One of the blessings of owning a little peace of land, and probably my favorite, has been the opportunity to host different outdoor events and activities. Whether it be family gatherings, church functions or practices with my daughters softball team it seems something is always on the calendar. In Arizona, winter is a time to be outside for sure and from Thanksgiving to New Years the backyard is decorated with lights, Christmas trees and straw bales. The fire pit gets plenty of use, with up to five different events, just in that time period and I look forward to this season all year. Fall is like spring here in some ways and after a long hot summer we are ready to play outside.
One of the best things we ever hosted was something called “Farm Camp”. My oldest daughter Brooklyn was looking to make extra money one summer and after brain storming we thought it would be popular to have kindergarten age kids for 3 hours 2-3 days a week to learn the suburban farm life. Never could we have imagined how popular “Farm Camp” would turn out. In fact, after sending a sign-up email to friends and family the classes usually would fill up in a few short hours and others would have to be turned away. Parents loved the idea of an educational style camp for their little ones that gave them a few hours to get things done during the day.
On class days the kids would arrive and start by doing chores. They would muck stalls, collect eggs, feed and water the animals as well as attempt milking the goat. I thought “how ingenious is that”, parents were paying to have their kids come do our chores! I soon realized not all the eggs made it to the house in one piece and when I got home some of the chores needed to be redone, but what do you expect from kindergartners? What was funny was that chores was their favorite part, in fact at the end of class if there was time left they would ask Brook if they could do chores again:) Not exciting I’m sure to kids who are raised on a farm, but for this group it was a whole new world.
Besides chores they would have a lesson activity, craft and snack that correlated to that days theme. The over all idea, almost by accident, was they were learning where their food came from. On chicken class day they learned what was involved raising chickens. they would each crack an egg and talk about its nutrition and then have hard-boiled eggs for snack . Another day they would learn beekeeping and then have honey from our beehives with their snack, another day they would harvest sunflowers from a dried mammoth sunflower head then have seeds and so on. The kids would eat it up literally and had plenty of questions about food they otherwise never would ask.
The sustainable farming movement is truly growing and if we have hope for it to continue our children need to not just be curious about where their food comes from, but involved. Though no animals were ever processed during farm camp I think there are valuable lessons to be learned by doing so. Shortly after moving here and about this time of year, my neighbor invited us to help and learn as they butchered two large turkeys they had raised for Thanksgiving. He too has a small hobby farm where he, his wife and daughter raise Nubian goats and turkeys. Processing a Turkey is something I wanted to learn so I took him up on the offer.
We had family in town that year which meant in addition to my four kids we had a house full of cousins. When the day and time came to head to the neighbors I invited them all not knowing what their reaction would be. To my surprise they were all in. Kids are naturally curious especially about things they have never done or seen . I was not sure how this would go or if my neighbor would appreciate the small army I had in tow but on a cool damp November morning we marched towards his farm.
When we arrived we could see a table with sharp knives, water being heated in a jumbo size pot and small ropes being fastened to a tree branch. For a group of kids who were seldom quiet for more than a minute, our group just stood and took it all in. The kids lined up along a fence to watch what would happen next and you would have thought they were on the front row at church. It was the anticipation, I could feel it too.
Soon the father brought the heavy birds over one at a time and hung them from the ropes by their feet. Even though these birds were raised for this very purpose, I could see tears in the eyes of his wife and daughter. These birds had been cared for since they were poults and become part of the family for several months. The reality that sacrifice is required to supply those elaborate Thanksgiving day meals was the first and most important of many lessons we all learned that day.
Soon the birds were dispatched and the work began. After they were scalded the kids were invited to help pluck the birds and all but a couple, who elected to remain spectators, jumped in to help. Careful cuts were made to remove the legs and open the cavity and in no time those giant birds were cleaned and ready for ice baths.
I was pleased that the kids had questions about different parts of the bird. I was pleased how almost reverent they were throughout the whole process. The experience had such a profound effect on us I think we all looked at our own Turkey a little different that year when it came out of the oven, dare I say thankful. This had such a profound effect on me personally that almost a year later to the day our family processed a turkey we had raised and shared that experience with a guest family as well.
It is not realistic to think all children will help butcher a turkey at Thanksgiving or ever process any animal for that matter. But there is something healthy about knowing it didn’t just come from a store. Conversation about where the turkey and other dishes on the table came from is a start. This may not be riveting conversation for the dinner table but it has to be better than talking politics with your in-laws. Who knows, one of your offspring may be the next sustainable farmer who helps revolutionized the way America thinks about food production due to a little Thanksgiving day dialog.