10 Qualities You Gain From Growing Up in Rural America
As a native of Stuart, Nebraska, population 592, with a graduating senior class of 21 in addition to spending many weekends and summers working on my grandparent's cattle ranch, I’ve experienced my fair share of rural life.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "life is a succession of lessons, which must be lived to be understood." Here are ten lessons which I, and a host of other rural farm and ranch kids, learned at a young age from our unique experiences.
10 lessons bestowed of a rural lifestyle:
Growing up on a farm or ranch likely meant you were raised with conservative, small-town, christian values. You were taught the golden rule not only at home, but also in school. “Please” and “thank you” were likely some of your first words, and your parents constantly reminded you to use them until they became habit.
You were raised with a small group of friends and it’s not likely you were the best at everything. One of you was probably the athlete, another the livestock show champion, someone else was known for excelling in school; but, you all got along and appreciated one another’s strengths and congratulated and respect each other’s unique talents and interests.
A limited selection of people your age meant you couldn’t be picky about your friends. The kids you went to daycare with are likely the same ones you sat next to during primary, middle, and high school. Some of them may have been your own cousins, members of the same church, neighbors, and children of your parents friends and coworkers.
There was no avoiding these people, you were stuck seeing and interacting with them for 18 full years. This meant you grew to appreciate one another for your differences. Your parents and teachers made you work out your problems with other kids in your community. Sure, you didn’t like or agree with every one of your schoolmates; however, you knew to respect their opinions, and treat them with decency no matter how different they may have looked, acted, or differed from your own beliefs.
Even though rural, farm-raised people often have the least to give, they often give the most. Giving isn’t always in the form of money, and being raised on a farm you know that. When your elderly neighbor lady was snowed in her driveway, you dug her out without expecting anything in return. A catastrophic storm went through multiple friends’ farms, and you were there with equipment and an able body picking up the pieces. When family visited from out of town, you gave up your bed for the couch so they were comfortable. No matter how hard times were, something always went in the offering plate at church; and dad donated his time, year after year, at the annual fundraiser. Even with all the heartache you caused your teachers in school, they gave you (and each of your classmates) a graduation gift.
Even within your small community, there were other small communities: your classmates, extended family, church family, various organizations in- and out-of-school. These relationships instilled in you a love for close, personal relationships and for working together for a cause or common interest.
Some of the best memories from growing up include attending conventions and camps with your friends, working cattle with your family, helping your family put up hay and harvest crops each year. The church camps were tolerable and even anticipated because you knew you’d be with like company. And, fundraisers like Girl Scout cookies, Boys Scout popcorn, or FFA fruit always involved friendly competition and the money you raised benefitted a greater cause.
The farm or ranch you grew up on is likely somewhat to extremely remote. Even if you were relatively close to a bigger city you probably felt secluded from time-to-time. While growing up you likely traveled some distance to school, buy groceries or have an evening out at a restaurant. Maybe you were so remote your family often relied on mail-order catalogs to buy clothes and had to take semi-regular trips to grocery stores in the city to “stock up.”
Whatever the case, you often worked alone. Although this can be maddening for some, the occasional day of fixing fence alone, cleaning stalls, baling hay, or planting corn - for you - is a welcome invitation for self-reflection and peace.
These times afford the opportunity to reflect on what you appreciated about life and where you want to go. (or maybe, if we’re honest, who you want to become or who you want to ask on a date.)
Freedom / Independence
Freedom goes hand-in-hand with the solitude you experience working and being alone on your farm or ranch. There are not many jobs where you can be miles from your boss or coworkers or cut off from all communications if cell reception is low.
When you sought solitude you often drove an ATV or rode horses to a nearby pasture and reflected on life, or maybe you chose to work on a day you could have taken off because you enjoy the work. It was easy to get away from the noise of the city or the chattering of family in your house. You appreciated having the freedom to choose how to spend your day on the farm or choosing the details on how to work through an assigned task.
Working with animals and equipment in a rural setting required you to be creative with how you fixed some unfortunate circumstances. Bailing wire and duct tape were frequently used tools for temporary fixes.
And, let’s be honest, finding activities to keep us entertained in small-town America isn’t always easy - especially if you have some rest and relaxation time on the weekends or summer. Fun with friends likely involved mudding with ATV’s, horseback rides, swimming in the local water feature, or coming up with something totally unique like maybe donkey basketball or bathtub races?!
You were raised around situations many don’t experience until later in life. You learned the heartache of loss at a young age. You were asked to work and be an “employee” at an age most other kids were just learning how to clip their own fingernails. You completed challenging tasks like controlling a horse, leading a cow, gathering a herd, stapling wire to a post, and sitting on a hot cabless tractor for hours at a time before city kids crossed the street alone. Remember the uncle who was always hard on you and maybe even made you cry when you made silly mistakes or the high expectations your dad set for you? Those people and experiences built your “grit” and helped you to “dig in” when the world seemed to be against you.
As you got older, your parents may gave you sole responsibility for halter breaking a show animal, choosing genetics for your herd, or picking out and funding a new horse. Although nerve wracking and frustrating at times, these experiences grew your own independence and fortitude at a rate much faster than your peers raised in town.
How many times were you invited out for an evening or weekend with friends but had to turn them down because you had chores and other responsibilities? Your friends may not have understood you or your time commitments but you knew you were building something that was going to grow and be something bigger and better in the future. You learned to keep your eye on the prize and sacrificed short-term desires for bigger and better long-term results.
As part of a farm or ranch family, you probably grew up with more space, freedom, solitude, etc., but you also experienced less free time, less capability to have regular family vacations, or opportunities to spend with family off the farm. You learned the value free time, a dollar, the value of a father taking time off to spend with his family, and of life.
Yes, farm life comes with its fair share of loss: pets, the livestock your family relied upon, and the show animals you devoted tireless hours raising, breaking, and nurturing.
All the above learnings from throughout the formative years of your life allowed you to becomean adult with a strong will and a truck-bed full of perseverance. The amassed learnings of humility, creativity, solidarity, fortitude, etc. equated to you being an extremely driven, hard to discourage, goal-oriented person. You knew what you wanted in life and realized that with some sweat, a level head, some generous help from others, and maybe a few tears you could take on any endeavor and accomplish whatever goals you desired.