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Parenting and Farming: Seeding Gratitude, Cultivating Care

A cow is crossing the road. It’s mostly white with rusty spots and curvy horns, head high, at once regal and nervous as it spans the pavement surrounded by a group of farmers who’ve stopped traffic, which is just two cars — us, on our way to pick apples at an orchard in town, and an oncoming driver. Century-old farmhouses looking seasoned and storied are perched on either side of the street. To the left, a field overlooks mountains in the distance. To our right, woods fan around the house. I point out the cow to my son. He’s two and a half and watching with excitement out the back passenger window as the animal reaches grass and disappears behind the old house. We wave goodbye to the farmers, who smile, and continue to the orchard, passing trees ablaze with autumn leaves. My son calls out the colors he sees while my six-month-old coos from her car seat, catching glimpses at the kaleidoscope world whizzing past the windows.

The authors older kiddo, harvesting radishes. Photo provided by author.

At the farm, we park on the edge of a field. I strap my infant to my chest and herd my toddler past picnic tables toward two pens with sheep and goats. He mimics the bigger kids he sees, feeding long strands of grass through the fence to whoever will eat them. Then we stop in the farm store to pay for the bag we intend to fill with our bounty and snack on fresh-baked donuts, holding hands as we enter a sea of ripening apple trees. We wander and pick and eat until our bellies and hearts are full and our bag is overflowing. Delighted with our haul, we manage to make it home in time for everyone’s mid-afternoon nap, passing farm stands and homesteads all along the way.

The next weekend I take the kids to a NOFA event on organic maple sugaring at a farm down the street from our house. It’s my day off, so I get to enjoy the tour as a spectator. The highlight for my son, of course, is sampling the syrups and maple butter at the end of our visit. I buy a pint to take back with us, excited about the hyper-locality of my purchase, how the syrup we’ll drizzle on our pancakes is made by our neighbors from trees practically in our own backyard. Before we part, I get a chance to introduce my children to an old friend and housemate who has recently started a farm a few towns over, and whose influence I credit with my interest in agriculture, leading to my career at NOFA today. I feel a sense of things coming full circle.

Growing up in the suburbs of northern New Jersey, I didn’t know anyone who cultivated their own food. Though we lived in a town with a lovely farm that we visited several times a year, and that’s still in operation today, gardening in the Garden State meant little more to me than finely manicured ornamental flowers. Homesteading wasn’t a part of my vocabulary, and despite having that farm in town I still viewed agriculture as something that happened elsewhere.

Recalling this perception reminds me of one of my earliest memories – picking wild raspberries on the edge of my neighbor’s property before the plants were removed. Our houses straddled a narrow creek and the bushes butted up against the banks, but only on their side. Last season, my neighbors in central New Hampshire had a thriving raspberry patch, a gift from the earth that offered up juicy fuchsia gems all the way through the end of October. The kids and I reveled in our weekly invitations to pick, my little boy stuffing one berry into his mouth after another, my daughter clamoring for the leaves, and me, charmed by the thought that my children might recall these everyday agricultural experiences long into their adulthood as fondly as I do. I easily recall picking berries at the edge of the stream, gathering pumpkins with my mom at the farm in town, and even how at age 70, my mother still reminiscences about her annual visits to a farm in the Catskills as a little girl.

The world of agriculture is at our fingertips here in the Granite State, one that can provide my children with an example of a thriving rural life. Yet small farms are continually under threat as cheap food reigns, markets continue to consolidate, farmers retire without successors, and land prices soar. Like so many farmers and gardeners, I am often thinking of climate change, how the longer berry season is shortening the maple season, the ups and downs of dry spells and floods, and the future of our food system.

These threats have placed even greater importance on my desire for my children to grow up learning skills that will help them make the world a better place for themselves and their communities. And I hope that in the garden they will find many teachers and lessons: to honor the land and people who stewarded it for generations before us, to grow together, learn together, succeed and fail, to take pride in their work, to share their plenty, gather patience, and harvest awe. Through gardening I imagine them imbued with both independence and interdependence, an understanding that everything is connected, and an impetus to cultivate their soil, relationships, and lives with care.

For now, at ages 1 and 3, I’m just planting these seeds, savoring the fruit of my children’s pure joy in pulling carrots and picking snap peas, knowing this time together when they are small – like the earth and our connection to it – is sacred. I like to think they feel it too.

Nikki Kolb, she/her, is NOFA-NH’s Operations Manager and an aspiring homesteader.