…to the irony of the fact that I’ve auditioned for a reality TV show almost exactly a year after posting this piece ridiculing the whole phenomenon. I’m not sure my lapse rises to the level of hypocrisy, but it’s uncomfortable. Still, doing a reality show isn’t actually an immoral act, and one expects an author to play the buffoon a bit, if it will sell some books. At least in our time.
I was all ready to write a scathing post about kids working on farms, when word came out that the Labor Department has quickly withdrawn its proposal to outlaw agricultural chores for children under 16.
But I am not one to be deterred by mere real world events.
I’m not going to rhapsodize about my childhood among the chickens and cows. If you’ve followed this blog, you’ve guessed that it wasn’t Little House on the Prairie for me. If I grew up to be a slacker and a layabout, it’s partly because my farm childhood was an unusual and dysfunctional one.
But I see the value of a proper farm childhood every day. The Bible school I work for is perhaps one of the purest pools of rural youth in our metropolitan area. Most of our students come from our historical center of gravity, northwestern Minnesota and eastern North Dakota, with a lot of farm kids from other places as well. We’re not immune to demographics, of course. We have lots of city kids. But if you’re looking for a kid who grew up getting up at 5:00 a.m. to milk the cows, our school is a good place to look.
And people do. Our students generally have little trouble finding part-time jobs to pay their way through school. The word is out in the western suburbs—AFLBS students are better workers than kids from, say, the University of Minnesota.
This is one thing that worries me about the future. Agriculture is changing, and in many ways the changes are good. Food is cheaper, which helps the poor, for one thing. But efficiency means bigger farms, which means fewer farm families.
Throughout the history of the republic, we’ve had an inexhaustible supply of farm kids who were sick to death of Ma and Pa and the cows and the pigs, and dreamed of a better life in the city. They’ve carried their farm-bred work ethic into the cities and helped to make American industry the envy of the world. When they went to war, they were objects of marvel to Europeans and South Sea Islanders. When they went into politics, they tended to be moderately honest, at least at first.
We’re losing that supply of farm kids. All the kids are city kids nowadays, even if they grew up in small towns.
It troubles me.
But then everything troubles me.