The sense of wonder

One of the great joys of farming is involving children in the work. Our kids are a big part of everything we do, from tilling to making seed beds, seeding and weeding, picking off the bugs, and of course harvesting. Kouta and Momoko get their afternoon snack fresh from the cherry tomato vine—for them, nothing tastes better than fresh picked tomatoes and cucumbers under a shade tree on a hot July afternoon. We’ve noticed that our son can’t say no to any vegetable he himself has grown—it’s too much a part of him. And it gives us something to talk about at the dinner table—“Remember how tiny those daikon seeds were? Look what a big radish they made!” “We picked three kinds of tomatoes today—can you close your eyes and taste the difference?” “Why do pole beans grow on a pole, but bush beans like to stay in bushes?” There was a popular book in Japan called “The rice paddy is a classroom,” discussing how much learning can take place in a rice field—biology, science, math, literature and language, art, PE, social studies, home economics—practically no subject was unrelated to the seemingly simple art of planting, tending, and harvesting a small plot of rice by hand.

After we read a book on bees together, my son is out in the kabocha squash patch at dawn, watching the bees collect nectar and spread pollen in the big yellow flowers, then looking back into the nearby woods, trying to find which hollow tree may house the hive. Some of our family’s best times together are spent doing the evening chores, working until well past dark and usually finishing with flashlights—the work is hard sometimes, but imagining the big world full of wonder and discovery that the farm is for our children makes it much more than simply worthwhile.

One of the best books on child rearing we’ve ever read—although it’s more of a book of “adult rearing”—is The Sense of Wonder, Rachel Carson’s last book, published in 1965. Here is an excerpt, something we try to keep in mind every day as we go about our vegetable work:

“A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood… If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.

“I sincerely believe that for the child, and for the parent seeking to guide him, it is not half so important to know as to feel. If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow. The years of early childhood are the time to prepare the soil. Once the emotions have been aroused—a sense of the beautiful, the excitement of the new and the unknown, a feeling of sympathy, pity, admiration or love—then we wish for knowledge about the object of our emotional responses. Once found, it has lasting meaning. It is more important to pave the way for the child to want to know than to put him on a diet of facts he is not ready to assimilate.”