Last Child On The Farm (Guest Post)

Whenever I pass a freshly plowed field it gives me the same thrill as an unopened book–full of potential, surprise, and pleasure. And just like that book beckons me to peek beneath its cover, the sight of that rich, dark earth ready for planting beckons me to curl my feet into the freshly tilled layers and feel its coolness between my toes.

My connection to farming is a gift I cherish from my childhood spent on a dairy surrounded by Holstein dairy cows, an assortment of dogs, cats, hamsters and the occasional jack-rabbit my father found orphaned while cutting alfalfa. For me, there was no more peaceful place on the planet than lying on a bale of freshly bound hay, inhaling the heady aroma of alfalfa, while staring up at a sky so blue it made my eyes squint.

One of my favorite places in the dead of summer was the peach orchard. I remember that first peach of the season. How my fingers sunk into the soft flesh when I plucked it from the branch. With the first bite, peach juice made race tracks down my arm. Nothing ever tasted as good. Like a piece of heaven to my taste buds.

We didn’t have much, but neither did anyone else we knew. I wore hand-me-downs. We canned most of our fruits and vegetables. Fresh, clean air and the farm provided a plentiful playground. I scampered through fields and hay barns. I cuddled newborn kittens with their eyes sealed shut. I roamed sweltering orchards while my mother picked peaches.

At our house, milk didn’t just materialize from the store. It came from the milk tank after the cows were herded to the milking parlor, washed, milked and turned back to the pasture. Milk came from an abundance of hard work before it arrived at our table.

Perhaps I view my childhood through rose-colored glasses. And certainly kids raised in urban areas had experiences I didn’t, but the difference is, back then the majority of kids who didn’t live on farms had family or friends who did, and they had the opportunity to visit them. Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, makes this same comment in his book. He said that baby boomers may be the last generation of Americans to share an intimate and familial attachment to the land and water.

My parents sold the dairy when I was ten, but farming stayed with me. My husband and I bought land, planted an orchard from the ground up and currently grow table olives. We raised our children on a farm, and I’ve worked as a freelance photojournalist specializing in agriculture for the past 15 years.

Every day I become more aware of the limited exposure children have to farming. Statistics show the U.S. farm population is dwindling, and 40 percent of the farmers in this country are 55 or older. I see this every day when I’m interviewing farmers, and I wonder who will raise our food when they’re gone? What happens if today’s youth is not inspired to farm?

Ultimately, the answer begins and ends with parents. Our children need to be inspired to farm. They need hands-on time with agriculture. They need to see, touch, taste, smell and hear farming in all its noisy, dirty, sweaty, smelly glory. Along with the hundreds of thousands of college graduates going into medicine, law and business, we need equal numbers of agriculture graduates ready, willing and eager to farm.

I believe the best way to achieve this is by providing children, at a young age, with frequent exposure to farming. Children need to know how food is produced, and they need to read books with agriculture themes. Last Child in the Woods lists 100 actions parents can take to get children into nature. One of his suggestions is to take them to U-Pick farms or join a local co-op where the kids are involved from planting to harvesting. Every child should know the joy of whiling away a warm summer afternoon in a barn, an owl snoozing in the rafters and a litter of newborn kittens sandwiched between bales of hay.

Kathy Coatney has worked as a freelance photojournalist for 15 years, starting in parenting magazines, then fly fishing and finally specializing in agriculture. Her latest project is the Farmer Guy/Gal series of children’s picture books with an agriculture theme.

View her photos at: www.agstockusa.com.

Like her at: www.facebook.com/kathycoatney

Follow her on twitter @KathyCoatney.com

Visit her website at: www.kathycoatney.com

  1. June 18, 2012 at 8:15 AM

    What a wonderful childhood you had, Kathy! I’m glad farming and agriculture stayed with you! I’m so glad to hear about your new children’s book, too! I think it will be very educational as well as enjoyable.

    • June 18, 2012 at 9:12 AM

      Thank you. I’m really hoping it will inspire kids to farm.

      • jodileastewart
        June 18, 2012 at 9:57 AM

        I sure hope so, Kathy. I grew up on a cattle ranch in Arizona and spent lots of summers on the farm in Missouri with grandparents and relatives. Those influences still influence everything I do. I hate it that kids grow up today with their faces pressed to electronic gadgets!

        I write for tweens/teens, and I know my background floats into what I write. I’m proud of that!

        • June 18, 2012 at 11:53 AM

          Jodi I agree and want them to experience this wonderful world outside of an electronic one. I feel blessed to have a job that get me out in some of the most spectacular scenery and meeting farmers who work so hard, but also love what they do.

  2. June 18, 2012 at 10:09 AM

    Kathy, I love this post! Not only did you have a wonderful childhood, you are passing it on. I love that you are writing these books for kids. I will make sure that I pass this on to my grandkids when I have them…by reading your book to them and taking them on a farming field trips. Thanks so much and good luck with your book! Very inspiring!

  3. Lisa Sorensen
    June 18, 2012 at 11:56 AM

    The images you gave of your childhood are lovely, Kathy, and remind me of many good times including the joy of fruit eaten fresh from the tree. I’m so glad you are pointing out both the importance and the joy of connecting with the source of our food. Your first Farmer Guy/ Farmer Girl book is a wonderful look into the dairy world. I look forward to your others in the series!

    • June 18, 2012 at 12:52 PM

      Thank you Lisa and I’m glad it evoked pleasant memories and you are right it is very important for children to connect with the source of their food.

  4. theresaragan
    June 18, 2012 at 12:09 PM

    Hi Kathy, hopefully this post will come through…third try! Sorry if you end up with three comments from me. I LOVE your post and I love that your wonderful childhood will be carried through via your books. Your post made me yearn to live on a farm. Thanks for sharing!

  5. June 18, 2012 at 12:55 PM

    I got yours Theresa and you are a true blue friend to keep trying. I love that it made you yearn to live on a farm and you will have some lucky grandkids to have you taking them on farming field trips.

  6. Luann Erickson
    June 19, 2012 at 9:24 AM

    Kathy, you make many good points in your blog. I, too, am concerned about a generation of children living inside of their computers rather than out in nature. Those moments you describe of quiet times in the barn or out in the fields not only seeing nature but touching and smelling it as well are essential childhood moments that so many kids are missing today. I just downloaded your book, Four Quarts Make a Gallon. You do a great job of bringing the spirit of farming to us city folk!

  7. June 19, 2012 at 6:29 PM

    Lu:

    I am equally concerned and believe all is not lost and your comment proves that to me and the rest show me many caring adults want children to have what we had. And I’m so glad you enjoyed the book.

  8. Karen Mills, R & K Orchards
    June 22, 2012 at 9:43 PM

    I am so excited to share this with others, thank you for seeing this need and writing about farming! Love your description of eating the first peach of the season:)

    • July 16, 2012 at 8:49 PM

      Karen thanks so much for all the hard work you do and for those fabulous peaches you grow. Love them and look forward to them every year.

  9. July 16, 2012 at 7:35 PM

    Thank you so much for writing so eloquently what we are feeling here at Turn Back Time….we have started a farm/nature program for children hoping to inspire future farmers! At http://www.tbtinc.org we are Looking Backward – Moving Forward…..

    • July 16, 2012 at 8:51 PM

      Lisa:

      How wonderful. Would love to post your link on my webpage.

  10. July 26, 2012 at 11:05 AM

    Bravo Kathy. I too grew up on a farm and have created a series of videoblogs called: Real Life Backyard Adventure, Tales From Misty Hill Farms about the excitement, dangers and beauty of the farm culture. I hope parents will watch the videos with their children and discuss it. http://www.youtube.com/user/bloomersisland/videos. I also created a free e-book with the transcipts of the videos with photographs. https://kd986.infusionsoft.com/app/form/fa76bd1efffe9514a895b1eb2583ea59 with discussion notes.

    Not meaning to proselytize at all but more as a gift that your readers may enjoy 🙂 Looking forward to connecting w/ you on fb and twitter too.

  11. July 26, 2012 at 7:47 PM

    Such a relevant post to read on the same day I took my daughter, 3, who has grown up in Brooklyn NY, to a farm in NC. While there she expressed many fears of various animals, which interfered with her enjoyment of the adventure. I got sad that my City Mouse was too scared to have much fun! Obviously I need to work on getting her out on many more trips to the proverbial Farm, wherever they may be. This is challenging, living in the city! Certainly requires extra money and time to venture out. As for myself, the minute I have seen any farm lately I have started to imagine living there . . . definitely feeling a need to defy the urban/techie life.

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