- Farmers can grow a lot of food on 400 acres, and some of this lettuce made it into our dinner salad. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)
The book “Farmer Boy,” was a connecting thread during my year of teaching third grade. The story follows the husband of Laura Ingalls Wilder, when Almanzo was a hard-working farm boy.
I thought I had read the entirety of the “Little House on the Prairie” books by Ingalls Wilder in my childhood. Somehow, I missed “Farmer Boy,” and was able to enjoy it as I read out loud.
So many practical life lessons are found within the pages, including wise money management, the reality of hard work and how to grow a prize-winning pumpkin.
Farming, gardening, appreciation of food — these things helped confirm I had landed I the right place.
In the book, the family works most days from sun-up to sun-down, often as a full family unit.
When it came time to teach my students about the changes in the season, I was glad to have a background as an agricultural reporter. Our lessons included tasks being done each month on local farms, with a focus on tree crops and rice.
We also worked in the garden every other week. However, our bursts of hard work were much shorter than the sun-up-to-sun-down chores of our friends in the book.
“Do you think you could work like this all day,” I asked a few children as they dug a trench along the fence line.
“No problem,” children said as they dug fresh earth.
“Maybe part of the day,” my children reported after the novelty of a shovel had worn off.
I wanted to know, because in May we took our big two-night camping trip to Full Belly Farms in Guinda. The farm is 400 acres in the Capay Valley, about halfway up the hill near Clear Lake. A big part of the “curriculum” during our trip was to experience hard work. We yanked fat, white bulbs of garlic and learned to strip the outer muddy husk. We gathered strawberries, with most of the fruit deposited into baskets. We also liberated friendly chickens of hundreds of eggs. We did not wake up at the crack of dawn, yet 6:30 a.m. was a close compromise.
The big task was working as an assembly unit to fill 275 community supported agriculture boxes with organic produce. I like to think I prepped my children for this task by our beanbag circle, where we started in sl-o-o-o-w-w-w motion passing the bags, mimicking a machine that moved faster and faster.
The field trip was one of the most difficult tasks of my school year. Field trip forms disappear in children’s backpacks, I needed to recruit parent chaperones and create a menu that avoided known allergies
I was also nervous. I had amazing parents to help, but the bottom line was that the responsibility was mine.
A mentor teacher helped soothe my nerves and held my hand as I planned. Later, I was thrilled with expectation when I saw photos from the trip she took earlier in the year.
The flowers were bursting and her children frolicked among the farm animals. They waded in a creek and sang songs around the fire. If there was a soundtrack, it would have been straight from Disney.
The field trip
By the time I was ready for my trip, our forecast was for rain. I sent out an urgent plea for families to pack raincoats and hoped for the best.
That first day, I must say, was not the best. We huddled in tents. My children frolicked in rain — several played tag on wet grass while wearing their only dry sweatshirt.
I learned that there is almost no force in nature that can keep a child from sloshing through a mud puddle, even if they only have two extra pairs of dry socks.
Yet, the next day we had only a drizzle and a rainbow to greet us when we woke up at 6:30 a.m. for chores. The children worked like a fine machine for the assembly line and we feasted the next day on fresh eggs served from a black iron skillet. There was a clear sky for toasting marshmallows and our imperfect campfire skits prepared us for our class play.
Life on a farm isn’t always perfect, but it can be just fine when we work together and have access to the farm’s clothes dryer.