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Farm kids harvest real-world skills

Recently on social media, I saw a great article that was shared by several of my farming friends. The title of the article was “Top 10 Qualities Farm Kids Bring to the Workplace,” and was immediately followed by the hashtags of work ethic, responsibility, critical thinking, flexibility, initiative, perseverance, team player, real world skills, respect and humility.

The article broke each skill down and explained where and how farm kids learned, implemented and fine-tuned these skill sets, then applied them to their off-the-farm jobs as adults.  It struck a deep cord with me and became the driving force of this article today.

Looking back at my time in high school and even in my college years, these were skills that I utilized on a regular basis without thinking twice about them.  They formed the core of who I became as an adult.  Growing up, I remember coming home from school in the middle of winter, hauling water and food to our animals and feeding them before I was ever able to come in and eat myself.  I remember complaining one time to my mom about how I wanted to eat before I went out to feed the animals and she promptly handed me my jacket and told me to get outside.  When I asked her why, she explained that while I could walk to the refrigerator and get food, the animals could not, and it was my job to feed them before they were hungry.

For some reason, those words made an impact and I don’t ever remember complaining again. In fact, I remember being grateful when my mom did me a favor and did chores for me.

Looking back, I think that was one of my many lessons in responsibility, work ethic, humility, respect and initiative. Another experience, baling hay, filled in the remaining five qualities. Our baler is like the car in “One Piece at a Time” – it’s been fixed with a variety of parts throughout the years.  It never failed that while Grandpa and I were baling, something would break.  This required critical thinking, team work, real world skills, flexibility and perseverance. In more recent memory, a broken hydraulic hose on a Sunday evening while planting and trying to beat the rain further reinforced those skills.

Reflecting on these few experiences (there are probably a million more examples I could list), I realize that these qualities helped to form who I have become today.  It has molded the type of adult, teacher and coach that I strive to be daily.  These skills are something I take a deep pride in.  They have propelled me through high school, helping me set numerous records that still stand today, winning and setting the state discus record twice in two years, earning a Division I collegiate scholarship to Penn State, finding success at the national level, winning the East Coast Regional Discus Crown, continuing to compete post-collegiate, graduating with my bachelor’s, earning my master’s and finally obtaining my Ph.D.  Throughout every challenging moment, I have drawn on my skills learned on the farm.

Even today, during the roughest moments of my job, I rely on those qualities to get me through the day, month and year.  There is no other upbringing like being raised as a farm kid.  There are no sick days, no rest days, and no “I just don’t want to work today” days.  They simply don’t exist.

If a farm kid doesn’t work, something big doesn’t get done and that something can be the difference between a successful year and a failing year.  It’s a tough line that has no give to it.

Looking forward, with a dwindling number of farmers, we need to find a new way to raise our children with these skills and make sure they use them in their daily lives.  It is one thing to lecture a child, but a whole different thing to learn it through living it.  Is it not our goal to create the best child, community, or world that we can?  Are these skills not crucial for this goal?  The question then becomes, how do we create farm kids without the farm?

Submitted by Christen Clemson, a member of the Trumbull County Farm Bureau, who has completed her doctorate at the Pennsylvania State University. She and her family farm in Mecca Township.