June 28 2023 09:18 AM

I learned a lot of lessons early on by growing up as a farm kid. And I didn’t truly appreciate them all until now.

Ah, farm kids. We’re the best, aren’t we? I may be biased, but also maybe I’m not. I’ve had countless people tell me they love hiring farm kids, at any age, because of their work ethic and integrity. When I was younger, I was actually a bit bitter about it. While my friends’ chores included cleaning their room and loading the dishwasher, I had to milk cows and scrape stalls. It took me over 30 years to appreciate it, but farm kids truly live some of the best childhoods. Ironically, it also makes us grow up fast.

Even though my chores still felt annoyingly like chores, they had a purpose. I never once thought, “What’s the point of this? No one’s going to care whether I do my chores or not.” That’s because I wasn’t making my bed; I was feeding calves. It gave me a sense of purpose at a very young age. I had responsibilities that most of my friends wouldn’t experience until they were in their 20s. It showed me that there are times to put others’ needs before my own.

Being a farm kid taught me about life and death. By the time I was eight, a newborn calf wasn’t cool anymore. I remember sullenly sitting on the ground while a small group of my friends couldn’t tear their eyes away from a cow that was calving. I wanted to play Nintendo. I knew before I was ten that there were times you had to make a decision or a cow could die. I’ll never forget the first time I helped my dad perform a C-section. The cow dropped dead, of what we’re assuming was some sort of heart attack, the day before she was due. Thanks to my dad’s quick thinking and my help, her calf lived on. I knew the value of keeping your head during a panicky situation. Making quick decisions and problem solving under stressful circumstances are now things I’m comfortable with because I’m a farm kid.

When I took drivers ed, my instructor actually thanked me at the end of our last driving session. He said he loved teaching the Peters kids because he could actually sit and enjoy the ride, knowing we knew how to handle a vehicle. Yet another point for the farm kids.

Lastly, and perhaps the most obvious, I learned how to work. I learned that when people or animals are counting on you, you walk through fire to not let them down. I learned that the cows always eat first, and that there’s an intense satisfaction that comes at the end of a hard, exhausting day. Now that I’m older and dealing with hiring people to help on the farm, I’ve never appreciated that work ethic more.

One of the things I’m most proud of is that in spite of all the growing up we did at such a young age, my brothers and I have somehow kept that silly, sometimes idiotic, childlike fun about us. I can concurrently hold a conversation about milk fever prevention while ranking my favorite Muppets. It’s Gonzo, by the way. Why would it be anyone but Gonzo?

Jessica Peters

The author dairies in partnership with her parents and brother at Spruce Row Farm in Pennsylvania. Jessica is a graduate of Pennsylvania State University, and since 2015, she has been active in promoting dairy in her local community. You can find her and her 250 Jersey cows on Facebook at Spruce Row Dairy or on Instagram at @seejessfarm.