It’s August and kids will be heading back to school soon. But that doesn’t mean summer fun has to end. We caught up with one mom who made farming part of her children’s learning experience — and found amazing opportunities for education and play all year round.
Stacey Uhorchak shares her experience of going farm to table as her family got to know the people behind their food.
Stacey has three children — two daughters ages 6 and 4, and a son who is 7 months old. A few years ago, she was inspired to try a real food challenge by eating only whole foods like fruits and vegetables, dairy and locally raised meat. Stacey wanted to be more connected to where her food came from, so the family began to frequent the farmers market in Manhattan on weekends.
Mr. Parks of Parks Pasture Pork near Manhattan became a fast favorite. Stacey’s family loved the bacon and pork shoulder so much that one day they headed over to his farm just to see if they could buy more. Mr. Parks and his wife were gracious and showed off the piglets to Stacey’s girls. Stacey became an even bigger fan. “He’s phenomenal,” she says.
Stacey homeschools her oldest daughter and wanted to find ways to engage all of her children in learning.
“I really wanted my children to learn organically and by just being kids,” she says.
Stacey used the visit to the Parks’ farm as an opportunity to talk with her kids about where meat comes from, and that meant talking about life…and death.
“It’s a big word,” she says, “but it’s part of nature. We learn real life lessons.”
Since then they’ve spent a lot of time on farms and in nature, experiencing more life lessons firsthand. They’ve ridden a combine and a tractor. They’ve helped cut hay and gather eggs. They’ve fed and cleaned up after animals.
Stacey loves watching her kids play on the farm, and she was inspired to bring some of that experience home. She and her husband installed a chicken coop and planted a garden in their backyard.
“Going out to the farm gave me the courage to know that I could have chickens in my own backyard,” she says. “It’s really not as intimidating as it seems.”
The hens haven’t started laying eggs yet, but they’ve already given her kids amazing opportunities to be responsible and show initiative. One morning, Stacey was running a little behind and her oldest daughter went out to clean the coop on her own.
“Normally she just holds the bag,” Stacey says with a laugh. “It really showed me that having animals can be wonderful. They are our responsibility. They rely on us.”
In addition to their hands-on time, Stacey reinforces her lessons through books. A few titles she recommends are:
- Farm Anatomy by Julie Rothman
- Nature Anatomy by Julie Rothman
- A Kid’s Guide to Keeping Chickens by Melissa Caughey
- Grow Cook Eat by Willi Galloway
Want to get your own family engaged with the land? Stacey has some great advice:
- Let your kids get dirty: “Let them dig in the dirt and plant random seeds. I had a hard time with this at first, but once I let go, they explored, discovered and learned a lot more.”
- Cook with your kids: “Involving them in their food is amazing! My oldest didn’t used to eat veggies. Her first taste was of green beans she had grown and picked herself. And she loved them! I involve them in the kitchen daily and both my girls can scramble their own eggs start to finish.”
- Look for resources. “Seek out farms that have family days or special interest clubs, or go to the library, get books, and reinforce learning through reading.”
- Last, but not least, when visiting the farm, wear the right kind of shoes. “Shoes you don’t mind getting poop on!”
To help you get started on your own adventure in Kansas — whether during school or your leisure time — here are some helpful resources:
- Schedule a virtual field trip with a Kansas pork farmer for school.
- See if a Sunrise Project program would be a good fit to get your kiddo out in nature.
- Join your local 4-H club
- Take an educational field trip to learn more about agriculture and farming.