Is Homesteading Important To Kids?
By Alexis Griffee, Watchtower Farm
There is no denying the fact that we live in a digital age. This can be a blessing or a curse. As parents, this presents a new challenge as we seek to keep our children educated in the modern world, without forsaking the knowledge and ways of homesteading. While some video games and electronics can be educational, for the most part they are emotionally starving our children. Friendships are only made through a computer screen, and emphasis is placed only on winning (often through violence). We are raising a generation of kids who lack the ability to function emotionally in a world that exists outside of a computer. Getting our youth involved in homesteading is about far more than preserving our heritage, knowledge and self-reliance, but it is about teaching our children moral lessons, how to manage emotions and get involved in real life.
The need of getting our youth to unplug and get back to roots is painfully obvious when you review the USDA Census of Agriculture data. Current farmers are aging, while the number of farmers in the United States under 25 years of age has declined by almost 50% in five years. Not only is this data alarming for the large farm producers, but also for the small farmers and consumers. With the decline of farmers, the food produced and the land used for farming will also continue to decline. Knowledge of growing and raising your own food is already important, but soon it is going to be vital.
How do we combat this digital epidemic and educate youth that are so out of touch with homesteading and agriculture that they think “energy drinks” are their own food group and eggs grow in cartons in the grocery store? Numerous factors create added challenges when it comes to balancing the old with the new. Out of concern, parents can have a tendency to force things on their children and create resentment. At the same time, society and peer pressure is telling their children that digital is better and we need to forget the “ways of old.” We need to get youth actively engaged in homesteading, not just force them to simply appease us as parents.
Parents often want their children to follow in their footsteps. It gives us pride to see our kids doing what we did, and generally surpassing our achievements. However, we have to realize that not every child will be the same. One of the fastest ways to discourage a child in anything is to force them into something that they are not inspired to do. Some kids may find that their heart lies in working the land, while others may enjoy the livestock aspect of homesteading and farming. Due to physical limitations, some children may not be able to raise livestock or farm, but they can still learn and offer other skills that will benefit them, and others, in the future. All of these endeavors are valuable to the future and important. Often kids will start with one project and as they learn and grow, so will the knowledge that they seek. Personally, my son first started with poultry and now has a steer that he is showing. Children will often start where they are comfortable and bloom from there if we provide them with fertile ground to grow.
We must remember to not discourage “gateway activities!” Everyone who has a homestead knows how one thing always leads to another. If your child is fascinated with poultry, and you have aspirations of raising cattle with them, be patient and encouraging. As your child grows in age, knowledge and curiosity, so will their desire to learn and do more. Along with this, we must also remember to keep our children’s involvement age appropriate. You simply cannot expect a 3-year-old to be able to halter break a 600-pound steer. Although young kids have great aspirations and determination, you have to be mindful of their abilities. Giving a child more than they can handle is setting them up for not only failure, but resentment of anything associated with that experience. Nothing is more discouraging to a child than being forced to do something that they aren’t ready for emotionally or physically. Children have a built-in curiosity and draw to the natural world, we simply have to know how to let them show us where their interests lie and then be prepared to foster that.
There is a great value in involving your children in organizations like 4-H and FFA. Both of these groups are time-tested and are backed by generations of successful farmers and homesteaders. Aside from having leaders and teachers who are trained by these organizations in how to introduce your kids to homesteading, they offer camaraderie. Children inspire each other, and when they are a member of a group with similar interests, they will naturally grow. This is a great way to combat peer pressure. Society often tells children that they need to follow this or that digital trend to be “cool.” Children have a natural desire to be accepted and to fit in. Surrounding them in a positive group setting that focuses on agriculture will provide them the friendships and acceptance that they crave in a supportive and supervised environment.
Another great benefit to these programs is that you do not have to be an expert to teach your children these things. There are leaders, teachers and tons of material on the subjects that have been created by experts over the years of service within these groups. While some of the material can be purchased, a great majority of it that is online for free. Personal budget, nor your own lack of experience, should dissuade you from getting your children involved!
The number one secret to raising a child that unplugs and digs in is you as a parent. Whether or not they admit it, children crave the attention and approval of a parent or a parental figure. If you are supportive (not pushy—there is a difference) and involved, then you will see your children bloom. As a 4-H leader, I see many different families and scenarios. The families where the parents are supportive and involved are the ones where the kids flourish and have an unquenchable desire to tackle their next project. On the flip side, we know that not every child fits the model of the nuclear family, and that is ok.
Often times there are grandparents or other relatives that take over this role. Additionally, this is why it is vital for community involvement. Even if you do not have children, or your own children are grown and gone, I challenge you to get involved and be a mentor. Knowledge and a desire to guide future generations does not necessarily come with the title of “mom” or “dad.” Even if you do not feel that you are knowledgeable enough to be a leader or teacher in a group like 4-H or FFA, they are always in need of volunteers! It is through volunteers that help with the “mundane” that these groups and their leaders are able to get out and be an advocate for agriculture within the community.
There are numerous benefits to living in the digital age. However, as with anything, there has to be balance. We must learn how to speak to our children in a way that will engage, encourage, and inspire, yet not belittle them and the world they know. This is one situation where it will take a village to get the children of this generation back in tune with homesteading. We are experiencing a situation unlike anything we have seen before where our kids are caught in a tug of war between the “ways of old” and “progress.” Our children are on the front lines and it is our duty to arm them with knowledge and choices. It is up to all of us to preserve the ways and knowledge of homesteading. We may know how to grow a crop or livestock, but we must remember to put that same effort into growing our future through our youth.