Lancer Letter – In Praise of Farming

Submitted by Richard Scaletta, GM School District

I originally wrote this Lancer Letter in 2014 over the Labor Day weekend when I was thinking about one of the hardest working, honorable professions: farming. As work ethic among our young people continues to deteriorate, what I wrote three years ago is even truer.

Let me say up front that I assert no expertise in the area of farming. I grew up in a neighborhood where you could talk with your neighbor across the yard through the living room window. The amount of grass in our yard would fit onto my current patio and we didn’t even have flower beds. When I was young, I learned that watermelon came from seeds so I tried planting one in a patch of hard ground. My grandfather, who sold fruits and vegetables door-to-door, placed a fully grown watermelon in that spot a few days later. For a short period of time, I was duped.

I remember coming to college in Edinboro and reading a book entitled, Snap, Crackle, and Popular Taste for one of my classes The book talked about “eater alienation” which was described by the fact that children in inner cities believed that green beans came from a can, and only a can, with no concept of how they came to be in existence. (By the way, if you’re the former student I loaned the book to decades ago, you can return it now.)

It is no secret that the number of family farms in this country has decreased significantly, bowing to large corporate agricultural ventures. I’ve seen it in my 3.5 decades living in this community. When I started at McLane, we had a Vocational Agricultural program with a fair number of students participating. You could go to Woods Dairy and get your fresh milk in returnable bottles. Local produce was abundant in summer and fall.

As I have worked with business and industry the last few years on the issue of creating a qualified work force, I find it ironic that the qualities sought by employers now are inherently present in students who grow up on a farm. Could it be that our problem finding a qualified work force is simply too few family farms?`

Let’s start with work ethic. How does a child develop work ethic when his only responsibility is deciding which video game to play? Employers want workers who will show up, every day on time, willing to work. You can only develop that habit by giving age-appropriate responsibilities to a child. It has to begin at a young age with children being expected to contribute to the family with family chores. They begin as simple things and become more significant as time goes on. They can’t be contrived or superfluous. Roger W. McIntire, University of Maryland psychology professor and author of Raising Good Kids in Tough Times, says, “A child has to have some responsibilities.”

On a farm, there is ample opportunity for all family members to take part in the work. I have always found the work ethic in students living on a farm to be off the charts. They do their chores in the morning before school and again in the evening. They also are usually the most responsible students in the classroom, having complete homework and good study habits.

The second inherent quality I’ve noticed in students who live on a farm is good time management skills. As I mentioned, they take on large responsibilities at home but that does not keep them from meeting their responsibilities as a student nor does it keep them from participating in extra-curricular activities. I’ve always been amazed to see how gracefully these students handle their multiple roles and responsibilities.

If you were to check the backgrounds of the Apollo astronauts of the 1960’s, you would find that most of them came from Midwestern farms. That is not a fluke. NASA knew that people who grow up on a farm are good problem solvers. Getting the tractor out of the mud, figuring out how to rig a hoist to move a heavy object or creating a structure to solve a problem are issues that take creative problem solving and usually a working knowledge of trigonometry and physics.

It has been my observation that students raised on a farm also have outstanding personal qualities. They are respectful, mature, caring and humble. They know how to treat people. They understand proper decorum and manners. They know how to be part of a team. In the career education field, we’ve given this a fancy term of “soft skills.”

One of our athletic competitors to the north seems to think it is an insult to refer to us as “farmers.” So, we are being told we have good work ethic, time management skills, problem solving technique and sought-after soft skills. I say, “Thanks for the compliment!”

This week, I give a big shout out to our local farming families. Thank you for what you do for our society and thank you for the wonderful students you have given our district.

The Lancer Letter is a weekly editorial by Richard Scaletta, Superintendent of Schools, General McLane School District. Opinions expressed are Mr. Scaletta’s views on the issues and subjects of discussion, and not necessarily those of or our sponsors.

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