Ever have one of those phases where something not really in your consciousness suddenly pops up repeatedly? Like when you buy a new car, and suddenly everyone seems to be driving the same model? It’s been one of those times for me.
I had a leaning on the tailgate of the truck kind of conversation with a farmer friend a couple of weeks ago. About our farms, our friends, our families. Same old. Except that day he was not his usual optimistic self. He is a full time farmer, has been since he was 15, when his Dad died. He loves what he does, but that day he expressed worry about whether he could keep it all going. He touched on the fact that all three of his kids are in college, planning futures that will not depend on farming as their livelihood, even though they all love the farm and are more than happy to help out as needed. He also has a bevy of young lads who work for him throughout the summer season, loyal followers all, some of whom work for him sporadically through the winter as well. He sees as few do around here, the need to inculcate the possibilities of future farming in the minds and hearts of young people, to show them that it can be done, in a huge variety of ways and scale. He has a gift with young people, a kind of natural leadership that makes them keen to keep working for him. He empowers, trains, builds confidence, builds skills, and generally grows these teenagers into responsible adults. Will they be farmers, any of them? He hopes so, so do I, but it’s hard to know.
That was a couple of weeks ago. Last week, our eldest daughter began discussing with us the possibility of starting a farm enterprise or two of her own, using the resources our farm can provide to save her some costs. Now, I’m the antithesis of my tailgate friend. I’m a micromanager, naggy kind of supervisor. Ask any of my Navy subordinates – I have a t-shirt one class of trainees made for me that says “Mother Wren” across it. Wren is an acronym from the Royal Navy short for Women’s Royal Naval Service, and it was at that time part of my rank designation, Master Wren (my male counterparts who were Master Seamen), and thus the shirt slogan was an allusion to my tendencies to mother hen them too much.
I’ve done all right as a mother; my characteristics fall into the “typical” category for the role. But as a mentor of a young adult? I’m not most people’s first pick. So I did what I’ve learned to do best as a mother of teenagers. I breathed calmly and thought before I spoke (this takes practice). I remembered Salatin’s advice in Family Friendly Farming. And I said, “Sure, absolutely, how can we help?” More or less. I’m a work in progress. She has a lot of ideas, but the most immediate are that she wants to start a layer flock of her own to sell eggs, and she wants to raise veggies to sell at our roadside stand (which is currently a seasonal egg stand, but we’re talking future tense here). From us she needs space for winter housing for her flock of 20 birds, and permission to run a chicken tractor on the field during the warmer seasons. We’ve offered a third of our veggie garden space plus a little more in an unused flower bed for the veggies she wants to grow to sell. It’s not a bad plan. I don’t know if it will last, but she’s full of passion about it. My job is not to throw any cold water or criticism or to say that she’s not doing it my way (the right way, obviously), but instead to be like my friend above. Will this exercise grow a farmer? I have no idea.
Recently, our youngest daughter went to an awards ceremony at Government House. She and two friends had been involved in a local initiative called Vital Youth through the school, wherein their team was given the responsibility of finding a local charity deserving of a $2500 donation. They had a list of criteria the organization had to meet, and quite a bit of legwork in narrowing down to their best choice. It’s an interesting concept, and I invite you to check out this link to learn more. However, the point I want to make is that these three girls, after several weeks of work determined that a group called Growing Young Farmers was their favourite choice. How cool is that? Not one of these three girls is likely to be a farmer- two intend to pursue careers in the medical field, while one is a musician. But at 15 and 16 years old, they recognize the work this awesome organization is doing and it’s importance for the future.
And then finally, I was catching up on emails after a nasty bout in bed with stomach flu and noticed that a blog I follow written by a young farmer in PEI, who has not been writing for the last six months or more had suddenly posted. This is Barnyard Organics (For Love of the Soil in my sidebar), in the western part of PEI. They are a young couple with 4 kids under the age of 8, one a newborn. They are certified organic, grow grain, raise chickens, both layers and broilers, hogs and lamb, have recently built an on-farm, inspected poultry processing facility and do all this on a farm originally owned by Mark’s Dad, who still helps out a lot. Sally, the blogger, is as passionate as they come in the Maritimes (which is pretty passionate), articulate and willing to speak her mind about what she believes in, all of which makes her a popular speaker at local farming and/or organic conferernces. This particular post is one of her best, an excerpt of a speech she recently gave. Here’s the link for you to read it yourself, which I urge you to do, because her topic is the Family Farm, and she focuses of course on growing young farmers.
In the week since I began drafting this post (this is clearly why my recent posts are so long, I’m writing them over several days :)), things have moved quickly. My eldest is now officially on payroll, and has the sunburn and tired muscles to prove it and has taught the piglets to fist bump (they use their snouts). My friend from the tailgate session is up to his ears in making hay, thanks to the 5 day run of sunny, warm weather. He’s in full gear, running morning till night, making hay while the sun shines. He’s got no time to think beyond the next weather forecast, let alone ponder the fate of future farmers. But they’re out there with him, driving tractors, stacking bales, getting sunburned and building muscles.
All you can do is plant the seeds, nurture them as best you can and practice a lot of faith.