Billi J. Miller collects decades of stories about rural life
Farming has changed over the past century, and farm life has changed with it. But in Farm Kids: Stories From Our Lives, a new book by Billi J. Miller, we see that rural life unites generations of families over common experiences and shared values.
Miller has published two other volumes about farm families: Farmwives In Profile, and Farmwives 2: An Inspiring Look At The Lives Of New Canadian Farmwives.
As in the Farmwives books, Farm Kids reveals a lot of similarity in the experiences of older and younger subjects. There are differences among individuals, but from six-year-olds to centenarians, the kids (and the former kids) all tend to identify common themes: a life based on a strong work ethic and a love of the freedom that comes with wide open spaces.
There is also a near-unanimous sense that farming is terribly misunderstood by city-dwellers.
Miller interviews 27 people, from age five to 100, about their experiences growing up on the farm. Their stories are presented in a verbatim question-and-answer format: they range from charmingly cute to poignant. But they all share a positive reflection on the joys, and the hardships, of a rural upbringing.
And there is a theme of respect and appreciation running through the interviews.
“I loved a number of the interviews from people in their thirties, forties, and fifties, being able to hear their pure appreciation for everything that their parents did for them,” Miller says.
One interview was with Shane Jones, who grew up during the 1980s.
“I was absolutely in tears when I read that story,” Miller said. “The way he talked with such candour and appreciation for his parents was just absolutely touching for me.”
The agricultural lifestyle demands hard work, but that work ethic is something that has to be taught.
Every interviewee mentions their work ethic as an attribute they gained from farming, and it’s clear that the credit goes to the parents and grandparents who farmed before them.
“You could see that it’s giving them that work ethic when Dad or Mom still have to go outside and work on Christmas morning and feed the cows before they can come in and open presents, things like that,” Miller said. “That’s definitely a common thread that is woven throughout the book.”
The book is for farm kids young and old to read and enjoy, and hopefully see their own experience in it. But in the interviews, Miller asks her subjects what they wished non-farmers knew about farm life.
There’s plenty for city folks to learn. Miller’s closing chapter is a compendium of lessons from farm kids young and old.
“It would have been almost an injustice not to include that chapter,” she said.
Approximately 90 per cent of Canadian farms are family-owned and operated. The people Miller spoke to want readers to understand that they are not “factory farming,” and that they are not trying to poison us with our food. In fact, they eat the same food they sell to the commodities markets.
“We’re eating the same food that you are,” Miller said.
Some of the most engaging stories come from the “farm kids” of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s.
“I’m so proud to include centenarians in this book. I’m so lucky to know a few, and to be able to include their stories and have them be at the state of mind where they can still reflect on that part of their lives. I mean, you’ve got to think about it—at 100 or 101 years old your memories aren’t going to be as good as they used to about when you were five, seven, eight,” Miller. said. “But I was so grateful to be able to include their stories.”
In fact, she admits to an almost selfish pleasure in listening to the older people’s stories. “It ultimately boils down to the adage that when an elder dies, a library burns to the ground. Yes, I could sit with elders all day and just listen to what they have to say about everything and anything,” she said.
To order Farm Kids, visit billijmiller.com, email email@example.com, or call 780-808-4020.