I often hear people say that “kids these days don’t know where their food comes from” or that “kids think food comes from the grocery store.” That’s hyperbole. I’m pretty sure most kids beyond the toddler years understand that there are places call farms where food is grown and livestock are raised. But, I understand the concerns implicit in these somewhat exaggerated claims: we are ever further removed from food production as fewer and fewer people make their living from agriculture and fewer people live in proximity to active farms. So, I’d like to amend the above claims to say that “kids these days don’t understand the work, energy, and sacrifice that go into raising food.”
It is not the knowledge of what a farm is, but rather, what a farm demands and what a farm means that we lose sight of. It is the loss of the culture of agriculture that Wendell Berry has warned us about for almost half a century now. My friend Jay (who works on the land) recently sent me an article about the need for a “chore culture”as a means for cultivating the virtues of hard work, commitment, and responsibility. It really struck home. These virtues have always been integral to the agricultural narrative, but of course translate into success in any sphere: family, community, and career. This is part of what we lose as fewer and fewer people make a living from the land and mix their labor with the soil in order to meet the basic needs of the community; we have ever fewer people whose lives exemplify those core virtues of work and thrift and sacrifice and commitment. No wonder we throw away so much food in this country–it is cheap not only in price, but also in the values we once affixed to its production. Our food is no longer set against a larger horizon of significant people, places, practices, and values.
We don’t all need to move onto a farm to revive the culture of agriculture. Gardening is a great way to introduce kids to the connection between the soil, labor, and the food we consume. It also teaches care and patience.
I am also grateful for having the opportunity to include my daughter in the volunteer work I do at Appleton Farms where she learns about the effort that goes into the gallon of milk in our refrigerator.
When we visit my friend Jay, she understands the daily chores that go into the carton of eggs we use for breakfast. She also learns what it means to be respectful toward and show gratitude for animals, even those that are being raised for food.
The point of all of this? If we wish to cleave to the virtues of thrift, commitment, hard work, and sacrifice that we claim are the foundation for our welfare and prosperity, we must seek out the places where we can transmit those values to our children. Those places are fewer and farther between, but they are there if you go looking for them, perhaps even in your own back yard.