, a long driveway and an unleashed outdoor dog, a college intern approached our front steps ready to give his pitch. He worked door-to-door selling books and digital resources that supplement school coursework in math, science and language arts. I kindly shared some time with the business major on the front porch, where he quickly learned that supplemental education of a different sort defines our kids’ summer days.

Our 15-year-old son works on the family farm. Our 17-year-old daughter operates small businesses selling baked goods and home-grown sunflowers. Together, the kids maintain a flock of hens and sell eggs to family, neighbors and our daughter’s home-based bakery. With poultry in view, the San Diego native wondered what it meant to “show chickens,” as the kids had done that morning at the fair.

The farm offers a summer classroom filled with opportunities to gain life skills in problem-solving, management, organization and efficiency. The kids learn to work in heat, identify approaching rain and witness the implications of drought. We hope they gain responsibility, a sense of self-sufficiency and a work ethic through a combination of disappointment, triumph, energy and exhaustion.

Because classroom experiences don’t teach how to handle a calf that escapes the pasture fence. Or that drought means feeding winter stores of hay to the cows when the summer grass doesn’t grow. Our daughter reconciles bank statements, communicates with adult customers, and studies the bloom habits of various sunflower varieties. Our son changes oil in tractors, understands the functions of a planter meter and can operate more than a dozen pieces of farm equipment.

The farm work shifts to maintenance of harvest machinery by mid-summer. Sunflowers bloom and roadside sales ensue. Planning work accelerates for the kids’ biggest community service event just after Labor Day. Their summers are spent unrelatable to their peers at times, but I hope they enter society as responsible, self-driven citizens who can express compassion, exhibit common sense and make a difference.

The intern left with a tip in lieu of a sale and a glimpse into a farm-inspired approach to education. Like us, he desired to make the most of the opportunities presented to him.

About the author: Joanie Stiers farms with her family in West-Central Illinois, where they grow corn, soybeans and hay and raise beef cattle, backyard chickens and farm kids.

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