Recently, I met a retired math teacher from Osage, Iowa. He said that he was so fortunate to have a majority of rural children in his classes. He told me farm kids were great at learning new concepts and applying them because of their daily experience with this type of thinking on the farm. Farming is all about problem solving, so if you didn’t know how to do something, you have to figure it out. That’s not much different than math. This gets at the heart of what I loved about farm life. There was always something to figure out.
One of the lessons we learn early on the farm is that each of us plays a valuable role in meeting challenges. Sometimes that consists of providing a different perspective. Often, when I had done the chores instead of my dad, I would report back when I noticed a sickly pig that needed extra attention or I fixed an overlooked fence line needed repair.
Dad always had a “can do” attitude when it came to complex problems on the farm. He scheduled his daily checklist with rounds, similar to a doctor in the hospital; first visiting each of our livestock pens (beginning with our youngest piglets and moving up chronologically) to examine the health and wellness of the herd, then checking that the waters were working properly and the feeders were full. Then on to the next location.
Many of the problems that we encountered were unclear and it took some observation to determine what they actually were. For example, we would see that the feeders were full but the pigs were crowded around them and looked hungry. Sure enough, when we got down to take a look, the feeder was actually “clogged” with wet feed, so we would take out a long metal pick and scrape along the back edge and upwards to loosen the debris until feed was able to flow freely again.
On these snowy cold days, preparation only gets you so far and, much of the time, it’s improvisation that gets the job done. Getting together with other farmers and sharing stories is also part of the learning process. There is “Can do” spirit in rural children, founded in agriculture. Like my parents and grandparents always said, “where there is a Willis there is a way.” 😉