One U.S. farm feeds 165 people each year.
The global population is expected to cross 9.7 billion by the year 2050. Yet, only 2 percent of the entire global population is working in agriculture. This means that young farmers are, in many ways, the future. In 2012, there were 3.2 million farmers feeding billions of people each day. This high demand and limited supply, is putting enormous pressure on our land and workers. Farmers are overworked and often underpaid, contributing to the agricultural death toll.
Further, heat stroke, stress-related injuries, and mental health issues are a challenge for manual laborers in general. They’re especially challenging for farmers, as feelings of intense ‘pressure to produce’ tends to force farmers under 18 to take off their “training wheels” too early.
Young farmers are a critical component of economic growth around the world. When it comes to innovation, they are a key factor in modernizing and perpetuating the growth of the agricultural industry. As a result, we need to encourage and support youth farming, or the agricultural industry as a whole may face even bigger challenges down the line.
When we look at historical data, agriculture is the most dangerous industry for young workers around the world. It accounts for 42% of all work-related fatalities of those workers in the U.S. alone. This is disillusioning, as this generation is growing up in the most technologically advanced era known to mankind. There are countless ways that young people are innovating farm life, yet we’re still burdened by injuries, and in some cases deaths, resulting from easily avoidable mistakes.
In other words, at a time when the world’s resources are racing to exhaustion, we need as many farmers as our economy can support. Especially for children who are willing and eager to learn the ropes. In a bid to encourage youths, and their parents, here are 5 ways you can improve farm life. By allowing the youth to contribute to the operation in innovative and sustainable ways, they will adapt quickly, and be well-equipped to take over the entire operation when you retire.
You’d be surprised how many children don’t know where their food comes from. Today, its harder than ever for a child to detect the source or quality of the food they’re eating each day. In a child’s mind, meats and vegetables are mystery foods that they’re forced to eat.
Johns Hopkins University recorded that adding cartoon characters to product packaging plays a key role in getting children to willingly request certain products. Children think food packaging with cartoon characters is better, and even prefer carrots when wrapped in McDonald’s packaging. Yes, kids actually think that the carrots taste better.
We all know it’s not the quality or taste of these products, but the marketing that sells them.
Teaching a child how their food is raised or cultivated, is akin to marketing to them. Getting them involved in the creation of the foods they eat goes a long way. Educating kids about the farm to table process will get them invested in the outcome of the products on your farm. They will remember the process better and build positive associations with farming in general.
No one likes to feel responsible when things go wrong. However, if a young farmer feels responsible for a specific job on the farm, they’re going to take it more seriously. Anything that is raised or grown on a farm depends on the farmer. If thousands of people become ill as a result of crop and livestock integration, someone’s going to take the fall. Helping them to see the positive and negative implications of their actions bonds them to the work they’re doing, and their contribution to the farm operation.
Spending a day, a week, or a lifetime farming changes the way a person looks at life. Food is no longer a convenience, but a hard-earned necessity. A reward that you come to genuinely appreciate. They will waste less and eat a greater variety, enhancing their growth and development.
Animals have a mind of their own. They have children, dietary needs, exercise needs, mood swings, and preferences. Young farmers need to figure out ways to get chores done, whether or not with the plants, animals, or equipment want to cooperate on a given day.
These daily chores are essential for raising and producing a high-quality, healthy, and delicious product. They’re also essential for building healthy, productive members of society.
Feeding and watering, cleaning or grooming, building, fixing and everything in between, are daily tasks that take place on every farm. Kids who grow up on a farm learn how important their role is in the production of the food that feeds them. As a result, they feel a deep connection to their families, the land, and the community.
Animals require food, shelter, and some TLC to grow healthy and strong. Animals that do not receive these produce low-quality products. Farming teaches kids how different animals are nurtured and cared for uniquely. They also learn the different types of shelter and what predators to look out for. Farming teaches kids awareness, and self-reliance, as they are tasked with helping another living being survive and thrive in today’s world.
Being aware of your surrounding is the number one rule when farming. Milking cows, working on equipment, feeding pigs, catching chickens, working in the gardens all require safety awareness at all times. Kids learn to keep their guard up at all times to protect themselves, the animals and the farm around them.
The greatest lessons in life come from experience. We make bad decisions and fail a few times, which leads to better decisions, and ultimately success. There are some things better learned at home, rather than amongst peers. Reading a book, or hearing about a topic in school won’t compare to real life experience on a farm. Farming teaches children life skills and helps them to cope with the circle of life. Producing their own food, working hard, effective communication, and building a team, are all skills and responsibilities acquired while growing up on a farm.
The Circle of Life
One of the hardest aspects of farming is dealing with dead livestock. The life cycle is hard for most children to comprehend, and even harder to accept. Growing up on a farm they’ll get to experience the joys of new life and the sadness of life lost. It’s both hard and rewarding at the same time. Children who understand this in their youth are less likely to go through a depression when they reach adulthood.
Weather is the ultimate force to be reckoned with. Heat can be a blessing, but drought’s no good. Rain is extremely important, but floods are your worst nightmare. Extreme cold has a harsh impact on everything and everyone on the farm.
Farmers are dependent on Mother Nature’s cooperation. And yet, we have no control over what happens day to day. Even with some warning, we can barely protect crops or livestock. Hurricane Irma down in Florida in 2017, wiped out countless local farms that were struggling to make ends meet.
As farmers, all we can do is be aware of the forecast, prepare, hope, and pray it’ll pass. This teaches kids to have a little faith, and take calculated risks without fear.
Farming is one of the hardest jobs a child will have in their entire life. It is physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting. It’s not for the faint of heart. However, being raised on a farm is one of the few remaining gifts from days past. It’s also a privilege most children won’t ever have, modern day. Life today is too comfy. If the internet went down for 24 hours, most people wouldn’t even know how to navigate around their city. If there was a serious disaster or civil war, they couldn’t provide their families with food or protection from the elements.
Whether these children are fixing a fence or pulling weeds, fixing watering systems or tending to animals – there are countless ways they can contribute to the farm operation. The work is hard, but it’s equally rewarding. Whether he fails a test at school or his parents are in an argument and he wants an escape, he’s got a safe place to retreat. While his buddies are out getting into trouble, he can feed, clean, and sew his way to feeling better. There’s nothing like spending a few hard hours in the field. It gets the mind off “reality” and makes life feel much simpler. Take it from someone who grew up on a farm.
On a final note, there are a few important takeaways for every man or woman in agriculture that has been tasked with raising young farmers. Farm life is a family affair. Long days are normal, and the weather is unforgiving. There are countless projects where young people can contribute, and even take responsibility.
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