Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Have you read Farmer Boy to your kids lately? I know a family who reads Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books aloud, over and over. Children and parents alike love stories of our American heritage, such as those of farmers and the lifestyle of hard work, self-reliance, and love for the land.

Farmer Boy tells the story of the year in Almanzo Wilder’s childhood when he was nine. He longed to train his father’s beautiful young colts. To prepare him to do this successfully when he was older, his father gave him two calves. Almanzo taught them to pull a wagon in a wooden yoke so they would grow into dependable oxen. In the springtime, he walked behind the harrow pulled by the mares, Bess and Beauty, to break up the lumps in the family’s wheat fields. On stormy winter nights, Almanzo and his father threshed the wheat in the barn using a leather flail. They scooped up the straw with a pitchfork and bagged the fresh wheat, then the oats, the beans, and the peas.

The Wilder farm was one of the most prosperous in upstate New York in 1866. Imagine a barn big enough that Almanzo’s father could drive the whole team and wagon into it to unhitch and unload, sheltered from 40-below winter temperatures. Almanzo’s mother’s butter was so well known for its quality that butter brokers from New York City came early every year to outbid each other for it.

Why might it be important to keep our memories of America’s early farmers alive today? “In Thomas Jefferson’s writings, he alludes to the fact that when people lived independently on small family farms, they thought, acted, and voted independently.” (Shanon Brooks, American, p. 38).

The Romans made the connection between small farmers and national greatness:

“In Virgil, the farmer who works his own land and supports his family is made the building-block of political stability justice, and order, for the values and ethics that farming daily demands – frugality, duty, self-control – are the same ones that create and sustain a participatory political order in which citizens rule rather than aristocratic or plutocratic elites.”

Bruce Thornton, “Founders as Farmers: The Greek Georgic Tradition and the Founders).

Thomas Jefferson wrote that “cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens.” Such people were a majority in 1776 but are the minority in today’s largely urban USA.

To understand the magic, get a copy of Farmer Boy and read it aloud to your children. I think you’ll be amazed and delighted by the questions and conversations it sparks.

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