Sometimes I am envious of stay-at-home parents. I am also envious of working parents. I am a work-from-home-while-I-watch-my-kids parent. This means I work full-time farmer hours and take care of my kids full time. While this was a conscious, albeit necessary, choice, it has never been an easy one. My hope is that they learn enough about being hard working and independent that it pays off in the end.

My husband and I run a farm. Not a homestead for personal use, but 15 acres of diversified crops, with over 150 varieties of vegetables and flower. We sell at three farmers’ markets, we have a CSA, wholesale accounts, a dozen employees, two farm sites, chickens, sheep, greenhouses, and we design for weddings. It’s a lot to manage. It would be a lot to manage without kids in tow. But, I just never felt right shipping them off when there was so much to learn and experience right here at home.

We have three kids, each with a very unique personality. One is an eight-year old boy, super smart bookworm type who works really hard to get out of work whenever possible. I also have five-year-old twins, a girl and a boy. The girl is my extra good helper who never leaves my side, which is a blessing and a curse. Her twin brother is the extra-curious, have-no-fear, always-into-trouble, never-wears-shoes, breaks-things-to-find-out-how-they-work, adventurous child.

When they were babies, it was a disaster trying to manage breastfeeding, diaper changes, and nap times while simultaneously trying to stay outside working in the hot sun and blowing dust of summer, the frigid cold winters, or waiting on eager customers lined up at the farmers’ market. When they were toddlers it was impossible to keep them from ripping plants out of the ground just as fast as I was putting them in, or from interrupting just about anything I was trying to do.

Now that they are a little older, things are getting easier. They understand me when I explain to them about why we can’t trample on top of the plants, even if they still do it. One is in school now; two are still at home. I am contemplating homeschooling all of them next year, but I am not sure I can hack it, because I don’t have any free time. At times I worry that they are missing out on a lot of the things that other kids get to do. It’s hard to have kids in sports when every Saturday and Sunday you are busy working at the farmers’ market, waking up at 4 a.m. Nor is it very easy to attend birthday parties, story time at the library, or play dates when you live far out of town and the crazy amount of work that is takes to manage a farm is never, ever done.

Despite my worries about what they are not getting, I have always known that my kids are gaining a lot from this lifestyle, too. They watch sheep give birth, knowing that those babies will grow up to become our food. My younger son is learning to count to 100 by gathering eggs with me every day. The kids see the actual results of planting a seed and watching it grow, then harvesting and eating that plant. They see that rabbits can destroy an entire crop, and that shooting them (and cleaning and eating them) has a purpose. My daughter is learning how to plant small seeds into plugs, one at a time with such determination and patience. She can envision what flower those seeds will grow into because she has seen them blooming before. I am a pretty controlling person, and sometimes I don’t want to let them help with careful chores that require precision, but I am usually amazed at how much more capable they are than I give them credit for. I think this is true of kids in general. They are capable and we should be giving them real responsibilities that allow them to see this in themselves. I have to balance this ideal with the fact that we have a business and the work we do has an economic impact on our survival. So sometimes I let them help and sometimes I don’t (like those super expensive seeds, I save those for myself to plant).

Many times I feel I have ignored my kids for the sake of our business. And I have been told by close relatives that they are worried the kids are neglected. Neglect is a strong word. I’ve often come into the house after working outside for a long stint to a major disaster, from the kids helping themselves to a snack, an entire box of cereal spread on the floor, milk all over the table, sharp knives strewn about, a pile of dirty dishes, and some happy kids playing again. And I realize that I should have come in to fix them something to eat hours before. Many a night, while I’m prepping for the farmers’ market, my kids have put themselves to bed, because we are too busy to read them a story or make sure they brushed their teeth. But we do read to them almost every other night. My boys sometimes get naked and play king of the mountain on top of the giant manure pile—it takes three rounds of baths to get that mess cleaned up. Our floors are constantly covered in dirt, dust, food or mud, even though I sweep every day and I cannot fathom how other people actually keep their own houses clean, but I know they do. I often feel like a total failure as a parent. I am not a helicopter parent, I joke that I am an “under protective” parent. And I am sure my friends would agree. Partially it is just my shortcomings combined with the reality of what our life entails. Another part of it is a deliberate choice. I am trying to raise kids who have some skills, some smarts, some independence, and some work ethic.

As the kids grow, I see more and more the positive impact this lifestyle has had on them. My kids can tell a customer about how to eat kohlrabi, what a sunchoke is, and that another name for rapini is broccoli raab. My kids probably know the names of over 40 varieties of flowers. How many adults know that much?

People ask me all the time if I hope my kids will take over the farm when they grow up. To be perfectly honest, I couldn’t care less if they do. I want each of them to follow their own path and do what makes them happy. That’s the life that my husband and I have chosen for ourselves. Mostly what I hope they learn from growing up on the farm is the value of doing what makes you happy and that it can take a tremendous about of work and sacrifice to make that happen.

Shanti Rade

Whipstone Farm

Shanti Rade Whipstone Farm Contact at [email protected]