Making sense of farming

We all have a lot to learn about farming - no matter if you are a farmer, farm extender, farm femme, farm agvocate or farm interested - there is always something more to learn.  One of the best ways to learn new things is to learn together with kids, because of their natural curiosity and willingness to “get right into it” with all of their senses.

Here are some suggestions for getting our senses going as we learn about farming with our kids:

  • See, touch, taste and smell: make a meal together

  • See: read fiction and non-fiction books about farm-life

  • See, touch and smell: take a farm tour (Open Farm day)

  • See, touch and taste: attend a farmers market

  • See, touch and hear: attend a “touch-a-tractor” event

  • See and hear: watch farmer-created YouTube videos

  • See, touch and smell: visit a greenhouse

  • See, touch, smell and taste: plant some seeds

When we engage our senses, we increase the connections in our brain and we strengthen our learning and the memories that we are developing.  We can also increase our learning by:

  • Talking about what we are experiencing
  • Noticing similarities and differences (to personal experiences or something you have read)
  • Connecting to an emotion (through memory or empathy )
The best teachers are those who show you where to look but don’t tell you what to see.
— Alexandra K Trenfor


Cows and Kids

Cows are a major food source for millions of people around the world, providing us with both meat and dairy products.  My girls recognized the cow on our milk jugs at an early age and enjoyed making various versions of the famous “Mooooo”.  However, there is a lot more to learn about both beef and dairy cattle.  

Top five cattle questions from kids (some from my own kids – I’m not telling which ones!):

1.       What do cows eat?

Cows eat plants.  Cows can eat grass, like the lawn, or special mixes of grass that are sometimes called hay.  Farmers cut grass in the summer and turn it into hay bales to save for winter time when no grass is growing.  Cows enjoy grains, like oats, for a treat. Cows also need minerals and vitamins in their diet, just like people.

2.       Do cows really have lots of stomachs?

Cows have one stomach, but it has four different compartments. Each compartment focuses on a different job.  The second stomach compartment is where cows make cud (food + saliva) and then they burp that cud up to chew it some more.  The fourth stomach compartment is most like a human stomach

3.       Do beef cows make milk?

Yes, all cows make milk for their calves.  However, dairy cows are designed to continue producing lots of milk for longer periods of time, while beef cows are not.  Beef cows still make lots of great milk to feed their own calf.

4.       Why do cows wear earrings?

Cows wear ear tags (or sometimes brisket tags – on their neck) to help their farmers keep track of them, because each cow is unique.  Farmers keep records of everything special or different about each cow, so each one gets its own number, letter or name on a tag.  For instance, farmers keep track of year of birth, farm of birth, health records, notes about their calves or anything else that happens in the life of each animal.

5.       What is the difference between our milk (2%) and your milk (skim)?

After the cows give us the milk it goes through a process to ensure that it is safe to drink.  Part of this process involves separating the cream (the richer part) from the milk.  Different people like different tastes of milk, or their bodies need different amounts of milk fat.

BONUS: How come in that pasture there are so many cows and only one bull?  Ask your auntie! 😊

Food Find for Kids

Growing up on a farm means learning about equipment, weather and the cycle of life is just part of the everyday conversation.  However, farm kids are not the only ones who need the chance to learn about life on the farm! 

It is easy to find touch-and-feel board books of farm animals and there are even puzzles that make the farm animal sounds as you place the piece in the correct place.  But, as kids get older, how do we help kids to know what farming is about?  When in doubt, start with food. A documentary called Before The Plate (Dylan Sher) is expected out this year and is based on the notion that food has a story that begins long before it gets to the plate.  Although the documentary is intended for adults, the same idea works with kids.

On our farm we produce a variety of cereal grains and oil seeds.  Kids always love a great scavenger hunt, so here is a framework of ideas for them to hunt down and connect to the crops we grow on our farm.  Of course, you can change the level of difficulty depending on the age of your kids, but a digital camera and a little challenge can open an opportunity for a lot of conversation.


Oats: oatmeal, cookies, cereal

Wheat: bread, cookies, pasta, pancake mix

Flax: bread, crackers, oatmeal

Canola: margarine, canola oil

Sunflowers: sunflower oil, whole shell-on sunflowers, salads

Corn: cereal, corn bread, tortillas, corn syrup, whole kernel corn

Our last family scavenger hunt involved bonus points for pictures that included all team members with the item, so remember to have fun with the idea.  Kids will continue to surprise us with their insights and questions if we take time to engage them in the conversation.

Stay tuned tomorrow for kids and cows!

The Language of Learning- Words Matter

Our brains are busy hubs of activity.  There is a lot to pay attention to and farms are busy places. Our senses can be on overload – especially if we are not used to being on a farm.  Sometimes it can be hard to pay attention to the task at hand or to manage our emotions.

Here are some tips to remember when teaching kids (and adults too):

1.  Use positive language, in other words, tell them what you want them to do.

  • Wait until the truck is turned off and walk in front of the truck so that Dad can see you coming.
  • Get yourself to safety first, if you can, and then call 911.

2. Be specific.  Telling kids to “be good” or trainees to “be careful” does not help them to know what that looks like or sounds like.

  • You can ride along but you need to stay in your seat and be quiet to listen when someone is talking on the CB radio.
  • Pay attention to the power line that crosses the field and open your auger when you are clear of the lines.

3. Be real.  Get dirty and do experiments: plant seeds in the sandbox, dig up roots, open pods… And don’t expect every experiment to end in success.  It is important to let kids discover what works and what doesn’t.  The same is true of adults – that is the whole premise of field trials and research plots.  We want to try it for ourselves to see what works.  Kid’s experiments can be just for fun, but adult experiments should be more structured and intentional; although there still might be surprises!

  • Determine your purpose and focus before you start (minimize input costs, maximize yield, reduce people-power required to complete the task, increase protein, reduce fuel required).
  • Set parameters for experiments before you start to minimize risk (physical and financial).

 Finally, remember to have fun.  Hands-on learning is naturally fun.  Remember to let the fun happen.  Having a one-on-one lesson in the driver’s seat of the combine is way more interesting than reading about the combine in the manual. 


Have Fun &

Learn something...

The best way to learn about how plants grow is to get started and plant a seed. 

Little Learners

Sometimes learning comes easy to us, and other times learning is hard work.  Why is that?  Blame it on our brain structure.  We need some place to anchor our learning - a place to “hang” it in the walk-in-closet of our brain, otherwise it becomes one of those long-forgotten items that fall behind the dresser.  I have experienced this in my own farm learning… Marcel has explained put options and call options in marketing to me at least a half-dozen times.  However, because this isn’t part of my usual farm function it gets lost "behind the dresser".  As a trained teacher and farmer extender, one of my key roles around our farm is education and training for our kids.  There is a lot to learn about a farm operation.

Farming 101:  I love it that the girls recognize all sorts of farm equipment and can talk about soybeans and scratchy stubble.  And, I think this makes Marcel equally happy and proud to be raising two farm girls.  But they didn’t turn into farm girls by accident; I am constantly teaching.  Every time we take a meal to the field, drive to school or play in the yard we are talking about what we see and hear.  So, here are five easy ways to bring the farm to conversation with your kids:

  •  Make a meal together.  Talk about what you are eating and what it is made of. 
  • Read fiction and non-fiction books about farms and farm-life. 
  • Attend local small-town fairs and festivals – many Manitoba festivals are named after fruits, veggies and farm products and have strong ties to agriculture.
  •  Attend a free ag event, like Open Farm Day
  • Participate in contests, like SAFE Farms Drawing Contest
  •   BONUS ACTIVITY: Watch fun videos! 
    • Peterson Farm Bros for fun music parody videos
      • My favorite – Frieling Farms Harvest 2016.  It’s about the people, not just the equipment…

Back to the closet – hopefully for each of these activities you and your kids can talk about the “hangers”.  How can we connect this farm learning to what we already know?  Clearly, this depends on the age, experience and interest of your kids (or young adults).  Some easy ways to increase connections are:

  • Talk about similarities and differences to your own experiences or situation
  • Connect with more than one sense (smell, texture, sounds)
  • Connect to an emotion, either through memory or empathy

New learning isn’t so much about specifically what we connect new information to, or even how we connect it.  Rather, the key thing is that information gets connected - it needs a rack to hang on.