If you live on a small farm, it's pretty much guaranteed that you'll be asked to do tours from time to time. People don't have personal connections to how their food is grown anymore, and lots of people don't have connections to animals either, not even pets. So it's no wonder that a farm like ours is a source of interest. In my previous life I was in adult education, and I do think it's important to give people of all ages the opportunity to learn new things, and as farmers I believe we have a duty to engage those interested in learning more if we want to succeed both as businesses and as advocates for knowing and supporting where your food comes from. It's really impossible to tell people that they need to take personal responsibility for knowing what they are putting into their bodies, but not allow anyone to ever look around our own farms. That being said (and as I talked about in my last entry) my farm is also my home, and I'm not going to indulge everyone who just shows up and wants to walk around, I couldn't or I wouldn't get my farming done! I am however, willing to coordinate with groups, especially for educational purposes, as long as we can get it set up far enough ahead of time.
So yesterday, I was excited to host a group of youth from Clarion University's Educational Talent Search program. This is a program open to kids in grades 7-12, as a way to tour different places and give them some new perspectives on what careers are out there, perhaps introducing the kids to something they never thought of as a viable occupation before. I had talked with their advisor and had set up that they would arrive in the morning, we would tour the barn and the animals, they would go to nearby Tionesta Lake for their bagged lunch (call me selfish, but I just wasn't willing to have 20-30 kids tromping through my house to use the single bathroom, so that was a nice alternative!) and when they returned we would take a look at the garden, talk a bit about the plants, they would plant a seed to take home, and we would have time for a question and answer session about anything they had seen before the bus pulled away. The weather was perfect, not too hot, and sunny, and everything else went almost flawlessly. Almost, in that the horses refused to come into the barn in the morning before the kids arrived, except Sara. So I was able to let the kids pet her before turning her back out with the other (misbehaving) equines. The cows were almost too friendly, sneaking into the open barn while we looked at the pigs, but the kids got to see them up close as well. Even the rabbits seemed charmed by the kids, and Scotchie patiently ate blades of grass out of as many hands as cared to feed her. The boys in particular seemed to enjoy looking at the horse drawn equipment. The kids were great listeners and stayed together as a group, heeding my requests to watch where they stepped in the garden. The kids all had the option of planting something to take home with them; basil, sage, chive or Swiss Chard, and I had enough that everyone was able to plant their first choice. As we got to the Q & A, I got some thoughtful questions, like "how do you water your garden?" and "Do deer eat your plants?" to some unexpected ones- "Are there any palomino colored cows besides Guernseys?" or "Do you trim the turkeys' beards?" We talked a bit about the different careers a small farm like this encompasses- from horticulture to animal husbandry, to being an entrepreneur or a butcher or advertising & web design.
We probably would have come up with many more, but some of the kids noticed that the big horses had come out of the far reaches of the pasture and were under the trees by the barn. I was able to put all the horses in their stalls, so we ended the day by seeing all the horses up close, and all were gracious about letting many hands pet them, even Ponyboy, who can be quite skittish (even with Dan and I) at times. The most popular question by far was whether it was possible to ride our impressively large Belgians, which I assured the kids we were able to do. At that point, it was time to board the bus for the return trip, each youth armed with a planted seed and instructions for its care and use, as well as a paper listing resources for finding our more about farms and food. I sincerely hope that the little seeds in the paper cups grow for each and every one who was here, and I also hope, even in a small way, I was able to plant some seeds in their mind, whether it is just to look for small farm to connect with instead of only shopping at Wal-Mart, up to introducing the idea that farmer is still an occupational choice, even in this modern age. We need all the good ones we can get!