Families coming together on Ont. farms

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School and childcare closures present challenges, but also give kids the opportunity to help out more on the farm

By Jackie Clark

As part of the provincial government’s strategy to decrease the spread of COVID-19 throughout the province, public schools and large childcare centres are closed to students until at least May 4, and private schools and daycares until at least April 13. Closures will be re-evaluated as those dates come closer, but for the time being, many children of farmers are home at the farm full time.

Barend van Lindenberg is a dairy and cash crop farmer in Renfrew County, and his four children are lending a hand on the farm.

“They’re helping out a little bit more at night to feed calves,” van Lindenberg told Farms.com. Working with the animals helps them learn a little about biology, but also “teaches them responsibility.”

Completing small tasks or chores on the farm helps kids develop a good work ethic and ambition to get dirty and make sure jobs are done correctly, he said.

Although having everyone at home full time is not without its challenges.

“The kids get on each other’s nerves a bit more,” van Lindenberg said.

Mark McLean agreed that the situation has presented some challenges. He manages the field cropping side of BruceLea Poultry Farm Ltd. in Bruce County. His wife Sarah works full time in telecommunications, currently from home, and they have three children.

The family experienced some disappointment when social outings and sporting events were cancelled, and spending all day together can create some frustrations.

“We’re spending more time trying to keep everybody occupied and happy,” McLean told Farms.com. “There are definitely challenges … but we’re actually starting to get better than we were a couple weeks ago when (school and workplace closures) first started.”

The McLean family has been working and learning together.

“My wife is working from home now too,” McLean said. “She’s trying to do the schoolwork with the kids, but a lot of practical learning goes on (at home and on the farm). I think the kids retain it better.”

McLean’s oldest son accompanied him doing some field work and helped with the basic calculations of how much product they would need to spray a certain sized field at a specified rate.

Sarah McLean designs cooking projects for the kids along with their formal school lessons.

“They learn how to follow directions … they’re learning life skills right now,” McLean said.

Some farm work can be dangerous so “it’s important to be cautious and safe with (children). I think it’s important for kids to be involved to see what goes on … we’ve got to be smart about it,” he explained.

In agriculture “just observing half the time, you learn so much,” he added. And when the kids can try tasks for themselves “just like 4-H, you learn to do by doing.”

The early spring has helped the family to get outside, and spring jobs on the farm aren’t as hurried as usual.

“The nice part about the spring so far, with it not being so rushed, is you can take time to explain, to show what you’re doing and why,” McLean said.

Van Lindenberg and Marie Shea also found that their kids have inquisitive minds around the work they see their parents doing.

Marie Shea runs a beef, sheep, and crop operation in Bethany, a village in Kawartha Lakes, with her husband Adam, and they have four children.

“It’s interesting because my eldest is almost seven, and sometimes she’ll ask something and I’m like ‘I don’t know why I do it that way.’ It’s kind of refreshing,” Shea told Farms.com

The farm is “extra busy right now because we’re calving as well,” she explained. And having the kids around full time “does make things a bit slower because we have to stop for lots of snacks.”

The children have specified roles in the barn. The eldest makes sure cows have feed and water, and the second oldest helps to feed lambs, Shea explained. The amount of time they’re spending on the farm has “definitely increased, because before they wouldn’t come to the farm at all during the week.”

Through helping with the animals “there are always lots of learning opportunities,” she added. It’s also an opportunity to learn responsibility. “They realize that the animals have to be a priority.”

Shea, and the other farmers that spoke with Farms.com, expressed gratitude that their families were able to go through this uncertain time on the farm together.

“I’m very thankful for the farm because I think we’d be driving each other stir-crazy if we didn’t have something to be doing,” Shea said. The situation “has really opened my eyes to how much they can do, how responsible they can be.”

Life can get hectic, and though the COVID-19 pandemic is certainly nothing to be celebrated, it has forced people to slow down, McLean said. He feels fortunate that he and his wife are still able to work.

Taking on childcare on top of working from home and a busy planting or calving season on the farm is definitely a challenge, but it also gives farm kids unique opportunities to learn, grow and appreciate the work their family does for the rest of society.

The current situation “brings everybody back to basics,” McLean said.

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