Garden School: Year Two

Garden school is back again this year.  Last year, it was mostly about bringing activities to the garden for Rose to do while I worked. This year, there has been quite a bit more interest from her in actually helping out, so I needed an activity that she could do. I got her started on some hand weeding as in my mind that seemed like a good fit for her. Grabbing and pulling something out of its original place and then throwing it somewhere else - is that not a natural kid activity?

Having grown up a city boy I don't have any background in raising a farm child, so I'm totally guessing much of the time. Unfortunately, hand weeding quickly grew monotonous and tiring for Rose, and the whining began in short order. I happened to be hoeing at the time and Rose wanted to try it, so I gave her my lightest hoe, which turned out to be just right for small hands.

She happily (and effectively) hoed an entire row of zucchini all by herself and then we did a row of lettuce together. So great was her enthusiasm that I promised I would save some hoeing for her for our next Garden School day.

Over the years I've often thought about a particular John Updike poem while hoeing, and have considered posting it many times. My day with Rose brought it to mind again but with an added perspective.


I sometimes fear the younger generation will be deprived
    of the pleasures of hoeing;
    there is no knowing
how many souls have been formed by this simple exercise.

The dry earth like a great scab breaks, revealing
    moist-dark loam—
    the pea-root's home,
a fertile wound perpetually healing.

How neatly the green weeds go under!
    The blade chops the earth new.
    Ignorant the wise boy who
has never rendered thus the world fecunder.

Seeing Rose take so quickly and naturally to hoeing gives another meaning to Updike's "younger generation" that I had never before considered. I had assumed before that he was simply writing about the paradigm shift in farming that happened in the first half of the 20th century, with increasing mechanization and the decline of hand tools like the hoe.

Now I wonder if hoeing was in fact a common child's activity on the farm, an introductory task that got the little ones out and involved in the farm family's primary economy. The era of massive farms controlled by fewer and fewer groups is relatively new, before that and stretching back thousands of years farming was a small scale family business, one that every member of the family participated in as soon as they were physically able. Was hoeing one of the early tasks of a farm kid?

I would be happy to hear from any historians (or grown up farm kids) who might know the answer, but to me it certainly seems like a great activity for the "younger generation" to do, both as an introduction to life on the farm, and as the meditative exercise in nature that Updike eulogizes.