Life Lessons From Farm Living

 Image: JellyTelly.com

Image: JellyTelly.com

This piece was originally posted on JellyTelly.com.

As I write this, I’m sitting on the floor of our farmhouse on 17 acres in Tennessee. My husband is out back in the field of our organic produce farm, and our two boisterous girls are giggling and running circles around the bottom floor. I’m stunned when I think about how our journey had led us to this place...not exactly as I’d imagined but still so close to what I’d hoped.  In the 7 short months we’ve lived here, Kindred Farm has already been the setting for multiple gatherings, meals shared around the table, and a revolving door of overnight guests. Everyone who comes says that this place surrounded by green Tennessee hills and woods helps them slow down.

Deciding to raise our children in the country and have our own farm wasn’t a quick or easy decision, but it was the one that felt most congruent with our dreams, desires, and the way God has wired us. So how did we get here? At the end of 2015, our family sold our home and organic produce co-op in Dallas and took a leap of faith to move to Tennessee without a job or home. We stayed in a rental house for a year until we happened upon this small 1940s home and gorgeous land 45 minutes south of Nashville just off the Natchez Trace Parkway. The first time we stepped foot here and my feet sunk into the front yard’s lush grass, I said aloud, “This place feels like us.” After months of struggle and wondering if it would work out, we signed the closing papers. God had provided the place for us to build our farm.

Shortly after we moved, my oldest daughter announced, “I love living in the country. I’m never living in the city again!” The quiet, the sky filled with stars, the ability to be immersed in nature, all speak to her adventurous 6-year-old soul. She calls herself a “farm girl” and takes pride in donning her baseball cap, jeans, and boots to set out and help Daddy in the field some afternoons. She’s equally happy in a sunhat and sundress, coloring under the apple tree. I love that this life allows her the opportunity for both. My toddler often joins me in the tomato rows (that are taller than she is) and examines plants for tiny unripe green balls or gasps when she finds ripe, red ones.

In his beloved book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, Richard Louv writes,

“In an agricultural society, or during a time of exploration and settlement, or hunting and fathering--which is to say, most of mankind's history--energetic boys were particularly prized for their strength, speed, and agility. [...] As recently as the 1950s, most families still had some kind of agricultural connection. Many of these children, girls as well as boys, would have been directing their energy and physicality in constructive ways: doing farm chores, baling hay, splashing in the swimming hole, climbing trees, racing to the sandlot for a game of baseball. Their unregimented play would have been steeped in nature.”

Some people wonder if by moving to a rural environment, we’re isolating our children or keeping them from growing up in modern society. I feel the opposite. By immersing them in this environment, we’ve slowed down time a bit, and I can’t help but feel that in some way, the innocence of childhood is being preserved. When you’re removed from “keeping up with the Joneses” it’s easier to see the things that really matter - time together, time in nature, exploring, reading a multitude of books, imaginative play, community. I’d so much rather my girls be in wonder over the first ripe tomato found in our garden than the newest trendy toy or gadget. I don’t desire for them to be immersed in pop culture or to measure up with what other kids their ages are doing. Going to parks, the library, art classes, and friends’ houses are still priorities for us. But true socialization and healthy personal growth can happen on the farm, as they interact with people of all different ages and have diverse experiences on a regular basis.

Here are some other important lessons the farm is teaching us:

1)    Working hard. Hard work is required in life, and it can be so fulfilling. Our girls see the value of their mommy and daddy working hard right in our backyard. Sometimes they have to sweat alongside us or entertain themselves for awhile, and they don’t like it. As a society, we don’t like to be uncomfortable. But we can’t appreciate the good things in life - the little luxuries - unless we know the feeling of the opposite. And nothing beats that bone-tired-but-deeply-fulfilled feeling at the end of a long day working under an open sky...and the cold drinks and hot showers afterwards.

2)    Independence. This is the biggest amount of land we’ve ever had. They can play outside unattended and don’t have to be glued to my side for safety. They get to dip their toes into independence while still having the security of their parents close by.

3)    Real life skills. Our modern society spends a lot of time doing things that don’t increase our primal, real life skills, but how important they are - growing, harvesting, and tending food, being enterprising, building fires and cooking over them, understanding ecology and biology, raising animals, dealing with the weather, learning outdoor safety. I love that our children have learned how to help plant, feed animals, turn on irrigation and unhook an electric fence. Our oldest daughter knows how to top the basil, and our youngest helps prune tomatoes. We're all learning together.

4)    Loving our neighbors. Although I was worried about isolation when we moved here, we’ve had more meaningful interaction with people here in the country than we ever did in the city. Although this can certainly happen anywhere, perhaps in rural settings neighbors are more willing - and available - to pitch in and help each other. It wasn’t long after we moved here that our neighbors whose land borders ours, a family with 5 homeschooled children, showed up on our doorstep one evening.  They’re close friends now, their three teenage boys walking over often to play ball with our girls or help on the farm. They make us s’mores bars, we send them back with chocolate chip cookies. They help with the electric fence, and we make them homemade salsa. We invite each other over for morning coffee at a moment’s notice, and I’m encouraged by a mother who loves Jesus and is a little further down the road than I am. Our neighbors across the street have a stunning year-round creek on their property which they’ve invited us to play in anytime. Another group of neighbors a few miles up the road gathers every Thursday evening for a potluck dinner on their farm, and whoever wants to come is welcome. What a diverse group of people it is - from singles to young families to a man in his 60s who’s owned a magical blueberry farm nearby since he was 19. We’ve found that this give-and-take happens naturally, without hidden agendas or expectations.

5)    Imperfection. Although it may sound idyllic at times, I think that starting a farm together is one of the hardest things a family can do, and there are a lot of struggles, physically, emotionally, and financially. We’re exhausted a lot. I obsessively spray my girls with tick spray made from essential oils every single day. My floors are scattered with mud and dirt 95% of the time. We can’t ride bikes or take walks on pavement unless we haul everything to a nearby park. We’ve given up a lot to be here, and I don’t know if we’ll be here for 5 years or 20. But it’s still the best place for us in this season, and we practice gratefulness for that.

So, what if you’re not able - or willing - to live on a farm?  We can raise our children to love Jesus no matter where we live - the city and suburbia are equally as full of life and beauty! But if you’re wanting to add a bit of farm life to your everyday, here are some ideas:

1)    Get your children (and yourself) in nature. Let them get dirty and explore. Find local hiking trails, lakes, or waterfalls. Take field trips with other families willing to do the same. Says Richard Louv, “Passion is lifted from the earth itself by the muddy hands of the young; it travels along grass-stained sleeves to the heart. If we are going to save environmentalism and the environment, we must also save an endangered indicator species: the child in nature.” Start small - a little time in nature goes a long way!

2)    Create more free time.  I love this quote from Kim John Payne in Simplicity Parenting: “In the tapestry of childhood, what stands out is not the splashy, blow-out trips to Disneyland but the common threads that run throughout and repeat: the family dinners, nature walks, reading together at bedtime, Saturday morning pancakes.” The greater quiet and slowness of country life makes these things a bit easier, but we can prioritize them no matter where we live.

3)    Support your local farmers. Go to the Local Harvest website and find your local farms, and then commit to supporting them in some way. Try to replace some conventional store-bought food with locally grown food or buy your produce at a farmer’s market. Volunteer on a farm for a morning or afternoon. Add your own small backyard garden or a few chickens, and let your children feel their hands in the dirt, to help with planting or harvesting and feeding animals.

I never could have imagined this is where we would be today. Raising kids on a farm isn’t perfect or idyllic, but it’s a whole lot of lovely. Now in our digital and social media age more than ever, farm life can teach all of us - adults and children alike - ways to return to a simpler way of life, if even for a few hours on a Saturday.