The image of young children frolicking in a grassy meadow while the family dog scampers alongside has always stood to represent the country life. A vision that many parents wistfully aspired to, this wholesome picture fondly captured a simpler life, from a simpler time.
Country life promised to provide clean air, fresh food, and of course, a house with a large front veranda so grandpa could whittle away the hours in peace. What could be more idyllic?
It surely beats the hustle and bustle of city life. Congested housing, rampant cases of road rage, and of course, the dangers of the neighborhood streets themselves. With strangers lurking around every corner, ready to snatch your children, life for urban dwellers reminded many of living in a war zone.
We all pitied those poor families who were forced to live their lives surrounded by urban sprawl, as they’d never truly experience the freedom and joys of living off the land. They were crammed into urban housing projects like chickens in a cage, and it was little wonder that city streets so often erupted into fits of gang violence.
Our city cousins viewed us with matching contempt. We were the country-bumpkins with straw in our teeth and dirt between our toes. We’d traded a good education for a little privacy, and in turn, we’d doomed our own offspring to an equaled life of physical labor and limited prospects.
Truthfully, neither stereotype is an accurate depiction of country, or city life.
In the 21st century, farm life isn’t always a Norman Rockwell painting, and the opposing city life is a far cry from a dystopian warzone. The reality of the situation has been a blending of both worlds, as we’ve all been forced to adapt to the changing face of society.
With the dropping grain and livestock prices, and the rising cost of feed and machinery, many rural families have one, or even both parents working off the farm to supplement the household income. Farm families are not that different than their city counterparts anymore, everyone struggling to keep the family unit together and in the black wherever they’re able to find employment.
Family suppers gathered around the dining room table are as unlikely to occur in the country as they are in the city, competing schedules managing to pull both families in opposite directions. Very few parents work banker’s hours anymore, and shiftwork is more common today in our 24/7 society than it has ever been before.
Rising with the sun and shutting down at dark doesn’t even apply to grain farmers anymore, as most modern equipment now utilizes GPS navigational systems, allowing operators to work around the clock. Shiftwork is no longer confined to industrial plants and 24hr businesses. It’s an accepted part of country life.
Technology aside, the days of driving into a farmyard and admiring rows of fresh vegetables growing in the well tended earth is also becoming a rarity. After rushing home from a day job just in time to shuttle the kid’s back and forth to all their extracurricular activities, rural families don’t always have the time or energy to plant the massive gardens, or tend the fruit bearing bushes that their forefathers did.
A large percentage of food supplies and household staples are now bought at the same grocers and big box-stores that our urban cousins have always shopped in. It’s hard to rationalize planting, hilling, and weeding twenty-five hills of potatoes when you can buy a 100 lbs on sale for $50 come fall. Time is money, no matter where you live.
Education has always been another hot button, with city students claiming better access to innovative technology, their farm neighbors countering with smaller class sizes affording more one-on-one attention. Each convinced they had the advantage.
As in years past, additional government cutbacks have inadvertently affected our student’s educational programs in the city and the country alike. However, these very cutbacks we have all dreaded, have also begun to level the playing field.
Public schools in our smaller farming communities have been closed at unprecedented rates, forcing the students to be bused to larger centers. Although these closures were usually met with community resistance, they ultimately enabled students to access the updated science labs, computer rooms, and organized sporting teams sometimes unavailable to them in their local schools.
In addition, this internet generation is no longer hampered by the confines of inaccessibility, as any classroom can access the same teaching materials available to students all around the world. A high school senior in a small town, hours from any city, can just as easily study stem cell research as any high school senior studying A.P. biology in a large city school.
Along with all the educational benefits, the internet’s accessibility has unfortunately opened up our previously sheltered communities to the illegal drug trade, and the subsequent cases of addiction. Anything you see online can be ordered, shipped, or sent via land courier to both new buyers and entrepreneurial drug dealers. The opioid crisis and wave of methamphetamine addiction effects families both living on concrete or grass.
Whether your neighborhood is spotted with granaries, seaports, or high-rises, your children run the same risk of partaking in illegal drug use or alcohol abuse. There is no safe corner that will isolate our families any longer.
Assuming that because your son/daughter spent the weekend hauling grain that they’re safer than a teen who’d spent the weekend at the mall will just lead to heartbreak. Be aware, drugs are becoming as prevalent in rural schools and local bush-parties as they are with their urban counterparts in the city parks and all-night raves.
Another sobering fact of todays’ economy is the decline of the family farm all together. Generational operations are disappearing, as the land that supported our fathers and grandfathers is now unable to sustain the growing expenses of today’s family.
Quarter by quarter, family land is swallowed up by large scale operations, retiring parents selling their homeplaces to strangers instead of passing them down to their grown children who’ve longed moved off the farm.
Realizing that they need to find their own place in the world, farm children are graduating and pursuing postsecondary educations and trades in cities all over the country. Suitcases are still the favored graduation gift, as it’s become more of a surprise when a child stays back, than it is when they leave.
When I was a young kid growing up in rural Alberta, I said goodbye to many of my friends at the end of the school year with a heavy heart, well aware that we probably wouldn’t see each other again until the following September.
Time and distance are no longer relevant for today’s students, as texting, tweeting, skyping, and long distance packages keep everyone in the loop. Summer holidays are no longer marred by absent friends. They’re just a chance to make a few extra bucks with a summer job squeezed in between family obligations.
Unfortunately, repeated studies have also proven that living in the country will not protect our children from bullying, teen pregnancy, or suicide, anymore than living in the city insures children a better education, cultural exposure, or advanced career opportunities. Life is still a bit of a crapshoot, no matter where you are raised.
Children will leave home with the morals and values instilled in them by their parents and extended family. They will succeed and they will fail by their own accord, their parent’s home address having little to do with their future success.
As a proud member of THE FIFTY CANDLES CLUB, I must admit that I still prefer country living to city life. Maybe its the memories of picking mushrooms with my grandma, or my father rubbing barley kernels between the palms of his hands to test for moisture. I just know that the farm will always be my home, and a comforting reminder of a happy childhood.