Community Philosphy Blog and Library

HOMEGROWN Life: The Perfect Lesson for Teenagers? With Chickens Come Responsibility

 

HOMEGROWN-LIFE-MAGENTALike many people, I live a dual life. While I’d love to jump off of the grid and into the dirt, my creditors and my children would probably drag me back before long. It’s simply not an option for me right now, so instead I keep one high heel in the corporate world and one boot in the garden. This lifestyle has me zipping my pink Carhartt coveralls right over my business suit to go feed the chickens before I grab the train. There have been moments of panic during meetings when I’m hoping that I don’t have wood shavings or chicken poop anywhere on my person. And then I find myself hoping, if I do, that at least they’re not visible. Ah, the glamorous life.

What began years ago as a desire for a more authentic lifestyle has resulted in a wealth of new interests and skills, and for this I’m profoundly grateful. It has also taught me some valuable lessons and given me many opportunities to shift my thinking. This happened yet again recently when I needed to spend the week in New York. Three days away from the homefront presents no small challenge. On top of the household operations, there are kids, dogs, cats, and chickens to care for. The chickens, in particular, had me concerned.

HOMEGROWN-life-chickens

As every other animal owner knows, polar vortexes are stressful! This one required wrapping my chicken coop to look like a messy patchwork quilt of insulation and tarp, followed by what felt like a million trips back and forth to switch waterers when they froze over. While this weather has brought more worry than I thought possible when I got the girls, it has been a good glimpse into what to expect when I expand our farm. It has also given me the insight to be more informed in the research I do moving forward. It’s easy to get caught up in cute when considering animals, but you’ve got to plan on the good and the bad.

Back to my New York trip. I had no choice but to leave my flock in the hands of my teen girl. Up until that point, she had been what I call a fair-weather friend to the chickens. She helped to build the coop and will do the daily chores when directed, but that’s where the relationship ends. I spent a week prior to the trip drilling tips into her head: Feed them grit late in the day to kick their internal heaters into high gear; scrape the droppings board to keep moisture down (yeah, she wasn’t too happy about that one); switch the water three times a day. This last task meant heading to the coop in the dark, in subzero temps, before school. She’s like many teens, including myself a million years ago, in that she needs to be reminded 17 times to clean the bathroom or load the dishwasher, so predawn sprints to the coop seemed dubious. I was worried for her and for my flock.

I came back a few days later and, due to the 14 inches of snow we’d gotten and the super cold temps, I ended up with the flu. Well, I don’t know how I ended up with it, but I’m blaming it on the snow. This left my teen girl in charge of my feathered girls for a solid week—and the time in bed gave me more than adequate time to think about that.

HOMEGROWN-life-barred-rock

What did my fever-driven, sweaty mess of a mind come up with? I determined that children are being underestimated and underutilized. I recalled reading a passage in my great-grandmother’s book about homesteading where she talked about sending my grandmother out into the snow—deep snow, Wyoming-style—to gather eggs and to milk the cows when she was far younger than my girl is. My grandmother participated in the harvesting on the ranch and with everything else that wasn’t a danger.

Children are viewed as so fragile now, so breakable and bubble wrapped. We may schedule them to participate in a million sports events and school commitments, but what ever happened to tiring them out the old-fashioned way? What ever happened to giving kids actual chores? Even having them prepare a household meal teaches life lessons, from time management to nutrition to cost per serving to taking pride in what you’ve prepared or managing disappointment if it burns. We’re doing a disservice by not teaching kids responsibility and helping them discover the rewards that come along with hard work. They learn to cope with failure and setbacks while fulfilling responsibilities, lessons that can be learned in activities as simple as having them help you plant, tend, and harvest a garden.

Not only did Kayla do everything I asked her to do, she excelled. She didn’t need to be reminded; she put herself on a schedule and did it automatically. In fact, she self-managed much better than she does when I hover and harp on her.

While winter is our quieter season for outdoor work, it’s a great time for me to teach her to bake and make cheese and butter, and then have her do so weekly, along with preparing a regular meal. I also need carpentry help building a new farm table, and she looks like a great candidate to me. Home economics isn’t taught in school anymore, but it’s a lesson best taught at home anyway. Kayla might not go on to become a farmer, but she will have lifelong compassion. She may not become a baker or cheese maker, but she might choose to feed the hungry with her skills or to teach others to feed themselves by growing a garden. Whatever she decides, she will have a toolbox of emotional and physical skills to pull from and will be a valuable member of her community.

Now off I go to make a list for her younger brother.

HOMEGROWN-life-michelleAlthough she’s something of a newbie homesteader herself, Michelle comes from serious pioneer stock: Her great-grandmother literally wrote the book. It’s this legacy, in part, that led Michelle to trade in her high-stress life for a home on the grounds of a Pennsylvania CSA farm. You can read her monthly posts on beginner homesteading with kids and more here in HOMEGROWN Life, and sometimes you can find her popping up in The Stew, HOMEGROWN’s member blog. 

ALL PHOTOS: MICHELLE WIRE

Leave a Reply

*