Well, Swiss Family Carlson members H and Mom went to a farm. H’s Kindergarten class is studying “where our food comes from” for 6 weeks. Two weeks ago they went to a grocery store and looked at all the fruits and vegetables as well as the bakery area, butchery, and the shelves full of all the dry goods. They’ve watched a video or two, read books, done art activities, and learned songs and poems. Earlier this week they made butter and ate it on crackers.
The next piece of the learning experience was to see the food as it is on the farm. So today we walked the short distance to the farm that we pass everyday on the tram to see all the animals.
We met the farmer and he was delightful. He got the kids to gather around him and started talking.
He introduced himself and started telling them a little bit about the farm. At which point my precious little boy raised his hand. “Yes?” the farmer asked. “My mommy grew up on a farm when she was little.” I don’t quite know how that translated for him, but he nodded politely and moved on into his presentation. Then he asked for questions, and H raised his hand again. When the farmer called on him he said, “My mommy’s farm also has lots of animals that they kill for meat.”
And since there was no really coming back from that he moved us on toward meeting the goats.
The children were feeding them bread. They were the 3 Billy Goats Gruff. The two small ones ran away, presumably frightened by the hoard of adoring 5 year olds assaulting them with stale bread. The big one, who had been around long enough to realize Children = Food, had stayed out for the bread the kids were feeding to him.
They and the parents acting as chaperones were suitably delighted. But that delight turned into wrinkled noses when we went to our next stop: The Cow Barn.
Cow barns are smelly even when they are clean. Cows, as do people, have a certain aroma that wafts off of them. There were 20 or so cows in the barn that day (the rest were in the pasture). If you haven’t smelled cows before it can be quite something in bulk. For me it took me right home to Iowa.
There were some calves to pet and play with and feed. The farmer did a good job showing the kids the different types of food the cows like. He had them touch it and smell it and they got to see that fresh hay smells and feels very different from silage. “Smells like pickles!” one child said. They also got to feed the cows. My son ran up to me and said, eyes shining with pride, “A cow almost bit off my hand!!” Good for you, son.
The farmer took the children down into the milking alley and let them put their hands in the milk suction machines. The children were delighted to tempt fate by putting their fingers into narrow tubes with the same suction power as a vacuum cleaner. Perhaps I can give him the vacuum and ask him to milk the floor?
Each of the children got to try to milk the cow by hand. The first little girl who tried it got peed on, which set expectations pretty high for the rest. All the children successfully got milk to squirt out and some of them got it on their hands, which was “awesome.”
And proving that the farmer knows his audience, he had about 20 different toy ride-on tractors for the kids to play with while they waited for everyone to have their turn at milking. The children had an absolute blast. And, Dad, I tried to get him to play with the green tractor, but he really wanted to ride this New Holland. I’ll do better next time.
But wait! There’s more!
This farm doesn’t just sell milk, it also has eggs. And with the eggs come really cute chickens!
He has about 100 chickens so every day he gets about 100 eggs. And he sells them, too. Since it’s so close to the school I can walk right there, pick up some eggs and milk, pay on the honor system, and pick up the boys with no trouble. And for my nephew, Jackson: The nesting boxes have plastic outdoor carpet in them that the hens enjoy quite a bit and they are easy to clean.
And as a final, delightful experience all the children got to sit on the back of the donkeys. Some of the more industrious ones got to sit on them several times by going from one line to another. For tolerating 20 children hopping on and off their backs the donkeys got a literal bucket full of carrots.
We were invited back anytime to visit, or buy eggs and milk, or for the monthly donkey rides. H immediately wanted to skip the rest of school (because, really, what could top this) and call Papa and tell him all about the farm. I cruelly made him go back to school.
This particular farm reminded me of a blend of commercial and self-sustaining farms in the States. The milk is sold in bulk to a packager, as well as to individuals straight off the farm. I’m sure I could get cream if I asked for it. The eggs are sold to individuals as well. They do have a small field where they grow canola seeds for oil. But the rest of what they produce is for them. They have a garden with narrow raised beds in the back where they grow a lot of their veggies.
It’s easy to idealize this kind of farming existence, but farming is hard, hard work. You are committed to this one spot in the universe. You don’t get to leave it often because your family (and, for the larger farms, the community) depends on how well you take care of the plants and animals under your care. You can’t put tomatoes and cows on hold while you go on a week-long vacation in Hawaii. You have to have someone else to back you up. And good help can be hard to find.
So, hats off to the family farmer. And, Dad? H would like a chicken. And a donkey. And he would remind you that his birthday is coming up.