In Part 1 of Emma Jagoz’s story, we learned how Emma’s interest in societal concerns led her to start a farm. That’s half of the story; the other half is her commitment to her kids.
“I very purposefully jumped into farming because I thought it was a great way to raise kids. I think that kids need a lot of time outside. I think nature teaches kids about life and death, about change, about patience, about humility, about acceptance, and so much more. On a basic level, farming for me was the constant excuse to have my kids outside, and I think that being outside is the most important thing.”
“I was and am determined to have my kids know where food comes from,” says Emma. “I don’t want their answer to be ‘the grocery store’ when asked that question. I want them to know what a living chicken looks like and how they need sunlight and grass and a straw-filled home to be raised properly. I want them to not only know how carrots grow but how carrots taste different in the summer versus the fall, and how to store them for the winter. I think that having a basic knowledge of how life works, what food is ripe in what season, and how we as humans can interact with the earth for mutual benefits, is our job as parents.
“I couldn’t think of a better way to provide that for my children than having them grow up on a farm. They’ve done everything with me; they know how compost works, they know how to start seeds, transplant, weed, how to care for chickens, how to wash and store produce, they’ve watched me troubleshoot mechanical problems and building problems, and they know how to cook with the food we grow.”
Emma’s five-year-old daughter seems to have a love of both growing things and picking them for huge bouquets she carries around. She’s able to identify what’s what in the garden and growing wild, and when I first met her, she was devouring purslane she found growing wild. A lot of adults don’t know what purslane is—and I had to have this little one show me what it looked like growing wild—so it seemed remarkable to me when she squealed, “I love purslane!”
Emma’s son, aged seven, has a talent for cooking. Recently he cooked dinner for his family: stir-fried tofu and cooked carrots. He chopped the carrots himself and seasoned them with salt, pepper, thyme and a pinch of sugar. “They were delicious!” reports Emma. After he cooks, he analyzes his seasonings, thinking what worked and what didn’t. He loves to eat what he cooks, and he encourages his sister to try things, too—a gift for any parent. Did I mention that he’s seven years old?
“For me,” says Emma, “I think that the main benefit of raising my kids on the farm is the peace of mind that I did what I could in order to accomplish my goals of raising my kids outside and have them be aware of how food and life works. I know there are drawbacks to raising my kids while hustling to grow a business that makes enough money for me to justify all the hours spent doing it, but I try not to dwell on that for the same reasons. I did my best to provide my kids with the environment that I strongly believed they needed to be healthy, safe, happy, and well-informed about how life works, and I think raising them on the farm accomplished that.”
Kids are kids
Anyone who has spent time around children knows how much they like to be included, and heard. This is my positive way of saying that kids require a lot of attention. During my first visit with Emma, her daughter, now five, was with us. As we talked, there were regular interjections of Mommy!… Mommy!…Hi Mommy!…When can I go inside? I was in awe of Emma’s masterful parenting skills as she sweetly gave her daughter the attention she needed while also gently redirecting her and taking a firm stand on going inside.
Says Emma, “yeah, the kids get stuck and a little bored and they can’t think of something to do, and they hassle you for a little bit. But then they find something to do and they’re fine.” As if to illustrate the point, we can hear her daughter at high volume in the background: What… can… I …do?
Emma marvels at single, childless people and their capacity. “Like, wow, you have your whole brain to yourself! All the time! At the same time, I’m not sure I would have had as much motivation without the kids. It’s hard to say. Because I see people all the time busying themselves with other things, but I’m so focused because I need to prove something to them, to provide for them, to show them good work ethics. In a lot of ways they also make my schedule better. I don’t go out to any parties. Ever. Because I have to put them to bed. And so, like, I go to bed early, and that helps me to be able to get up early.”
She’ll often be outside in the pre-dawn morning, working by the light of a headlamp before the kids get up. Her schedule revolves around the kids, laughing that “you always have to feed them!” She also laughs that she thinks of kids as large mammalian pests in the garden. One time, one of her children pulled up a whole row of carrots and ate them. So now she factors a certain amount of child scavenging into her garden planning. She also created a little garden just for them to fool around with.
Kids in the moment
I asked Emma for her thoughts on the differences between farm and non-farm kids, and with characteristic practical wisdom, she answered, “I’m not going to pretend that I know all the ways in which my kids are different than other people’s kids for growing up on a farm. I don’t, and I’m not sure that those kind of gross generalizations are helpful to parents—it just contributes to parent guilt, which is a dangerous thing for the minds of parents.”
Yeah, I know about that parent guilt; I’m pretty much the master.
There are times, for me, when hanging out with little kids can be much more satisfying than being around grown-ups. They are so in the moment. Without drawing any generalizations, I will say that it’s especially delightful to be outside with kids who have grown up with a close relationship to nature, and to watch them interact with the environment around them instead of a TV or computer screen.
Here are a few snippets of farm-kid adorability: On one of my visits, Emma and the kids and I went to the neighbor’s field to remove swallowtail caterpillars from the fennel and to eat some radishes. Emma’s son only wanted to eat the white radishes, so if he pulled out a non-white one, he stuck it back in the ground. “It should be fine—the roots are still intact!”
Emma’s daughter was off running and collecting another huge bouquet of wild things, singing “Dancing in the moonlight!” She ran up to her mom, hugged her tightly, and said, “I will never forget you!” (How random, and how sweet!) Later, back up near the barn where people were coming to pick up their CSA share, her daughter very pointedly asked Emma, “Do you have any rabbit trouble?” Imagine a high-pitched voice sounding more like “Do you have any wabbit trouble?”
Her son, meanwhile, was busy making a plan for getting rain: “Get a giant flying bulldozer, and then fly it up and find the clouds, and then push the rain clouds over here.”
Sounds like a good plan to me.
Next week, a look at the surprising way Emma has acquired land and been able to grow the farm.