For the last year and a half, we’ve been a practicing “agricultural tradeschool” here at Runamuk. We were already leaning towards a return to homeschooling before the onslaught of COVID-19. Then, when the virus swept the nation and children everywhere were suddenly home-bound. While some parents struggled with having their children home fulltime on an extended vacation, I saw it an opportunity on many levels. This is the story of how the Runamuk Acres Conservation Farm became the center of an agricultural tradeschool for my son, BraeTek, what that looks like, how it works, and why it was the best thing that could have happened to our family.
Trouble at School
Once upon a time, I homeschooled both my boys and enjoyed it very much indeed. My older son, William, was reading by the age of 3. My younger son, BraeTek (pronounced Bray-tek), was very a very active and talkative young boy, and did well at home too. At 7 though, BraeTek wanted to attend public school to make some friends. At that point, William’s autism was beginning to cause friction between the 2 boys, so we opted to allow BraeTek to join 2nd grade at the local public school.
That went well enough for a while, however, as the years went by, BraeTek seemed to struggle increasingly with the public school system. He had an innate sense of fairness, and was unable to sit idly by whenever he perceived some injustice at school. I would often get calls from school about his behavior, or some scuffle he’d been in.
BraeTek also wrestled with the pace inside the classroom. He just could not seem to keep up with the teacher, or with his peers. He was easily distracted, and struggled with handwriting. This all affected his self-esteem in a terrible way, and my spunky little boy became very down on himself as he entered adolescence.
The issues at school were escalating, with high school not far off. I knew I had to do something to help BraeTek. At that point, I toyed with the idea of returning to homeschooling with him. However, I was hesitant because of my workload as a solo-farmer. I worried that I would not be able to do justice to my son’s education.
Then covid hit, and like so many kids across the nation, BraeTek was suddenly home full-time. I saw what public schooling, and my own lack of hands-on involvement had done to my little boy. He was absorbed in his phone, wanting nothing more than to be online every moment of every day. His attitude was piss-poor, he was angry, irritable, and downright rude. Worst of all, he was lazy.
I’ve seen the same attitude, internet-obsession, and laziness in other teens and young adults today. I vowed then and there that my son was not going to grow up to be like that. And that was the beginning of some very big changes in my household.
I decided to combine schooling and farm-work to give my son a well-rounded education. I’ve dubbed it: “agricultural tradeschool”. BraeTek can learn at his own pace, study things that he is actually interested in, learn important life skills, and most importantly (in my opinion), learn to work. I can’t help feeling that just learning how to work, how to use his body and his hands, and developing a willingness to put in the time and effort, is going to be a huge asset for BraeTek.
I invested in Holt’s Environmental Science text books, both the student and the teacher’s editions, but for the most part, I’m not using any formal curriculum. Instead, I track down free printable worksheets online for math and language arts. We use the community library for reading material, and watch documentaries together for history.
It’s easiest for me to coordinate schooling with my baking days, when I’m relegated to the kitchen anyway. Those days I am able to be close at hand to guide BraeTek’s learning, answering any questions that might crop up. We do school year-round, working on academics 2 or 3 days a week during in the winter months, and just 1 day a week during the summer. He gets an academic vacation during planting season, and gets holidays off entirely. It’s a flexible system, and works really well with our farming life.
At first, BraeTek was fairly resistant to working and to learning under Mum’s tutelage. Like many other teenagers these days, my son would much rather spend his time alone in his room watching videos online. He dragged his feet everywhere he went, moving so slowly I would want to scream, lol. Even with the simplest of tasks he would complain that it was “too hard”, and he wouldn’t really try to work. There would be a big show of how “difficult” the project was, followed by some display of anger and aggression. This was mostly because he didn’t want to be bothered, but also because he just did not know how to use his hands or his body to do any kind of real work.
When it came to schoolwork, he would rush through the assignment so that his handwriting was illegible. I would get a snarky answer, or he would skip some questions entirely. There were some pretty big gaps in his education because he hadn’t been able to keep up in school. He’d just been passed along from one grade to the next, never really learning the basics. Because of this, he steadfastly clung to the idea that he was stupid and worthless.
We weren’t very far into the summer, when it occurred to me that BraeTek might work a little more willingly with some sort of incentive. He’s always been the entrepreneurial type, selling first lemonade and then dog biscuits beside me at the farmers’ market beginning at the age of 9. I offered him $5 a day, or $25 a week. Eagerly, he accepted the opportunity to earn his own money.
It’s a pittance, I know. I wish I could give him more. He is the only one receiving a paycheck here, however. Even $100 a month is a lot for Runamuk to finance at this stage in the farm’s development. For a 14 year old though, $100 a month is a decent chunk of change, and BraeTek is happy with the arrangement. He knows that if we work hard, he will get a raise when the farm is more financially solvent.
I’ve been able to use the promise of a paycheck to elicit better work effort from BraeTek on all levels. When we first made the deal, however, he seemed to be under the impression that the $25 a week was guaranteed regardless of how he worked or behaved. I had to explain to him that this is a lot of money for the farm. As the farmer, I have to be able to justify the expense. If he didn’t work, he didn’t get paid. If I got a piss-poor attitude, I had every right to suspend or fire him. If he broke equipment because he was cranky that he had to work, I would dock his pay to cover the cost of the repairs or replacements. This is the real world, and this is how it works.
Conversely, BraeTek also has the opportunity to earn bonuses. For going above and beyond what I’ve asked of him, I’ll slip him some extra cash. For doing exemplary work, he can earn some extra money. When a customer emailed to tell me how polite and helpful he was with them, I made sure to thank him and rewarded him with a bonus to his weekly paycheck. This incentive has made all the difference.
As we’ve practiced this version of agricultural tradeschool over the course of the last year, I have seen a wonderful transformation in my son. There’s been a complete reversal in his attitude. His self-esteem has improved, along with his confidence. He’s developed a willingness to work, and strives to be productive every day. He learns new skills with an eye towards future independence. Best of all, working and learning together on the farm has greatly improved our relationship.
Does he want to be a farmer when he grows up? Lol, not at the moment, but he does see the benefit in learning the skills to be self-sufficient. Regardless of what his future might hold, BraeTek knows already that he wants to keep the house, and that’s something to build on. All in all, I couldn’t be happier with the way things have turned out. I am grateful to have such an opportunity with my son, and none of this would have been possible if I weren’t able to be here every day doing what I do best─farming.
Thank you for following along with the story of this #femalefarmer! It truly is my privilege to be able to live this life, serve my family and community, and to protect wildlife through agricultural conservation. Check back soon for more stories from Runamuk Acres, and be sure to follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram or Facebook! Much love, my friend!!