When you grow up in the city, thinking about growing up on a farm seems really different, almost like something out of a novel or a history book. Farm life carries a mystique of hard work and strong family values, early mornings, and the smell of fresh hay. Wanting to learn a bit more about what it is like to raise a family on a farm and how farmers teach their kids about work and values, I caught up with Oralie Smith. She and her husband, Jackson, are raising their 8 sons on their dairy farm in Northern Utah.
As one of 11 children, Jackson Smith grew up farming, and when the couple got married, they knew that having a large family was what they wanted. They felt that a dairy was a really good place to raise kids – good opportunities to be outside and work.
What are some of the benefits of raising your kids on a farm?
I feel like our kids have really learned how to work, and we’ve been able to teach them about managing money. Each of them has chores and there are real consequences to not getting them done – someone else will have to pick up the slack or the animals suffer for it, so it has taught them responsibility.
Our kids get paid for the work they do on the farm, which has enabled us to teach them about money from a really early age.
Money and financial discussions can be uncomfortable at any stage of life, how do you talk to your kids about money?
We just always talk about it. Our kids start out with age-appropriate chores when they are about 6 years old. At that point, I cash their pay check for them into small bills that they can count. I have them count the money back to me, and then we talk about splitting it up. 10% gets set aside for the church, half of what’s left gets set aside for savings and the reminder gets put into an envelope as spending money. When they are young, they are especially proud of their earnings and my little ones count out the bills in their envelope frequently. Sometimes they will spend it on something I would consider frivolous, but they have earned it and it is their money to spend.
Our conversation changes a bit when the kids turn 12. As their responsibilities change, their pay increases, but we also expect them to pick up some of their own expenses – things like fees / equipment for sports teams they are interested in joining, or more name-brand school clothes. Our goal is to teach them about paying for things that will become bills in the future.
When the boys turn 15 or 16, the conversation changes again as responsibilities include things like a car, gas money, school lunch…
Do you ever have tough financial conversations with your kids?
Absolutely! Sometimes big things happen. One of our sons had an engine blow up on his car, another got a traffic ticket, and another got in a little fender bender. This is when we talk about pulling money out of their savings account to cover these unexpected costs.
This isn’t necessarily a tough conversation, but sometimes it’s just tough for me as a mom. My boys reach 15 or 16 and I realize that they don’t need me much anymore – they have money in the bank, they can pay for their own dates, their car, school-related things. I guess that’s the point of all of this, but you always want to be a mom :)
Since your kids have a real and important role on the farm, how involved are they in other extra curricular activities like sports?
All of the boys have played a little T-ball and soccer. If they express an interest in taking it to the next level, like wanting to join a traveling team, we’ll have a talk about priorities. If they make the sport choice, they likely won’t have time to work on the farm and earn money. Almost all of them have chosen the farm. The biggest thing for us is that we give the boys a chance to make their own choices. They are all into horses, and that’s something that keeps them on the farm.
I know your boys each have a dog. Can you tell me a little about that?
When our boys turn 8 years old, they each get a dog. Jackson really wanted each of the kids to have the opportunity to have their own animal. As a perk to living and working on the farm we supply all of the food for the animals, but each of our boys is responsible for caring for his own dog. Jackson has encouraged them to get a female so that they could breed her and sell the puppies to make money. As they get older, they usually get another dog for hunting. Now we have a bunch of dogs, but the boys have done really well with them.
Have any of your kids expressed an interest in coming back to the farm to work and/or raise their families?
Our oldest son just got married, so we are just getting to that point, but we start talking about this from the time they are young. If the kids want to come back to the farm, we want them to go away first, gain some life experience, learn about having a different employer than their parents, and bring something back to the farm that is new (i.e., a new way of feeding). Some of the kids have laid out a plan. Our goal is to have them come back to the farm excited with fresh and new ideas to keep the dairy progressive and able to provide for all of the families involved.
Do you run the farm any differently knowing that some of the kids may come back to raise their families?
We are always looking ahead and asking ourselves the question: ‘When the kids graduate, how will the farm benefit them and their families in the future.’ I think that helps keep us from getting stagnant and set in a rut. We always want to be progressive.
Do you feel like you have any unique challenges to raising your kids on the farm?
I don’t think we do. Whenever I talk to friends, whether they live in the city or on another farm, I recognize that we all experience the same issues as parents. We all try to teach our kids how to be appreciative, how to work, how to pick up things. I don’t think we are any different.
But what about the fact that you have 8 boys, how do you manage just the day-to-day household chores like cooking and cleaning?
Laughs…We have to buy a lot of food and we have really big pans! Sometimes if I bring brownies to a social function, friends can’t believe the size of the pan. But likewise I look at their tiny pan and wonder who that would feed!
As far as laundry – I try to take care of all of it during the week so I can take the weekend off.
A favorite recipe that is always a hit at BBQs:
Baked Bean (Or 3 Bean Casserole)
- 1 lb browned hamburger
- 1 onion
- bacon (optional)
- 1 can pork and beans
- 1 can butter beans
- 1 can kidney beans
- 1 can black beans or garbanzo
- 3/4 cup ketchup
- 2 Tbsp vinegar
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp mustard
Add everything to crock pot and cook until thickened and hot; usually a few hours on low. This recipe can be doubled and will still fit in a large crock pot.
Note: Can add green pepper if desired and can also mix in different combinations of beans
Kristi Spence, VP Communications Dairy Council UT/NV conducted this interview. Though she has been living in Utah for the past 10 years, and working for dairy farmers for the past 4, Kristi grew up in Los Angeles.