When I was a child, I rode my bike to my friend’s houses. I walked to the grocery store to spend my allowance on a box of fruit roll-ups that I’d eat in a single day. I helped my mom plant flowers in decorative beds and helped my dad hang Christmas lights. We made forts, and sometimes slept in them. We picked cat tails from the nearby ditch and delighted in tearing them apart to watch the fluff dance away in the breeze, much to the dismay of whoever’s yard this took place in. We played outside until the street lights came on or our mothers started yelling from the doorstep.
So much has changed. Many kids today have never made forts, and don’t know why one would even want to do such a thing. First graders with iPhones glued to their noses, able to name each member of the Kardashian family but not our first five American presidents. Children who literally can’t tell you what animal their hamburger is made out of and whose prime source of vegetable consumption is- wait for it- French fries. Folks who pay incredible amounts for heirloom tomatoes but think they grow on trees.
As farming became more corporate and the ‘modernization’ of western civilization continued, we lost touch with the most basic skills of sustaining life. The earliest lessons our grandparents and great-grandparents learned are now lost on many of us, and will be lost even more into the next generation. The industrial revolution brought progress; but, in the grand scheme of things, how is much of that progress is even progress at all?
My kids will never walk to the grocery store for fruit-flavored corn syrup with a rabbit on the box. They’ll never ride their bikes all over the neighborhood; we have no sidewalks, and tons of farm equipment that traverses our tiny old rural street. They’ll never watch for streetlights to come on, since we have none. They’ll never live a replica of my carefree 80’s childhood, but they’re learning important lessons all the same.
We’ve had the blessing of meeting quite a few like-minded people who share our disdain for the state of the country right now. Some are living on farms like ours, others live in suburban row houses. Some live in city apartments with pots of lettuce and herbs lining their balconies and tiny compost barrels by their doors. Differences aside, we all want the same thing for ours lives and our children- to revive, learn and practice those long-ago life lessons our predecessors taught to their children in order to survive.
Our children know the magic of holding a seed in their hands, placing it into the earth and watching it grow into a plant that nourishes their bodies with food and the atmosphere with oxygen. They know the necessity of pulling weeds, controlling pests and caring for the soil. They know the monotony of physical work and have gleefully watched their skin tan and their muscles grow in the summertime. They know that work is a necessary part of sustaining life.
They know the meticulous alchemy of temperature and time that is food preservation, and the joy of eating real strawberry jam in February. They learned kitchen prep skills and safety while assisting, and lessons on beneficial bacteria while fermenting. They’ve felt the urgency of running outside in the dark to cover the seedlings to protect them from deadly frost or potentially lose the harvest to come.
They’ve seen animals breed, gestate and labor. They’ve patiently waited in the cold barn with me for hours in order to catch brand-new baby goats in all their gooey cuteness. They know the parts of a fertile chicken egg, how the embryo grows and what needs to happen for a successful hatch. They’ve seen animals die from predators, illness and old age and helped create solutions to the first two. They’ve felt the joy of babies literally coming back from the dead and the heartbreak of others who weren’t as lucky. They’ve seen the spider-silk line between life and death waver in the breeze, unsure of which way the fates will be cast. They know just how precious life really is, because they’ve seen its entire circle completed over and over.
Maybe this planet would be a better place if more of its people focused less on increasing the amount of wealth they accumulate and more on increasing the amount of good they put into the world. Maybe increasing our interaction with the natural world around us would not only enrich it for the next generation, but just might enrich our own lives at the same time. Maybe we need to take a step back and concentrate on what we’re really capable of doing instead of what we’re able to take for the least amount of effort. Maybe we need to find the ‘human’ in humanity again.
You don’t have to live on a homestead to impart these lessons to your children. Visit a farm and talk about where our food really comes from. Make your family’s dinners together, make some things from scratch. Foster a pregnant animal from a local rescue; help hem deliver, then socialize and assist the rescue in finding them good homes. Grow a small garden, in your yard or in a 5 gallon bucket on your porch. Teach the skills your children will need to become stewards of the planet instead of blind consumers of its resources. Get outside, get inspired and get moving in a more positive direction. There really is no app for that.