Part Time Farmer, Full Time Mom
Farming with a toddler gives “family farm” a new meaning
by Sara Edelman
It is 5:50am. My alarm is going off, but I have already been awake for nearly 20 minutes, desperately trying to go back to sleep. Thank you, toddler of mine, for being so keen on routine. I hit snooze with the hopes of being able to get those last 10 minutes of beautiful sleep, but to no avail. I hear her downstairs giving her father a hard time during the diaper change. I get up, turn off my alarm, get dressed and start my day.
Now, this is supposed to be the part where I say I make a giant cup of strong black coffee, then head out the door. Nope. I do not drink coffee, if you can believe it. I drink water; “high quality H2O.” I grab a quart Ball jar, add my Cuppow lid, and maybe even a granola bar if I am really feeling crazy. I start my car at 6:15, leave by 6:20, and get to work by 6:30. Toddler and her father are home, and I am grateful.
This job, doing morning chores and packing eggs at Julie’s Happy Hens in Mont Vernon, NH, does allow me to bring her along. However, I choose not to for the chores part; hauling 40+ pounds of food or water whilst wearing a baby on my back does not seem like the safest task (although it would be one hell of a work out!). Julie’s flexibility allows me to leave work after the flocks are fed and watered, then return again with Toddler in tow. I let her free-range or strap her on my back (depending on the weather), turn on NPR, and pack eggs. While on my back, she generally sleeps during this ever-so-exciting task, but then wakes up when it is time for egg collection. She waves and says “hi” to the roosters and guinea fowl, and wants to pet every last one of them. She is my favorite co-worker.
Egg collection, while initially exciting for her, can prove to be a daunting task for us both. Sometimes there are eggs in locations other than a nesting box. When this happens, I may have to reach, bend, or awkwardly step in order to retrieve it. A bending-over-reaching-motion causes her to be squished against my back which she is not the biggest fan of and she is not afraid to inform me of this. However, she is getting progressively more used to these motions and ultimately complains less. This is a great learning experience for her because we plan on owning chickens once we find our Forever Home.
Vegetable farming with my mini-human brings with it a different set of pros and cons. Last year, when she was only about 6 months old, I could plop her in her chair under her sun tent and work for awhile in our grow space. This year, however, she is her own independent being. She possesses the capability to run, explore, grab, taste (more like put whatever she can in her mouth), etc. These are all fine traits, but not when there are raspberry thorns, chicken wire, and just-sprouting garlic strewn about. She has no regard to rows and what might be growing.
Now that she is mobile, I have to keep an eye on her at all times. As an employee, it could mean I might be at work for 5 hours, but only get paid for 4 because I have to chase her or nurse/feed her. It means simple tasks take longer than usual. But, it also means I get to spend my days with her outside while providing new experiences. She gets to pet baby geese and watch peacocks strut their stuff and take home not just eggs, but memories as well.
Every day, I am grateful for the ability to bring my child with me while working on the farm of someone else. I often think about what it would be like if I owned my own farm. I feel like I would have less motivation to get work done. “Why do today what can be done tomorrow.” I say this because last year it took every ounce of my being to be able to get out of my house and into our grow space. Once I got out there, I worked. When working for someone else, I am held accountable. Animals are relying on me. I also get to leave at the end of the day with little to no worries of what needs to be accomplished next. However, I have never owned my own farm. I have only grown for personal consumption. If I were growing for my livelihood, I would then have to hold myself accountable. With that comes motivation and ultimately, survival.
I never thought I would want to be a farmer when I grew up. As a child, I had a love/hate relationship with my dad’s garden. I was not a fan of weeding, but I was a fan of learning, observing, and question asking. I remember being in that space with him while I watched rows be created and cedar logs turn into an entranceway. Sadly, I seem to have little to no memory of any food consumption. Fast forward fifteen years and I found myself working in a general store in Central New Hampshire where I was introduced to raw milk for the first time. I was apprehensive and unimpressed. Quite the stark contrast considering it is all I drink these days.
I was more thoroughly introduced to raw milk when I started my Green Mountain College career where I pursued a degree in Sustainable Agriculture & Food Production. By this time, my love of food had transitioned from cooking it to growing it. I became an active member of Farm Crew and officially started my farming way of life. Sometimes I wish I had taken more of a participatory role in my dad’s garden so that I would not have been so late to the game. It is this feeling that makes me proud to be able to introduce and include my daughter in my everyday activities.
When I found out that Small Farm Quarterly was looking for writers, I immediately knew I wanted to write about farming with my daughter. This challenging career choice provides ample opportunity to successfully sow ethics into the minds and hearts of future generations. By exposing her at this young age, she will absorb her surroundings and learn to make decisions on her own based on education and experience. I want her to know where her food comes from and how it got there. I do not want her to be jaded and follow the rest of the flock.
For this to be successful, patience is key for all parties involved. The employer should make clear what the expectations are ahead of time. If the expectations are not being met, then modifications may need to happen on the parent’s end so that they can be met. The child will most likely start to learn patience while farming with mom or dad. This could mean, waiting for crops to grow or egg cartons to be packed. If the farm has animals, the child can be entertained for quite some time, which would allow work to be done successfully by the parent. Speaking of which, the patience had by the parents could be the hardest learned and the most gratifying. I know when I try to teach my daughter how not to pull seedlings from their soil or “bounce” eggs like a ball, I have to be stern while keeping my cool. If I come at her angrily, nothing gets learned — only hurt feelings occur. My time spent with her is precious so I try to make the best I can out of every moment.
Sarah Edelman currently works part time, while parenting full time, at Julie’s Happy Hens in Mont Vernon, NH. She would love to be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.