This week, I had the pleasure of having a piece I wrote appear on the Field to Vase blog. Many of the pictures have been posted here already, but I couldn't resist since it involves two of my favorite subjects: my flowers and my boys.
When our oldest son approached kindergarten age, my husband and I thought long and hard about the kind of environment in which we wanted to raise our boys. We examined the pros and cons of raising urban children. After 20 years of living in Chicago, we began fantasizing about moving to the country where the boys could romp and be free to explore. I dreamed about starting a flower farm so I began taking landscape design classes at the Chicago Botanic Gardens and enrolled in the Farm Beginnings training.In 2010, we fell head-over-heels for an old farmhouse on a dirt road in surprisingly rural and beautiful eastern Connecticut, with two sunny acres of horse pasture, an additional acre with a pond, and a falling down barn full of bats. With record rainfall that Spring and two small boys (soon there would be three!) running barefoot in and out of the house, Muddy Feet Flower Farm was born. The house was perfect inside and a blank slate outside. We slowly began landscaping the property for the business – a project I estimate will take ten years.My reasons for starting a farm ran deeper than a mere obsession with flowers and gardening. I wanted to go back to work and start a business from home where I could exercise my type-A personality and be a stay-at-home mom. I wanted the boys to see what it was like to create something by following a passion and tackling a steep learning curve. I wanted them to learn where food (and food for the soul) comes from. And I wanted them to learn the value of hard work.The boys have been challenged by the relentless demands of Mom working and the sheer amount of time I spend tending the flowers. I’ve come to expect eyes brimming over with tears and a heart wrenching, “I think you love the flowers more than me,” at least once per season. I’m always amazed, and somewhat intimidated, when I hear other farmers talk about how their kids are out in the field with them working happily by their side. While I harbor dreams of blissful family unity and boys who love to pick peonies by the thousands, the truth is getting them actively engaged in farm work takes a whole lot of planning, patience, rewards, and consequences.My oldest son began going to farmers markets with me when he was seven. Now ten, he’s got three years under his belt and has gone from sampling every pastry at the market and playing hacky-sack with the oyster farmer, to loading and unloading the car, re-filling buckets, helping schlep the tent, chatting with customers, collecting money and making change, and designing tight beautiful bouquets. He lines the front of our table with small jars of textural and colorful flowers. Customers ask specifically for his bouquets. In fact, he has gotten so confident in his design skills he now feels free to correct me on my flower choices and style, and sneaks into the barn at night to help us with wedding flowers.My middle son will work only if he gets paid. The bucket washing? $.10/ bucket. Or an hour of iPad time. He’ll do just about anything for an hour of iPad time.Our youngest, now three-and-a-half, is curious and willing, and loves to help with tasks as long as it’s done his way. He’s captivated by worms and sticks and peeing outside this season. I can’t wait to introduce him to praying mantises and camping in our backyard. He also wanders off and disappears, and I spend several frantic minutes racing around making sure he’s not swimming with the tadpoles or trying to drive the tractor. Being a mother in this day and age is full of stress and worry. There are too many options and electronic distractions. Children don’t understand what it means to wait for something, that there’s gratification in the anticipation of an event. Farming teaches patience. If you plant a seed, take care of it and wait, something wonderful will happen. But you can’t control it. You can only nurture and hope that it will grow and blossom. I want my boys to bask in their childhood, not rush through it staring at a screen. I want them to learn the simple complexity of living close to the earth. And so we farm.