Route 3. A dirt road in rural Leake County, Mississippi that holds fond memories of visiting my grandparents’ farm making mud pies with my cousins, playing on the swing on the front porch, and returning to Chicago with tennis shoes covered in red clay dirt. I suppose if I wanted to get really sentimental, I could cue the violins and say something like, “Those were the good old days.” But currently, I am choosing not to refer to anything in my life as old.
It was on Route 3 that I learned the basics of life on a farm. My grandparents taught me that it was important to grow your own vegetables, work hard to prepare for the slow times, and that farm eating was healthy eating. Unfortunately, I didn’t really appreciate those lessons during my yearly visits like I should have. At the time, I just thought that that’s the way people in the south lived.
Fast forward to the year 2013, when I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in January and later that year CJ’s seizures returned after an 8-year hiatus, I experienced a shift. With both thyroid disease and epilepsy, I research and I studied medical protocol, but despite the medicines and the medical procedures, I was led back to some basic principles of life that helped manage those two illnesses.
Those principles related to simple nutrition and basic, wholistic living. The kind of living that occurs on a farm. The kind that occurred on my grandparents farm. I would read information about nutrition this and organic that, call my mom and tell her what I’ve learned about the danger of pesticides and as she always does, she was very supportive but said, “you know, that’s kind of how we grew up on the farm.”
Because it was my mom, I probably rolled my eyes and wondered why she never taught me this, but then I remembered really quickly that I grew up in Chicago, not Mississippi and we did not have fields and such to grow our own vegetables.
However we did spend summers on the farm, and as hindsight is always 20/20, I did learn the basics.
I also want to tell you although I live in Texas, I do not live on a farm, nor have I had ever aspirations to live on a farm. That is not the direction this is going in friends. I’m going to let the farmers do what they do best and I am not going to enter into that space.
I will however, do my best to educate my children and live according to the principles that I’ve learned from that Mississippi farm on Route 3, while supporting local farmers right here in Texas.
Lessons From Route 3
Locally grown is good. Homegrown is better. My grandparents grew most of their own fruits and vegetables. If they didn’t have good luck with a particular crop that season, they would share and trade with other farmers, friends, and relatives in their community. There were no pesticides, no chemicals, and no preservatives that could harm produce (in the name of good.) Many commercial grocers are now recognizing the benefits of locally grown produce and are featuring it. It may take an extra two steps to get the locally grown organic apple, but it’s worth it.
If no one will hire you, hire yourself. My grandfather was an independent farmer. He worked his land for himself. Consequently, he’s one of the hardest working men I’ve ever known because he knew he was responsible (not “the man” or “politics” or “company layoffs”) for his success. I reflected on this statement last summer when I was considering a career change and couldn’t find a job as a writer because my work experience for the previous 19 years had been in education. I participated in the professional development activities I needed to enhance my skills, I studied the laws and learned a little about running a business, and I hired myself. Is it hard? Yes. Is it worth it? Definitely yes. Is it the best thing for my family right now? Most definitely yes!
If you start it, finish it. And put everything you have into it. My grandfather’s favorite quote for many years was this: “If a task has once begun, never leave it till it’s done. Be the labor great or small, do it well or not at all.” Apparently, he recited it so much during my mother’s childhood, she stills hears it from time to time in her sleep. It’s one of those things that is necessary to hear but so true. As a culture, we’ve become a little lazy an full of procrastination. We make excuses and we sometimes don’t finish the tasks we begin. If you’ve started the paperwork to return to school for an advanced degree, if you’re training for the next half-marathon, if you really know you should saving an additional $500 a month for retirement, stay the course.
We were made to coexist with animals. If there’s one piece of parenting advice I could give, it would be to get a family pet and have the children play equal and appropriate roles in caring for that pet. Over the years we’ve had fish, cats, and dogs since the kids were really little. I’m convinced caring for an animal teaches them to appreciate the value in living species that are different from us as humans. At the farm on Route 3 the pasture was our front and back yard. Cows, horses, chickens, pigs, cats and dogs roamed the land freely. Seeing them interact with each other was normal, and we also understood that the farm was just as much theirs and it was ours. Kind of like the earth we live on, don’t you think?
Sunday is a day of rest. I can remember my grandmother cooking Sunday dinner on Saturday and making sure that we even ironed our church clothes Saturday night because Sunday was a day of rest and praise for the Lord. Our information and technology-driven culture requires that we feel connected and wired all the time. Our brains need to relax. Our bodies need to relax. We need time to unplug and focus on our power source from the universe.
Life is better when it has a little flavor. My grandmother cooked with spices, and she was one of the best cooks I know. My grandfather was also an avid fisherman, and he performed a little ritual by spitting on the bait (I thought that was so gross at the time) to give it “a little flavor.” Fast forward to 2016, my 14-year-old’s new favorite word to describe something fun and exciting is that it’s “spicy.” Flavor makes the world go round. It is fun, it takes us out of the mundane, and it gives us diversity in life.
As the kids and I embark on the magic and adventures of our summer this weekend, I’m glad that we will have the opportunity to spend some time on Route 3 with those whom we love asking the questions of family elders that I should have asked many years ago. We’re documenting this summer project on Pinterest. Click here to follow our journey!
Have you ever lived on a farm? What did you learn from it?