Welcome to the August 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Farmer’s Markets
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have written about something new they’ve learned about their local farmers.
This month’s topic for the Carnival of Natural Parenting is farmer’s markets, which many people would think would be an easy topic for me. But I have a confession: I don’t know all that much about them! Having grown up on a 13th generation family farm, I had no reason to visit farmer’s markets — I just went outside. Our area didn’t even have farmer’s markets until recently and people just went directly to the farms for farm-fresh produce. Though I am far from an expert on farmer’s markets, I do know a bit about local agriculture and family farms. I’m happy to answer questions from readers about growing up on a family farm and about what my life was like with this disclaimer: I speak from my own experiences growing up on a farm in Connecticut, where we have four seasons and diverse crops. I love farms but I’m not a farmer, and I no longer live on the farm (we live about 5 minutes away).
First, a little background. Until I was 25, I lived with my family on my dad’s family’s farm, which was settled by our ancestors from England in the 1640′s. During its history, the farm was mostly self-sustaining and diversified, and was transformed many times over the generations. It was a working dairy farm when my dad was growing up, but the dairy barn burned down in the 70′s when my parents were engaged and everything was lost. They reinvented the farm as an orchard and focused on produce, and throughout my lifetime our busiest season is the fall with apple picking, pumpkins, hayrides, corn and hay mazes, apple cider, animals… it is the quintessential small New England family farm in autumn. We have a farm market in which we sell our own produce and maple syrup, pies and baked goods, greenhouse plants, and Christmas trees. When I was in college, we added a creamery that sells frozen custard and frozen yogurt, pie by the slice, and sundaes topped with fresh seasonal fruit. I worked in the farm market and creamery until I about three or four years ago, and I still visit often and will occasionally help out when they need me.
My mom also comes from a family farm in a neighboring town, where her German grandfather settled just over 100 years ago. It was a dairy farm for many years and now they board horses and have trails for riding. While I didn’t grow up there, I did visit often and spent a lot of time there throughout my childhood. So, let’s get to the questions!
What time does the day really start and what does a typical breakfast look like?
This can depend widely on what type of farm it is and whether everyone works other jobs off the farm as well. For example, both of my parents grew up on dairy farms and got up to milk cows before breakfast and school. My maternal grandfather used to milk cows then drive the school bus, so you can imagine how early he had to get up! By the time I was a child, we didn’t have to milk cows before school. I worked in the farm market which opened at 8am, so we had to be ready to open by then. The family members who were picking crops were in the fields very early to beat the heat, and I was inside setting up the store, picking through produce and baking. At that time, a typical breakfast for me would be something from the farm market bakery like a muffin or cookie (I admit it!) and I also snacked on whatever fruit looked good. There’s a reason why they didn’t send me out to pick raspberries often!
What does a typical day look like in each season?
Every day is different, but I’ll summarize. The farm market is open from spring through Christmas, and the hours are currently 9-6 or 9-10 when it’s hot and the creamery is busy. So someone is working there. Animals need to be fed in the morning and at night, and some of the family works off of the farm during the day (my dad is a builder, my mom is a teacher) and some of the family stays on the farm all day. Something will break and there’s always something to work on.
Early spring is maple syrup season, so days on the farm consist of tapping trees, collecting sap and boiling it down to make maple syrup. Spring is also when babies are born and it’s typically a surprise when the new life will arrive. There’s time spend splitting wood to heat homes and for hot water. Further through spring there’s a lot of preparing and planting.
Summer is busy with harvesting and selling all of the crops at the farm market. The outside workers pick early to beat the heat, and the inside workers keep everything stocked and on ice, wait on customers, answer the phone, etc.
Fall is our really busy season, packed with visiting families. The day starts early and goes until dark, busy busy work. I remember spending entire days in the kitchen baking apple and pumpkin pies constantly and still not keeping up with the demand. I would throw a tray of tomato and cheese sandwiches into the oven for lunch and we’d all eat while we worked. Someone would be sorting and stocking apples, someone would be working in the pumpkin patch, someone would be giving hayrides and collecting money, and lots of us would be on the cash register. We occasionally did haunted hayrides around Halloween, so our days would go way past dark. It was so exciting to be out in the woods on a crisp October evening, with only the moon and our flashlights to light up our conversations between scaring the wagons that went by. Those days were long and tiring, and I can remember being thankful for school on Monday morning. There was a break between Halloween and Thanksgiving, then the pie business really picked up. I used to stay home from school and we’d bake 24 hours a day during the week of Thanksgiving. Definitely hard work, but also a lot of fun. (I’m realizing that I’m writing in past tense because it is in my past, but this is still reality for much of my family.)
Winter is a slow season with time to regroup. We close the farm market and this was a time to focus on fixing things, planning improvements and talking about ideas, spending time inside and pursuing other activities like basketball. Oh, and splitting wood. We spent every weekend splitting firewood for our wood furnace.
What age did you start helping out? What chores do you think are age appropriate for children?
My mom has a picture of herself picking strawberries with me on her back in a carrier. I honestly don’t remember a time when we weren’t helping out, though those roles changed over time. I just remember always being there with my dad and mom to help, there’s this feeling of all being in it together and depending on each other. Even a small child can help to think about solutions to a problem (my dad calls it Yankee Ingenuity) or can hold something, hand something over, pick something. I think the chores that a child can do will depend largely on what needs to be done and the abilities of that child. For example, I was trusted on the cash register much sooner than I was trusted on a tractor, while the opposite was true for my brothers.
I’ve always been interested in how farmers and their families manage holidays and vacations when the farm/animals need daily attention.
That’s why farm families are so large! When my parents were kids and they were milking cows daily, they split family vacations. Half would go, half would stay home. Now, between all the siblings and cousins there are plenty of hands to do the work if someone wants to go away. However, there are times that you just don’t go away, like in the fall. Our animals are like a part of our family and are always a priority. In fact, I think my dad likes to use the excuse “I need to go feed the horses” to get out of events he doesn’t want to be at!
How much of the work is automated? How much is done the old-fashioned way?
Since we have a very diverse farm, it wouldn’t make financial sense to have everything automated since the machinery is specialized. Preparing fields is done with tractors but most planting and all pruning and picking is done by hand.
Do you have insurance in case it does not rain and crops get lost?
Nope! There is such a thing as crop insurance, but my dad is an old-fashioned Yankee and doesn’t believe in it. There are good years and bad years, but the good usually outweighs the bad.
How we can encourage more young people to consider farming?
I think there need to be more opportunities for young people to be active in and learn about farming and to value the work that farmers do. I think that in the last decade farming has become much cooler than it used to be, thanks in part to the local food movement. However, around here land is so expensive that young people who want to go into farming typically can’t afford to buy their own farm, so programs that allow them to do internships and learn from established farmers are important. It’s also important to realize that farming doesn’t have to look like what we imagine it to be, there are many different ways for people to be farmers.
What’s your least favorite part of farming?
Honestly, there’s a reason why I chose to go to college and become a teacher instead of staying on the farm! Farming is very physically demanding work. All of the farmers I know have worn out bodies, aches and pains. But they’re also healthy and tend to live a long life! I remember feeling really exhausted at the end of the day in the fall, and I remember wishing that I could play video games inside like my friends instead of helping stack wood or collect sap when there was snow on the ground. As a child, I hated that stuff. As an adult, I know how lucky I was to have those experiences.
Do you have a question that I didn’t answer? Leave it in the comments!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
(This list will be live and updated by afternoon August 14 with all the carnival links.)