text and photos by Jessica Bradley
Fresh air, buzzing bees, a bright field of sunflowers in full bloom, the earthy smell of soil, tomatoes ripe and red barely hanging onto the vine. This is the scene my five-year-old son and I drank in one warm early fall day last September.
On almost a daily basis over the past summer, the kiddos and I had been visiting the farm stand at Elliot Farm. Some days we were in pursuit of their delectable Silver Queen or Butter and Sugar corn. Other days we had no agenda, choosing whatever made our mouths water most. Throughout the summer, the kids struck up a friendship with Ken Elliot, the owner and head farmer of Elliot Farm—jumping at the chance to help pluck a few green beans from the vine and asking endless questions. Farmer Elliot good naturedly and enthusiastically entertained and answered questions and was more than happy for the help with the bean harvest. Every trip to the farm stand became an outing, a learning experience, a way to cultivate the children’s curiosity about and love for our local farm and agriculture. Our trips to Elliot’s became our summer adventures.
As the season progressed, an idea began to sprout and grow. It took hold and wouldn’t let go. The kids wanted to actually “work” in the fields at Elliot’s. They asked me again and again. “I don’t think they do that, guys,” was my consistent response. But they were persistent and excited and so darn cute and really, it was a fantastic idea. Eventually I thought, why not? What could it hurt to ask? Getting into the fields and actually feeling the questions they’d been asking all summer—what a unique, hands-on learning experience. This could be the kind of experience that they would remember; an experience that could really impact and shape the way we want our children to interact with the world—to get out and do. So, emboldened with courage at the thought of enriching my kids’ lives, I asked Farmer Elliot if we could join him for a day of work on the farm. His answer? He said yes!
I spoke with Deanna and Kenny Elliot, the brother/sister super-duo who are beginning to take over some of the many farm responsibilities from their father, Ken (so that he can, you know, retire someday) to set up our plans. We chose a day and a crop (tomatoes!!). And just like that, we had another adventure to look forward to! Deanna and Kenny were excited and enthusiastic to have the opportunity to work with a younger generation. To pass on some of the knowledge they acquired through a childhood full of dirty fingernails, sweaty brows, and hard, fun work; knowledge they developed growing up on a farm, and well, farming. Our family adventure day arrived and because it was that time of year—shorter days, cooler nights, summer winding down, school beginning again—my daughter was unable to join us. So, off five-year-old, Benny-boy and I went. I was thrilled, but my excitement paled in comparison to his. He was ecstatic. This was right up his alley. Ben has an innate curiosity about the natural world, preferring snakes over soccer and crabs over baseball.
And so, for nearly two hours Farmer Kenny, Ben, and I immersed ourselves in the world of tomatoes and life on a farm. We picked dozens. We learned how to determine when a tomato is perfectly ripe. We pulled rotten tomatoes from the vine, tossing them into the garden beds where they will eventually break down and become compost for next year’s crop. We explored a field of sunflowers bursting with color and humming with bees. We asked questions. We engaged with our local farmer. We used our hands to gather food. We could have stayed all day.
By the time our work in the field began to wind down, we had picked many, many tomatoes. Some were destined for the farm stand. Others were ours to take home—literally the fruit of our labor! We immediately began brainstorming ideas of how to eat our tomatoes. After a visit to the farm stand for additional ingredients, Ben and I had everything we needed to create a delicious summer meal. We thanked our hosts and headed home.
As the bus rounded the corner and Benny-boy saw his sister, he nearly burst with excitement, eager to share the details of our adventure. As he recounted our experience, his energy became infectious and as soon we walked in the house, both kids jumped into preparing and cooking with our farm fresh ingredients. We chopped and tasted and created—both Ben and his sister, Abby, boldly tasting ingredients. “Ben’s Famous Salsa” was invented and immediately devoured. We also concocted a recipe for homemade fresh tomato sauce that was proudly served over angel hair pasta for our family dinner that very evening. Our meal was delicious and it was made even sweeter by little Benny-boy’s animated face as he recounted the events of the day—the lessons we learned, the colors we saw, the smells we experienced.
At the dinner table that night, I realized that not only did we learn about growing and farming tomatoes, but we were lucky enough to experience firsthand, if even for a short time, the life of a farmer. My son was able to glimpse a childhood of growing up on a farm—with dirt under his fingernails, a sweaty brow, and learning by doing. Through our experience, we forged a bond with our local farmers and grew our appreciation for the agriculture that exists right here in the community we call home. It was a magical day, one we will never forget, one we are surely to re-live with every visit to Elliot’s Farm Stand.
To create your very own unique farm adventures, start by talking to your local farmer and encourage your children to do so too! Get to know each other and then ask. You never know, they just may say yes!
Straight-from-the-Garden Salsa Recipe
202 Main Street
Lakeville, MA 02347
Jessica Bradley is a stay-at-home mom of two curious and green-thumbed kiddos. Besides her family, her greatest loves are the smell of ocean air, cooking from her husband’s garden, and getting her kids excited about food. She is the host of What’s Cooking on Lakeville’s Community Access Media on LakeCam.