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How to Raise a Farm Family in the City

Follow these simple values.

When my husband and I found out we were expecting a baby, a troubling thought struck me: How am I supposed to raise my child without living on a farm?

Growing up on a farm in southeast Arkansas marked me in many more ways than just my Delta twang. Out of five kids, I am the only one who lives more than 25 miles from the house where we grew up. Most of my siblings are still involved in agriculture.

I am a suburban girl now, with a tiny yard and the ability to purchase virtually anything I need day or night.

When I was growing up, our cousins from the big city would come for long weekends. Farm life was a novelty to them. The mosquitoes that didn’t faze me gave them welts the size of crabapples, and they couldn’t always tell the difference between rice, soybeans, and corn. I loved them to pieces, but they were different.

Now I realized my daughter would be a city slicker. How was I going to teach her the values I hold so dear if I lived five hours away at the end of a cul-de-sac?

Growing up on a rice farm

Flash forward five years, and here’s what I have discovered:

  1. The principles of life on those 3,000 acres have stuck with me. Though I don’t live within a stone’s throw of every relative, I’m incorporating the same values they taught me into my own urban family.
  2. I still buy in bulk from the grocery store, because I have never quite accepted that I live 3 miles from Walmart instead of 40.
  3. Traffic still makes me want to tear my hair out, but if I do get behind a tractor or combine, I become positively saintly in my patience.
  4. I can jump-start my car, hook up a trailer, and drive a four-wheeler, although it’s been awhile.
  5. When I catch a whiff of chicken manure, I still say it “smells like money,” courtesy of my grandfather.
  6. I’m not afraid of hard work, which is good because I’m a working mom. I remember days during planting when I wouldn’t see my daddy because he was working from 5:30 a.m. until 9:30 p.m., and if the tractor lights were bright enough, he’d go even longer. When I’m up way past bedtime folding yet another load of laundry, I think of my dad taking the tractor for another round. I buck up, and I fold another towel.
  7. We all pitch in to get the job done. One day after school, my daddy had 300 levee gate papers that needed to be rolled. Off we all marched to the shop, each with our own pile of wooden stakes and plastic levee gates. My mom tried to make it a game, encouraging us to see who could get done the fastest. Today, my daughter helps with laundry and making supper. I can’t have my daughter write my reports or double check her father’s accounting, but I’m teaching her that we are a team. We each have a way we can contribute to our family’s livelihood and success, be it a big job or a small one.
  8. I don’t take for granted where our food comes from, and I’m teaching my daughter that value. We know that our rice comes from Pappy’s farm, and that the farmer’s hard work is what brought it to our table. The same goes for chicken or beef or vegetables or whatever else is on our plate. We say thanks for their labor as we bow our heads for grace. As we work in our raised beds in the backyard, I’m giving her a taste of what it is to grow food and care for your crop, to relish the work and wait in anticipation for the harvest.
  9. I am a supportive wife, following the example of my mother, a farmer’s wife, daughter, granddaughter, and sister. She didn’t complain about the long hours, the dirty floors from mud-caked boots, or the cold meals. I don’t remember her ever eating without my dad. It sounds so simple, but as an adult, I look back and realize she must have been starving. If my dad wasn’t eating on his combine in the dark, she wouldn’t either. My dad never had to eat supper alone, a gesture that is silent, but speaks volumes. Now when my husband works late or brings home his laptop to finish reports, I follow my mama’s lead and have a plate waiting for him when he gets in.

I’m raising my family in a suburb 300 miles from where I grew up, but the farm is still with me. I can close my eyes and hear the sound of the grain cart filling up or smell the dusty interior of my daddy’s tractor. That farm marked me. I am the mother I am today, the wife I am today, the person I am today, because I grew up with a background in agriculture. The twang may come and go, but the legacy of a childhood spent on the farm lives on in me each day.

NOTE: Rachel Gray is assistant director of development research at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.

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