Math and the Farm-Schooled Boy
Robin Bela Verson
First published Summer 2014
After graduating from college, Paul Bela and Robin Verson met as farm interns at Farmer John Peterson’s Angelic Organics, nearly twenty years ago. After spending a few years working on farms around the world, they purchased their own farm in rural Metcalfe County, Kentucky, where in 2000 they become one of the first CSAs to service Nashville, TN. Starting out with a few gardens and 67 acres, the farm has grown to 150 acres and includes three children (Sasha, Madeline, and Will), a large flock of sheep, a number of pigs, a flock of chickens, Earl the donkey, and Abby the milk cow. It is worth noting that the expansion of the farm has been financed by social investors—members of the farm community that has grown up around Paul, Robin, and family. The Hill and Hollow Farm crew can be found at the Nashville Farmers’ Market at least twenty-eight Saturdays a year. Their farm is a well-known destination for farm interns, many of whom return year after year just to say hello, and probably to sit in on a meal of the best homegrown food around.
Strangers and family members all have inquired over and over again about our home educating journey. The list of questions I have been asked over these years is too long for any of you to even imagine. By opting out of the mainstream, the centralized educational system, we have unknowingly opened ourselves up to a great deal of scrutiny. My thoughts and ideas have evolved and developed so much since we first chose not to send our oldest son, Sasha, to school; and this journey is far from complete. Truly, it has only just begun. Today though, my story is about math. Math, many of you might already know, is the big one. “How on earth, without textbooks, workbooks, and blind memorization, is your child ever going to learn math?” Hmmmm. Most have faith that we can urge him to read and write and dabble in social studies outside the walls of our nation’s public or private schools. Our farming lifestyle has calmed many doubters about access to most of the critical sciences; but math, uh oh. “Your child can identify every tree in the woods by either leaf or bark, but think about the importance of algebra, or geometry, or calculus.”
Just a few short weeks ago, we were finishing the high tunnel greenhouse construction. We were framing out the end walls and preparing the site for a concrete footer. Pouring concrete demands a bit of what most would consider simple math: figuring out volume. Length times width times depth. We all know that. But what happens when your footer is measured in inches and the concrete volume in cubic yards? Getting trickier. Conversion. Inches to feet, fractions, decimals.
We adults went at it, some with calculators, others with pencil and paper. We had many decades of higher education between us, countless workbooks and quizzes; and truth be told, we were having some troubles. Our numbers weren’t working. We contemplated calling the Ready Mix concrete guys; they have a little wheel that they move around when you tell them your dimensions and it figures volume. Sasha appeared on site, looked at the project, laughed at us, and got the number right in less than ten seconds, in his head—no joke.
What? How could he have done that, we all wondered. He can’t be right; but he was. He could see volume, understand the relationship between length, width, and depth, and automatically convert inches to percentage of yards. It all made sense to him. All of it. He can do math. His life has enabled him to practice daily useful math skills. With greater understanding, he stood watching the rest of us struggle with pencil and paper. So friends, I share with you the wisdom of concrete math I learned that day. Enjoy the wandering path of sharing in the education of your children, have confidence in yourself and your family to learn what you need, the way you need. And most of all, play with wooden blocks, all of you! I am convinced that all mathematical truths can be found in a good chest full of them!
Who are the radical farmwives?
The three of us, Robin, Cher, and Coree have known one another since the mid-1990s. We all live here in the beautiful rolling hills of south-central Kentucky and north-central Tennessee. Our stories are as similar as they are different; but we share a great friendship, and ties that bind us through work, play, and life.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “radical” as “proceeding from the root.” We like that. That’s part of why we are what we are. In this increasingly fast-paced, intense, wonderful, and dangerous world, we’ve each aimed for a root, fixed ourselves in the ground, and grown. We’ve grown families, friends, and farms from these roots.
We are farmwives. Merriam-Webster has much less to say about that definition. Technically, we are all married to farmers, stewards of the land. In some ways, we embrace the traditional roles associated with farmwife-ing. We do a lot of cooking, “from scratch,” and isn’t that the classic image? But there are layers unseen here. We are in full partnership with our farming husbands, and deeply connected with our children. We also tend the land, animals, and the multiple facets of a home and family-run business. We are educated, modern women, choosing the pieces of modern life that really work for us, and happily walking away from what we don’t find needful. We have computers, cars, phones (sometimes cell phones), tractors, and weed eaters. We are working women, and our work is integrated into our whole living. Not just nine-to-five. Our houses are not always as tidy as we would like, and our children’s hair may have more than their share of knots; but we love this work of life, being surrounded by the living landscape, and that shared love keeps us all afloat. We gather these stories and images from our lives to share with you. We hope you will be inspired and gain insight and strength, or at least a laugh, along the way. Thanks for reading. www.radicalfarmwives.com