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A lesson on the farm

Published 9:37pm Thursday, November 15, 2012

At a research farm in the southern portion of Suffolk Thursday, I stepped out of the car to a distinct feeling of déjà vu.

Literally hundreds of second-graders from Suffolk’s public schools were running around excitedly, not after drinking too much soda — at least I think not — but reveling in the opportunity to connect with the land.

I grew up on a farm, and the scene reminded me of how fortunate I am to have done so. In every smiling face I saw something of my own self a quarter-century ago.

The field trip, I was told, was designed to teach children about where the food they eat comes from, and about the importance of caring for the environment.

You can’t raise wheat, corn or cows in a parking lot or eat fish from a polluted lake, and the earlier children learn that, the better.

Though I spent the first 20 years of my life on a farm, less a few years of boarding school and college, I’ve also lived in some of the biggest cities.

In those cities were multitudes of people who have never depended on the gods of weather for their livelihoods or consumed any morsel of food they grew themselves, plant or animal.

And as time goes by, I feel my connection to the land dimming bit by bit; if I had to wake up tomorrow and run a farm the way my father and ancestors did, I wouldn’t know where to start.

The second-graders Thursday experienced a series of stations on different farm-related things, rotating from one to the next.

There are some things I can recommend to help the kids keep up the connection, instead of going home and being disconnected from the land again.

Start a vegetable patch. Doesn’t have to be big — a couple of square feet is enough to yield the experience of growing something. So is a pot or two on the back steps. As long as they have soil, sunlight and water, they’ll grow something.

You can also read labels on the things you buy at the grocery store. That mince — what breed of cow was it? Was it an American or Brazilian cow? Were those tomatoes grown in a greenhouse or, where most tomatoes in Virginia come from, on the Eastern Shore?

The industrial revolution has seen an exodus of people living on the land to towns and cities, where we might enjoy more material wealth but we’ve lost things that are priceless. It was nice to see some Suffolk kids getting a little of that back.

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