The Planted Row: Farm camp teaches life skills

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Farm Forum

Shortly after my family’s return from New York, my wife and I put our son on a plane to Mississippi for what is now my father’s second annual Grandpa’s Farm Camp. If I’m being honest, I have to admit that I miss him very much. The other night, my daughter went to her first ever sleepover, and I had a brief glimpse at what life will look like once both kids have left the nest. I’m not sure I like it.

However, despite having to mow the yard myself, I’m glad my 12-year-old son is getting a second year of ag instruction from my family. My wife isn’t necessarily thrilled to hear his excited stories about learning to drive a truck. However, I know exactly how proud he feels at learning new skills, and as he tells us his stories of learning from Grandpa, I can’t help but remember those same feelings when I was his age. (I also can’t help but notice that Grandpa is a bit more patient in his old age.) Those times are some of my fondest memories, and though my wife continues to worry about our son’s safety on the farm, there’s no way I could deny him those moments of personal triumph. I’ll send him to the farm in the summer for as long as he wants to go. When my daughter is old enough, I plan to send her, too. I haven’t quite sold my wife on that plan yet, but I’m working on it.

In all honesty, I don’t think either one of my kids will someday want to become a permanent part of the family farm. My daughter is a bit young, but based on her current interests, I think she’ll either be an architect or a demolition expert. My son’s passions lie in the areas of math, computers and engineering. Both kids are a bit like their dad in that they’re too interested in a lot of non-ag areas. In fact, my son is currently spending a week in an engineering camp at Mississippi State University. He’s staying in my old freshman dorm and will be spending time in a building where I both attended and taught classes. I’m almost as proud of that as I am about his time on the farm.

The point of Grandpa’s Farm Camp isn’t to teach my kids how to farm. The point is to teach them how to work hard and have fun at the same time, how to form bonds with family through work, and to appreciate the amount of work it takes to provide food and fiber for the world. If they can learn those lessons, I believe they will be successful no matter what careers they choose and will become good citizens of the world.

Farm Diary

As family members send photos of my son sweating, working hard and smiling, I feel like I’m looking through a time machine and watching my past life. Former American News/Farm Forum Managing Editor John Papendick must feel like he’s reliving his past life.

Papendick was raised on a farm, and now that he’s retired from the newspaper, he’s helping his wife’s family on their farm. He’s writing a series of columns called “Farm Diary” chronicling his attempts to relearn what farm work is all about. You can find the first installment on page 11G in today’s paper.