So, You Want to Raise Farm Kids.
Here Are a Few Things to Consider!
by Michelle Marine When my husband and I decided to leave military life and move home to Iowa in 2006, we did so in large part because we wanted to raise our kids on a farm. Dan was raised on a family farm, and we wanted our kids to have that experience as well. For me, nostalgia played a large part in the desire to raise farm kids because I had no real understanding of the concept other than what I knew about my husband.
Growing up on a farm gave him a lot of opportunities I wanted for our children. He got to play in the dirt, learn how to drive tractors and other big machinery, work with his father in the woodshop, learn about animal husbandry, and growing crops. In our early married life, many people were impressed with Dan’s work ethic and his ability to fix everything from small appliances to cars to drywall. In fact, my bosses were so impressed with Dan being an “Iowa Farm Boy,” that they hired us to live in and manage a small apartment complex in downtown Sacramento shortly after we got married. Dan was in heaven when they gave him a Home Depot credit card and free rein to fix as much as he could.
When we decided to leave suburbia and move to Iowa to raise our own farm kids, I only really thought about the benefits of rural life and didn’t consider the potential drawbacks. Like most things in life, there are both good and bad things about raising farm kids, just ask my teens!
Benefits of Raising Kids on the Farm
There are many things I appreciate about having kids on the farm. Our kids spent a lot of time in unstructured play outdoors when they were young. Studies show that unstructured play is critical for developing decision making and critical thinking skills, being empathic, learning how to problem solve, and more. Spending a lot of time outdoors taught them an appreciation for the weather, for their animals, and simple pleasures like clouds and sunsets.
Being outside a lot also helped our kids learn to amuse themselves with dirt and sticks. They built forts in trees and got to help their father in the woodshop. They had to play with each other because there weren’t any other kids around. They were forced to be creative, problem solve from a young age, and be independent.
Other benefits of living on the farm include learning about food production from a very young age. Our kids took great pride in growing their own pumpkins and heading out to the garden for snack when they got hungry. I don’t have to worry about my kids thinking potatoes grow in trees or meat just magically appears at the grocery store. Farm kids often learn personal responsibility by keeping farm animals like rabbits, sheep, and goats. They take great pride in raising some of their own food and learning about the cycle of life as animals give birth and die. Our kids understand that the animals depend on them for care and (most of the time) that makes them more responsible.
Many farm kids also learn to drive sooner than other kids. Our children have driven our tractor from a relatively young age, grandpa’s skid steer, ATVs, golf carts, and farm trucks. This is a big advantage if you ask my teens. As a worried mother, I’m not as convinced. Kids can be quite reckless and often think they are invincible.
Drawbacks of Kids on the Farm
And that brings me to some of the drawbacks on raising kids. Farms can be dangerous. According to the National Ag Safely Database, a child dies in an ag related accident every three days (https://nasdonline.org/6866/o000133/national-childrens-center-for-rural-and-agricultural-health-and-safety-nccrahs.html). At first, I was skeptical of this statistic, but the farm can be a dangerous place. Driving accidents, drowning, getting lost in crops, being injured by animals: these are all things that can and do happen to children on farms. I certainly don’t share this information to discourage anyone from raising farm kids, but it is something to take under advisement.
But if you asked my teens, they would say that biggest drawback to living on the farm is having friends too far away. Transportation is a challenge and it’s not always easy for the kids to see their friends. It also means a lot of driving to and from town. As our kids get older and more involved in school activities, it’s a burden to get kids to and from all of their obligations. With our four children, I’m often on the road for two to three hours every day after school taking kids to piano lessons, sports practices, and other after school activities. Some days, it is a lot of driving, but I understand that many other parents face similar challenges. So, I don’t think this is an issue solely related to raising farm kids.
After being in Iowa for 15 years now, I have a much clearer picture of what it means to raise farm kids. While I had totally romanticized the idea all those years ago when we decided to move to the country, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Most days, I think my kids agree. They will definitely thank me when we’re old and gone, and think back fondly on the all fun they had in their childhood!
Originally published in May/June 2022 issue of Countryside and Small Stock Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.