We host field trips at WonderTree. Field trips, birthday parties, group outings. Some of my favorite moments as a farmer come during these trips. Kids are great. I have four of them…and I still think they’re great. Kids on a farm are a next-level kind of great. Their eyes are wide. Their feet fast. Their tender hearts leaping with affection for growing things. Their minds accelerating with wonder. Their entire beings connecting with something real, escaping a world distracted and enticed by the unreal. Some of my favorite lines or questions have come from kids during these farm visits.
“What are their names? (asked about 400 identical baby chicks)
“Do you bathe your cows?”
“How much money do you make, Farmer Smith?”
“Look at that goat….she is giving the other one a piggy-back ride!”
“That donkey said I was funny.”
“Do we get to ride the pigs?”
Occasionally one of them asks a question that presents an opportunity. This past week we were hosting a big group of preschoolers (20+ kids with Moms, a couple of Dads, and a few grandparents). The kids were helping me feed our current flock of broiler chicks when out of the crowd one little girl asked “what are they eating?” I gave them the preschooler version of our feed ration—“a healthy, clean bunch of tasty food”—which is preschooler for pastured, non-GMO, pesticide/herbicide free, hormone/antibiotic free, 19% protein poultry grower. I emphasized the importance of the feed being clean. Then, the same little girl raised her hand and asked a great question:
“Why does it matter if their food is clean?”
I know what she meant. Think about it. Chickens walk around and peck at the ground. We are taught early on not to eat off the floor….because it’s dirty. So why, Farmer Smith, does it matter if the chickens eat clean food if they are going to peck the ground…which is dirty? All at once 20 tiny little attention spans decided to gather up their collective ability to listen, staring at me in expectation.
After explaining that dirty to us is not the same as dirty to animals, I explained that clean, in this context, wasn’t necessarily about germs, but purity. Then, I turned a corner.
Me: “Kids, why do animals eat food?”
Kids: “Because they’re hungry!”
“They like it!
“It makes them grow!”
Me: “And why does it make them grow?”
Then, the little girl who asked the first question answered with confidence, “Because they’re made out of it!”
There it was. I’m not delusional about the impact of my words on a group of preschoolers. Some ages listen and process better than others on these trips, but I do believe the next point stayed with these kids. At least for a moment.
“That’s right. What these chicks eat turns into who they are. Food doesn’t magically go into a person or animal and leave as waste without changing the person or animal who ate it. These chicks become like their food. If their food is clean and full of good stuff these chicks will be made out of clean, good stuff.”
That seemed to make sense.
“Now, we give these chicks a wonderful life here on the farm. Then, when they are old enough, they give back to us by becoming food for us. So, if they become our food, why is it important that they eat clean food?”
Silence. Consideration. A little boy yawns.
“Because if THEY eat clean food WE eat clean food!!” said the first little girl. She had connected the dots.
“And, boys and girls, if clean food helps them be healthy and strong…then….when they become our food…WE can be healthy and strong!”
I try not to do a lot of talking on field trips. Parents enjoy hearing about the farm and our agricultural philosophies, but the kids came to chase chickens, hold kittens, feed animals, and be outside. Still, I always look for one opportunity to leave the group with a little nugget about the importance of clean farming to the world. I’m grateful to this group, and to the one little girl in particular, for opening the door last week.
Friends, we cannot reduce the processes by which food is produced and the inputs used for production away from the effects food will have on our bodies. Cases of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, arthritis, and hypertension, among many others, are rising at alarming and historically abnormal rates. Of course, people are ultimately and naturally prone to atrophy, disease, and death. All health issues cannot be cured through diet. But, a strong, healthy diet can only help. Great food has never hurt anyone. We have to purge ourselves of the deception that we can divorce the origins and production of food from our health as individuals, families, and communities.
Food did not create us, but it is what our bodies are built of. It is what our children’s bodies are built of.
April 29th, 2021