With the many conveniences of our modern food system, it’s easy to become detached from the knowledge of how our food is actually produced. Brianna is on a mission to reconnect the community to its farmers. At her family’s ranch in Washington, Brianna welcomes her neighbors—especially children—to come experience what farm life is truly like. Children learn invaluable, lifelong skills as a result of participating in animal care and food production. Brianna shares age-appropriate ideas for teaching your kids about farming and responsibility whether you live on a farm or in an apartment.
In this episode, we cover:
- Why it’s important for everyone to learn about the inner workings of a farm
- What it looks like to farm school your kids
- Farm tasks that kids can help with
- How to give your child a farm education if you don’t have ready access to a farm
- Tailoring farm education to varying age groups
- Fostering independence in kids while maintaining safety
- The mindset shift that has to take place when involving kids
- Giving kids a sense of ownership over their responsibilities
- Why it’s important for farmers to welcome the community into their farm
Brianna and Ryan call themselves city slickers turned ranchers. They both grew up in the city but had a dream of self-sufficiency. In 2017, they moved to their dream farm in Washington where they are able to produce much of their own food and share it with their community. Along with their three free range children, Brianna and Ryan are passionate about opening their doors to the community to see what farming is all about.
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Lisa Bass Welcome back to the Simple Farmhouse Life podcast. Today I am bringing on Brianna from Widnor Farms. She teaches kids on her farm through something called farm school. So she teaches her own kids. She also brings in kids from the community, and they learn through gardening, the life cycle of animals, inside the kitchen, learning about sourdough, and egg hatching on the farm. So many concepts that I think a lot of us are very far removed from. But she shares some really practical tips on how to give that kind of learning experience to your kids, even if it is something that you don’t really have access to. So maybe you don’t live on a farm or live near any farmers. She shares such great tips for how you can incorporate this no matter where you live. Being able to know more about where your food comes from and how it actually gets from a farm to your table is so important. And in this episode, we’re going to really be encouraging you to give your kids that experience by learning through farm school no matter where you live.
Lisa Bass Well, thank you so much for joining me, Brianna. I really appreciate it. As we were preparing for this interview, my husband and I were looking through your Instagram and coming up with so many more ideas to ask you about. He came across your picture of the fatty cow heart because your dairy cow was too fat. So maybe we’ll get into that in a little bit because I’m like, oh, that’s fascinating because everybody thinks dairy cows are too skinny because they’re used to seeing beef cows. And we have a dairy cow and people are always like, “What’s wrong with your cow?” And I’m like, “Actually, she’s fine.” If she would get any fatter, it’d be bad. So much good educational information over on your Instagram. So tell us a little bit about yourself and your farm and your family.
Brianna Widen Yeah, so our family bought our farm in 2017. We were kind of wanting to— it had always been a lifelong dream of ours. And we had finally done— we flipped a house and were able to turn around and buy a homestead. We really wanted to. We ended up buying a 1916 dilapidated farmhouse that needed gutting and major remodels, and we tackled that in the beginning. The very first thing we brought home was a dairy cow. Thankfully, I do have some livestock experience, so it wasn’t blind, but my husband had never even had a dog growing up, so it was a big change for us. From there, we just started raising our own food. That was our biggest goal was just to raise our own food, to grow our own garden, to raise our own livestock. And then we really realized that what we had the opportunity to bring to the table for others because we had the land to be able to make it happen, we decided to raise livestock and raise meat for other people. And it has grown into this incredible business where we get to share our meats all across the country and we’re shipping weekly and we have an amazing farm club group and I get to homeschool. It’s not even homeschool. I farm school my kids. And we’re still raising our own food. We’re still growing our own veggies. In fact, we have an entire garden dedicated for livestock. So it’s been an adventure, one that I didn’t really think that this is the path that we would take. But at this time, it’s our full-time jobs.
Lisa Bass Oh, that’s awesome. So how did you go from like not really growing up on a farm—or at least you said your husband didn’t at all—to gaining the confidence to start this. Do you have any books or resources? Or what did that look like? Maybe you’re just like a jump right in kind of person.
Brianna Widen Oh, my gosh. You know, I was really, really fortunate. I had taken animal science classes and some dairy herd management and livestock classes in college. I went to Washington State University. My husband, though, I set him up with some OSU courses— Oregon State. And I set him up with just like, this is how beef production works. This is how dairy production works, kind of classes for him. And then it was really a dive right in. We were smart, though. We didn’t go out and buy a large herd of cattle right away. We bought two head, and we figured out our hiccups. We set ourselves up so that every system we have here is scalable. So whether we’re running two head or 200 head, we can still make it function. And then we just grew from there. And it’s been the same way with the hogs too. You know, we started with two. We learned how to raise hogs and started with two. And then it has just grown exponentially from there.
Lisa Bass Wow. I don’t know if you said how many acres you guys bought with your little farmhouse.
Brianna Widen You know, we farm 120 acres.
Lisa Bass Oh, okay. Wow. Yeah. Large.
Brianna Widen Yeah. So, you know, we’ve slowly acquired a few additional pieces over the last year—or I should say two years—that has allowed us to grow. You know, we live in northwest Washington, too, so that means that we have access to beautiful grass. It grows really well here. It’s really lush. So we have a long grazing season, and it means we can also stock more head on the smaller parcels.
Lisa Bass Yeah, I’m sure you had to find some local books and resources because I know just from talking to my sister and my dad—they’re cattle farmers—that there’s a very big difference with how you raise things based on where you live. So like someone who lives on prairie grasses in Wyoming versus the fescue down here. I have no clue what it’s like up where you are, but I’m sure you had to find maybe some local mentors that could help you along with some of that.
Brianna Widen We did. And, you know, ironically, our climate is a lot like— so Joel Salatin is a huge proponent for a lot of what we do and his systems too. But our climate is a lot like his, so we’ve been able to just kind of adjust and see. We live in a temperate rainforest. So people in parts of Tennessee, you know, different parts of the country are also going to live in something similar. It might not necessarily be the same species, but yeah, we’ve been really lucky. Ironically, a lot of the local farmers are more on the commercial side of things. They’re not selling direct to consumer and they’re not doing things quite the same as we are. So it’s been a big adjustment. Big learning curve.
Lisa Bass Yeah. Well, I’m sure you’ve found that there’s a really big market for people wanting to purchase the way that you guys do things because I find that people are always asking me where they can get stuff like that. People are starting to know that there’s a difference between how things are done conventionally and then more a sustainable way. And so people are definitely becoming more educated on all of that. So why do you think it’s important that non farmers learn the inner workings of a farm? And what life lessons does it teach? You know, why is it important to know where your food comes from, from your perspective?
Brianna Widen You know, the heart of our farm is bridging the gap between farm and consumer because we were not born into a farm ourselves. I grew up on a dead end street in a little town. And because of that, I felt like there’s just a major disconnect with how things are produced and why farmers do the things they do. And part of me can understand—having become a larger scale farmer—why now. But I also see it as it’s a prime opportunity to share. You know, especially these days with social media, you can open up and share a lot of this stuff. We eat multiple times a day, and if you don’t know where your food comes from, we really don’t have any sort of food security. So if something were to happen, which who knows? I mean, it could be a fire in a building. It could be, you know, a distribution hiccup. Something like that. It doesn’t have to be major. Doesn’t have to be World War. You know, some little hiccup in the system can majorly disrupt things, as we’ve seen in the last two years.
Lisa Bass Yeah, I think what you’re saying now is very— I think right now we’re not— anybody’s probably even questioning you on why that’s important. But maybe even a few years ago, that wouldn’t have been something people were thinking about quite as much.
Brianna Widen Exactly. You know, even little things like why treat an animal for something? Why do you do what you do? And how you do it is something that there’s no transparency, it doesn’t feel like. And a lot of farmers feel— I don’t want to say attacked, but they do feel vilified, even though they’re not necessarily the ones making the decisions. Marketing these days have definitely created a wedge in that big gap anyway. That’s part of the reason I love doing what we do. We have a store on the farm and people can actually come see how things are run.
Lisa Bass Oh yeah, that is so awesome because I feel like even growing up on a farm, there were so many things that I didn’t know. Like just recently my husband and I were looking at purchasing more acreage and we ended up not getting this particular piece that we were looking for. But I was thinking about, you know, farming cattle on it. Would’ve been perfect for that. And my dad farms cattle. All the questions I had for him, I’m like I still don’t really understand exactly how this works. Like I sort of do. But you know, even down to some people just buy feeder calves, some people actually raise the mamas. And, you know, those are all things that I’m like I never really even thought about those different strategies and what that all looked like. And then some people feed them out and some people grass finish them. A lot of those things, you know, we just don’t even know what questions to ask without encountering it in some way.
Brianna Widen Exactly. Exactly. And we’re so far removed from our food systems. You know, it’s been 100 years since the average person was a farmer. So that removal is a piece of the puzzle that I think is missing from a lot of people and especially these younger generations.
Lisa Bass Yeah, definitely. So one of the things that I know that you’re really focused on is bringing these learning experiences to kids who don’t grow up on farms. So I thought we could talk specifically through some of the activities that help kids learn and then also how people can do this even if they don’t grow up on a farm, how they can gain these kind of experiences for their kids if they don’t have somebody really who lives close to them like you, who actually invites kids onto their farms. Because I do feel like a lot of times farmers— they have been doing this for so long that they forget that what they’re doing isn’t obvious to people who don’t grow up on a farm.
Brianna Widen I absolutely love bringing kids out here because you can just see the joy in their faces. It’s the little things that they get so excited about. For example, our dairy cow calved in October of last year and she calved a week before our farm school. So we do this farm school where kids come here once a month. They get to hang out with us. We go tour some part of the farm and we talk about that one thing. So, for example, we’re going to go talk about the dairy cow today and we’re going to go see where she lives and how she’s milked and how that whole process is. And the dairy cow calved the week before farm school, and so the calf was there the whole time. The kids were playing with her. They were loving on her. It was a really cool experience, and the joy in their faces is just the cutest thing ever. But you know, we aren’t a traditional homeschool family in that we don’t have a homeschool room. We have a cart that we wheel out to our dining room table. And our kids, they do a ton of hands-on activities that are more science based. Our son loves math. But he would rather play a game of cards than actually sit down and do math homework. So we have really tried to make the tactile learning, the hands-on learning, the main focus in their lives. So I would rather them run outside and learn how to spell things based on a— I joke because it was a bottle of saline that my son was starting to read. And it’s little things like that, you know, that I want them to understand and the biology behind things. So they’re very well versed in science. The kids could easily tell you the life cycle of all sorts of different stuff. They can tell you what a pig’s gestation looks like and how it works. And we’ve dissected livestock before just because it’s a learning experience. But really, if you don’t have access to that kind of stuff, the first thing is I feel like these days we all have access to virtual versions of it. But make a point at least once a year. If it’s not local, make it a trip. Go find somewhere that you can go where your kids can experience some of this. And if you have a local park, go to a local park and find a nature journal and just have your kids actually spend some time observing what’s going on. And if that means they find a butterfly and they learn about that butterfly, all those little pieces and parts make such a big difference in their education because it makes them a well-rounded human. And that’s kind of been my focus in parenthood is I’d rather have a kid who has a really great moral compass and who has a really good, strong character. If that means that they’re behind on learning to read, they’re not behind anyone because the race is only them.
Lisa Bass Right. Yeah.
Brianna Widen Yeah. We’ve really focused on just figuring out the style of learning for each one of our kids and then running with those styles and making sure that we spend time every single day. We tried it— if you’ve never heard of it, 1000 Hours Outside.
Lisa Bass Oh, she was actually the last person on my podcast.
Brianna Widen Oh, I love it. Yes. So we try to make sure that our kids are outside every day, which we usually nail out the thousand hours in like a month. We want to make sure they’re outside, and that they’re doing things, that they’re using their little brains, they’re being creative. They’re— you know, right now our kids have dug a moat around one of my favorite bushes. You don’t necessarily have to live on a farm to make happen. You know, plant a garden on your balcony. Our last house, we didn’t have a yard. We just had a deck and we planted a garden on that deck.
Lisa Bass Oh, yeah, you can definitely do that. Also, I was looking through your website, looking at some of the things that you teach kids, and there are lots of activities that you could do no matter where you live. So I had a whole list of them, but like one for example is butter churning, teaching kids the supplies that you need. I honestly think—and you can weigh in on your experience—I honestly think that a lot of kids probably don’t even know that milk separates.
Brianna Widen Yeah. Oh, most certainly. Or they’ve never seen it in a jar in the fridge where the cream is this huge layer on the top. But yeah, you know, butter churning. We’ve put marbles in a pint jar and just had the kids shake the jar as long as they possibly could. And basically the kids did a scavenger hunt. So in the middle of— they’re shaking their jar the entire time on the scavenger hunt. We’ve also done things where we’ve done apple cider pressing. So we pressed a bunch of cider. The kids got to try. They picked the apples, we pressed the cider, we took the apple scraps to the pigs, we fed them to the pigs. And then we talked about, you know, how many apples it would take to feed a pig for its life if all they got was apples, all the little things that, you know, activities that just keep kids busy without being busywork. It’s fun, it’s interactive, it’s rain or shine. That’s one of the harder parts is it’s definitely rain or shine. There’s a lot of rain around here, but the kids have learned a lot. You know, even just— we have an older class and it’s about 10 to 15 years old. And with that class, we’ve done a lot of soil microbiology. So the kids have taken soil samples from different areas of the ranch. And then we look at it and we examine it with the naked eye, and then we examine it with a microscope and just see which parts of the ranch are more lively than others. And hands down it’s always where the livestock have been that has the healthiest ground.
Lisa Bass Hm.
Brianna Widen Yeah.
Lisa Bass And that teaches them something too.
Brianna Widen Yes.
Lisa Bass Now so much of the workings of a farm are seasonal. So I’m thinking people who don’t live on a farm, who want to give their kids this experience of learning all of these things, like the life cycle of a pig and a dairy cow, how she has to calf, and then at some point you breed her back and all of that. How would you recommend somebody teach something like that without visiting a farm really regularly? And maybe it’s just that they just should.
Brianna Widen Right? I know I have such a hard time not saying like everyone has access to a local farm. It just feels like maybe it’s closer than they realize. And not every farmer is willing to open their doors. You know, we have to carry extra liability insurance. It’s just a bigger— it’s a big hassle. Not every state protects farms from agritourism. Our state is a very big agritourism state. So because of that, we fall— we have a lot of different protections as well. But honestly, there’s so much virtually available these days that I feel like even if your kids can’t step onto a farm, you can still open that door. And if that means that you take 20 minutes every week and research something, they’re going to learn if you show them how to research too. Show them how to research things that are rooted in science. Things that are rooted in fact. So you can search things all day long on YouTube, and it’s going to show a lot of sensationalized stuff. But if you can find—from a dairy farmer—an actual video on how the dairy farm works, or if you can find—from a beef farmer—how the beef farm is working in that season. Google is great, but Google also brings up some interesting stuff.
Lisa Bass Yeah. You have to know how to use Google.
Brianna Widen Yeah, exactly. But that’s another thing you can teach your kids is teach them how to actually research for quality journalism.
Lisa Bass Right. Totally. So do you have any resources you can recommend on that? Like, do you have any particular— obviously you share a lot on your Instagram. People could put their kids and show them the things that you’re sharing on your Instagram. Any other like YouTube channels that you would recommend on that?
Brianna Widen You know, there’s a lot of really quality stuff out there right now. We’ve tried really, really hard to make sure all the content that hits our pages is appropriate for kids. So that even means that we’re going to make sure that we’re not swearing. We’re really cautious about terminology, things like that. We also do a—I will kind of put a caveat in there—we do a digital farm club. And the digital farm club gives families access without having to be local. So they’re going to get the digital downloads from the farm school that we did. They’re going to get all sorts of different information and stuff that they can add into their homeschool lessons. That being said, though, I am obsessed— if I’m going to stick my kids in front of anything, there’s a few YouTube channels that we have just found that are ones that we’re okay with putting our kids in front of. And one of them is, of course, we love Justin Rhodes. He’s a great guy. He’s got a great channel. He’s got things that are very much so— I would not be upset if my kids emulated his behavior. I’m a huge fan. My friend Kate, she’s on Instagram as @themoderndaysettler.
Lisa Bass Yeah, she’s been on this podcast, too, actually.
Brianna Widen Yeah. So Kate has some of the most amazing videos. Her Patreon account is also another place where you can find a lot of really cool information. Kate from Venison for Dinner. I feel like there’s so many Instagram accounts that are as wholesome as you’d want them to be if you’re going to put your kids in front of people. But those would be people I would choose. Kate’s Insider Club— the kids have watched videos. I can make soap. We make soap for our store. But Kate’s explanation of it was— they just liked that it was someone else teaching them.
Lisa Bass Yeah. Yeah. Like, “Well, I already know what Mom has to say. Let’s see what somebody else has to say. See if she’s right.”
Brianna Widen Right. Exact same process. Exact same thing we do. But it’s just better if someone else teaches something.
Lisa Bass Yeah. And I’m thinking about, as you’re sharing this, some of the things that you see on the screen, like incubating eggs, for example. And then finding out how long it takes before the chickens start laying. And then what happens whenever the light decreases. All of those things— like even if you live in town and you can’t keep chickens if that’s a law where you are— I mean, if you can keep a couple, that’d be cool. But if you can’t, you could even hatch them, raise them up until they’re too big and then sell them or get rid of them somehow to somebody else who has a farm. But being able to go along with that process. There’s a lot—as I’m looking through our list here—that you could do pretty much anywhere. So like, butter churning, studying herbal remedies, egg production, gardening, and plant identification. Obviously, that depends on if you have a little bit of soil. If you live in like a high rise apartment, that might not work, but anywhere else. Sourdough. And then candlemaking. That was another one that I had. And then you said soapmaking. That was another good one. So many things that you could do pretty much anywhere and witness that whole process.
Brianna Widen Exactly. Acreage doesn’t determine any of that. So you could live in an apartment and all those things are possible. You know, the other thing, too, is Facebook is a great resource in that— what I have done in the past is I have hatched out chicks before, and then we gave them to someone else who could actually raise them. So we did the lesson, we hatched the chicks, and then we found someone who wanted to actually have chicks and they took the chicks.
Lisa Bass Right, right.
Brianna Widen Like the chicks? Yep. When we first started, we only had eight hens. We have hundreds now, but we only had eight hens in the beginning. That’s all that we wanted. And so we would hatch chicks with the kids and then away the little chicks would go.
Lisa Bass Yeah. Yep. That’s totally something you could do.
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Lisa Bass So from your experience, what are some of the activities that the younger kids are better able to understand? And then the older kids? I think some people are probably thinking, okay, I have a five year old. What would be something that would really work for them? Or maybe I have a 15 year old and I’ve never done anything like this before in my life. How could I get them interested and engaged in something like teaching through farm school?
Brianna Widen Right. You know, the personality of the kid’s going to make a big difference. Some kids are just a little bit more mature than others. Levi, my oldest son, is eight, and Levi is really big into— he would be someone that would definitely be in the older kid category just because he is such a hands-on learner. And some of the kids aren’t. Some kids are a little bit more reserved and they sit back and they want to watch the whole thing. But truthfully, the older kids have done really well getting hands-on and experiencing the science behind everything. So, for example, we’ve gone and we’ve looked at the dairy cow’s body condition and we’ve studied that. And then we walk to a different part of the farm and then, hey, here’s the beef cattle. Look at the big difference between these two, and simply it was just genetics. You know, a lot of the science behind things we’ve talked about. Whereas the younger kids are still a little bit more into— I almost feel like it’s just a glorified petting zoo sometimes. But, you know, they get to bottle feed the lamb, whereas the older kids are learning about how the lamb is actually absorbing the milk and how milk grooves work and how, you know, the whole science behind why they need milk and what happens if they don’t get it. For example, we’ve got our dairy cow, but we also have a flock of sheep. And we had lambs that were born this year. And I believe there’s four bottle lambs out there now, but they’re all raised on our dairy cow’s milk. But then we’ve gone through with the kids and we’ve talked about the science behind why that’s not necessarily enough. And some of them need an egg in their bottle, whereas one of them needs a vitamin B shot because he literally nurses directly off the cow and I can not get him to stop. He will knock down every fence he possibly can to get to her and she willingly lets him.
Lisa Bass I watched a video of that on a friend’s Instagram recently. Her goats were milking the cow.
Brianna Widen Yeah, it’s wild. So there’s the science behind what, nutritionally, would be missing if a lamb was raised by a cow. Yeah. So, you know, the sciency stuff that they’re not necessarily going to get. When I was young, I did this science camp every year, and my mom would send me to this gal who was a teacher—a wonderful biology teacher—who would take us on field trips every single day. That was like the whole camp was field trips. And so we’d go flip over rocks on the beach and look and see what we saw, what sea creatures we saw, how many crabs, and what kind of crabs. And I feel like this school gets to be that for kids with farm life. So we cater to those younger kids who are just like, oh my gosh, I found crab. And then we cater to the older kids that we’re like, okay, what kind of crab is it? Granted it’s not actually crabs.
Lisa Bass Yeah. Sort of off topic, but sort of not— it’s really funny you mentioned about adding the egg to the lamb’s bottle because just this morning with all of the formula shortages, I was telling my husband that years ago I read about a homemade formula on Weston Price. And so this morning, I was reading it to him just because we’re just completely curious. Like I nurse. I don’t use formula, but for people who need it, knowing that you can take raw cow’s milk and add certain things is— an egg was on it. So that was just like, oh, yeah we were just talking about this this morning, how a human baby can’t get everything they need from cow’s milk. But with a few things added, you know, you could supplement a child with that. Interesting that you bring it up.
Brianna Widen My first son was born with a clogged salivary gland basically, so he couldn’t latch perfectly. We made our own formula for quite a while.
Lisa Bass Did you?
Brianna Widen Yeah, because he was highly allergic to everything we tried.
Lisa Bass So did you do a raw milk based one?
Brianna Widen Yeah, we did a raw milk based one. I grew up on raw milk, so it wasn’t a new concept for me.
Lisa Bass Right.
Brianna Widen But we definitely— we found local raw dairy. And then that dairyman actually was the one who said, “You need to try raw goat’s milk next.” And that’s when I bought a dairy goat. So we’ve gone down that direction actually with our kiddos and he is a thriving eight-year-old. You would never know that he struggled so much.
Lisa Bass Yeah, I was telling my husband— I was reading it all to him and I said, “Oh yeah, this is something I read about years ago.” And I thought, it’s good information I have in my back pocket. And he said, “Well, why wouldn’t everybody do that?” I’m like, “It’s fear.” We fear things that we don’t know. And so there’s this little canister. It has everything you need. It’s called formula, which makes it sound very proprietary, and it’s so beyond us that we could come up with those nutrients in a real way because we feel like that’s like a proprietary— and it is. But knowing the science behind it is what would eliminate that fear with with so many things.
Brianna Widen And in our state—I don’t know about in Missouri—but in our state, raw milk is highly regulated. So the raw milk that is on the store shelves, the raw milk that we have in our store here on the farm is very safe. I mean, it’s been tested. It’s clean. It’s safe. Your kids are going to be okay.
Lisa Bass Well, yeah, it’s definitely not here. Here it’s just— I mean, we have low laws for literally everything, like when it comes to homeschool, homebirth, everything. So I love Missouri. But yeah, that’s— if people are fearful— I mean, I think you can— I think a farmer can just basically, like, just sell it. I don’t think you have to do anything with it.
Brianna Widen Oh that’s cool.
Lisa Bass I mean, we’ve been drinking raw milk since my oldest was a baby. She’s 13. So I mean, obviously, we’ve been fine this whole time.
Brianna Widen Right?
Lisa Bass Yeah. So what are some of the other skills that you try? Do you bring the kids into the kitchen and learn things there as well?
Brianna Widen Yeah. So our kids spend a lot of time in the kitchen. In fact, they are pretty much in charge of making breakfast most days now, which is awesome for me. They’ve been a big part of just everyday life. So we run a full working farm and the kids are with us 24/7. So they’re helping in the kitchen. Levi loves to cook. Actually, all of our kids love to cook, but he’s extremely skilled. I’m pretty sure if anything happened to us, our kids could survive for weeks and no one would know anything happened to us.
Lisa Bass That’s when you know you’re doing it right.
Brianna Widen Yeah, because they just— they’re very self-sufficient kiddos. If they’re hungry and there’s nothing in the house, they’ll just walk out to the chicken coop and go get some eggs and come back in the house and put it all together. We’ve used that as teaching moments, too, where hey this is how you do fractions. Here’s some measuring cups. Let’s work on this. And so we’ve created kind of and fostered a very self-sufficient environment for the kids. I’m a huge fan of the notion—like in Montessori—if the kid believes that they can do it, don’t help them. And so I love that whole concept. It can be a little exhausting when you’re in a hurry. When your child thinks they can tie their shoes, and they’re not quite there yet, and you’re waiting, and 20 minutes later. But we’ve really worked hard to foster that independence in them so that they can be kids who feel confident and who don’t feel like they can’t do something. And I also feel like that plays so much into their adulthood, too, because if you have a parent who’s constantly behind you, like, “Oh, be careful. Be careful. Be careful. Don’t touch that. Don’t do that. Let me do that for you.” You’re going to end up with a kiddo that becomes an adult and says, “Oh, well, that’s— I can’t do that.” And we really wanted our kids— you know, as long as they’re safe. That’s the big thing here is that sometimes no means no because it’s life or death. So the kids are— you know, we run a strict household, but it’s not that kind of strict. It’s just like a hey, you can’t— if I say no, that just means no.
Lisa Bass Yeah. There are certain things that you don’t understand that you can’t do.
Brianna Widen Exactly, exactly. So we’ve worked really, really hard to just foster that environment where I kind of take a step back and let them lead. And that means that they oftentimes are spending a lot of time in the kitchen. My children love to make sourdough. They love the process of it. They love the entire science behind it. Levi thinks it’s the most amazing thing ever that you can capture wild yeast. Like he just thinks that’s the coolest thing. And even things like— you know, we’ve got beehives, and the kids want to suit up, and they want to go and experience the whole thing. And so we’ve really given them the opportunity to do that, even if it means that I can’t be in control, even though I really like things to be done a certain way. I’m sure all of us parents feel that.
Lisa Bass You definitely have to let the perfectionism go. I was actually shooting a video yesterday in my garden talking about gardening with kids and I’m like, okay, tip number one, let perfectionism go. If you’re going to let the kids work on things— but what happens is they do get better at things. And so by doing that, eventually you end up with kids that can actually do stuff. And so that’s a tradeoff, but in the end, you end up with— like your son actually makes your sourdough bread.
Brianna Widen Yeah. You know, we gave each one of our kids their own box. So they got a 4×6 garden box and they each get to put whatever they want on it. And it’s really difficult for me because I like straight lines and perfect rows and things to look nice, and they each have their box that is a mismatch of who knows what with cornstalks coming out the top. But, you know, they they have felt a sense of pride and ownership in it and they have gotten to see that sometimes we learn by failure and that that’s okay and that sometimes your parents aren’t always wrong, but that it can definitely be an opportunity for additional learning.
Lisa Bass Yeah. You were talking about doing life with your kids. They’re always around and so there’s lots of learning experiences. Do you find that you have to be sometimes, really intentional about that? Because I find that sometimes we’re doing certain things and if we’re not like— our kids don’t stick by us. Like some kids—my sister’s kids—they stick by them at all times. Their kids are like glue. They’re always around, always observing. Mine are off doing their own thing. And so it takes a certain level of intentionality just to make sure that they are doing life with us. Because sometimes I’m like, “Oh, wait, there’s not even a kid here.” Like this is— I have to actually like— if they’re not by me— you know, they’re not like watching TV or anything. But there’s times when I need to be like, okay, you need to actually come and learn this thing. Even though you’re here, you’re not necessarily right next to me all the time.
Brianna Widen Exactly. Exactly. There’s so much that happens. And some of our day-to-day is so routine that for them, they’re just like, “Ugh I have to do it all over again.” So they’re off digging or doing something or building forts or doing their own thing. So we really make a point— especially if it’s outside of the normal. Like today we were feeding— we have tractors full of meat birds right now. And so we were feeding meat birds and we have one that’s not doing so well. And so I just called over my son and said, “Hey, can you tell me which one you don’t think is thriving? Which one do you not think is doing very well? And what should we do next?” And so he gets to kind of take ownership of that and make that decision, and it gives them a sense of pride in the whole thing. One thing I will say, too, is that we run a store here on the farm and we’re only open once a week. We ship out of our store, but we’re only open to the public once a week. And we’ve made a really big deal out of our kids partaking in that and letting them know that their role in that store is vital. So if that’s parking cars, if it’s helping people take their groceries to their car, if it’s showing them something that we’ve had happen, we want them to get to take ownership of that. And it’s created well-socialized children, but it’s also giving them a sense of ownership on the whole farm that changes their view of the day-to-day. So, you know, they love collecting eggs because on Saturday they get to sell those eggs. And then they get to tell people like, “Oh, that egg was— look at this carton. It has an egg that’s full of double yolk— carton full of double yolkers.” You know, they just get so excited over those little things that—to you and I—are very small, but to them they’re the big things.
Lisa Bass Yeah, I think too, when you have a lot going on, there’s a certain like, “Oh, we want to be very intentional about making sure the kids feel important and needed,” but then in reality, like they really are. Like around here, there’s so much going on that it’s not even like we’re just putting on a show so that they think they’re needed. It’s like, I actually need you to help me with this thing because we need help cooking breakfast. We need help with just about everything. Like, you need help parking those cars. You probably literally couldn’t do it without them.
Brianna Widen No, exactly. Exactly. And we do these dinners out here that are just a— it’s just an amazing experience.
Lisa Bass Oh yeah. We saw that on your Instagram.
Brianna Widen Yeah, so we do these farm-to-table dinners, we call them, and basically we grow and raise all of the food that ends up on people’s plates. So from the oils that we cook with, to the veggies, to the the meats— it all comes from right here. And then it’s prepared by this phenomenal chef who comes in and helps us. Yeah, it’s just stunning. But the kids actually get to partake in that. They get to serve. They get to be there and help people take their seats. We have a map that we hand everyone who arrives and the map actually tells people where the livestock are at that time because the acreage that we have is large enough, you can’t just see it all.
Lisa Bass Yeah.
Brianna Widen Yeah. So the kids park people, they give them their maps, they make sure they know where things are, they make sure they know where the drink stations are, and then they’re there serving. And they love the fact that they can tell people like, “I raised this broccoli,” or “I planted these onions.” And you know, to you and I, those are— actually, they’re a big thing to us because you and I value our food so much. Right? Right? But to some people, it’s like, “Eh, okay.” But those experiences and that kind of ownership at such a young age, I feel like it’s just fostering this character in the kids that is something that’s really going to carry them for many, many years. And you don’t have to live on a farm to do that. You know, just plant a couple onion seeds in a little pot, and then let the kids slice them up and have the dinner with them, and all that little stuff.
Lisa Bass Yeah. Just yesterday, we harvested a bunch of radishes, and I have one kid who he really struggles to focus. He’s always like doing so many things. He’s just very excited. He has a lot of energy. He’s very ambitious. And he sat there and cleaned and cut up every radish. Just for whatever reason, that made him really excited to do that, and it took him a long time to do it, but he sat there focused. I think it is exciting when they help to plant something, help to harvest it, all the way through the entire process. And like you said, you don’t have to live on a farm to do that. You could even have a big dinner party. Not like an official one where you have a chef, but just a few friends or family members over to do something like what you mentioned that you do at your farm.
Brianna Widen Or go to the farmer’s market and meet the actual farmers who raised the food, and then have your kids talk to them. Have your kids be the ones that ask the questions. And, you know, when did you plant this? Just little things that—to you and I—we wouldn’t necessarily ask. But opening that door, and then they’re going to connect that person with their food, and then they’re going to get to connect with the food on their plate.
Lisa Bass Yeah, we’re talking about, you know, how people can go visit farms. I forgot about the farmer’s market. Right now. Farmer’s markets have all just opened, so there’s where the farmers all are. You can just have your kid quiz them. Just ask every question they can think of.
Brianna Widen Exactly. Exactly. And the markets, especially right now— they took a huge hit in the pandemic. So there are so many of those farmers that need help that need us to turn around and spend our dollars there that would love to talk to your kids.
Lisa Bass Yeah, that’s true. A lot of them do seem to be very open to talking and giving information. I’ve found that, too. Because we go to the farmer’s market all the time. We raise stuff, but then we also just— so much I don’t do. And so we go to the farmer’s market pretty much every Saturday and chat with them. Now, do you have any tips for farm families who would like to invite kids in the area to learn what goes into their food? I think that a lot of farmers struggle with this because, like I mentioned earlier, they think, “Oh, that’s obvious. I don’t do anything special. Everybody knows that you have to breed a cow in order to get milk.” You know, how would you encourage farm families to do something like this for local kids?
Brianna Widen Opening your doors is literally bridging the gap between farm and consumer. And your consumer is what’s paying your bills. So it’s so, so important that you open the door and figure out a way to do so. You know, the hardest thing for us is we did have to take out additional insurance. So I had to make sure that whatever I was providing— classes, whatever it was, was going to cover the cost of that insurance. We don’t make a whole lot of money on our farm school with the time that we put into it, with the information that we hand the kids. We do these really cool, graphic designed pamphlets that they get every single time they come out here with a different subject on them. Some of that stuff you might have to hire someone to help, but open the door so that you can actually tell your story because your story is what is going to sell. And people don’t know that you exist unless you tell your story. And again, they’re paying your bills. So you have to open that door or you’re going to end up— I don’t want to say you’re going to end up swallowed, but in the masses. You know, there’s 2% that feeds the rest of the world. And if people don’t know you exist, they don’t know you exist. So open the door. And if it’s just a once, twice a year tour, you might not make very much money on that tour, but you’re connecting with the people who can become your customers. And it potentially opens the door for direct to consumer marketing, too. So if you don’t already sell directly to your consumers, you can potentially start doing that by offering these tours. Or the tours can be additional revenue stream and agritourism. But the one thing that we definitely did first off was we just called our insurance agent and figured out what is this going to look like? And then from there, we worked backwards. So I knew exactly how much time I was going to be putting into it. So I knew exactly how much I needed to make in that time to make it worth not farming in that time. Because we do have to pay someone to be here to help on the farm on the days that I’m leading the school. Because we’re already working out here more way more than full-time. So we need to make sure that this chores still get done. So I had to make sure I could cover all my costs. And then I worked backwards from there and said, “Okay, I have the capacity myself to teach 20 kids, so I’m going to invite 20 kids out here four times a month.” And it’s actually— each kid only gets to come once a month, but it’s four classes. And then figured out exactly what that was going to look like for us. And I planned the curriculum out a year in advance, so I planned exactly what we were going to be doing. Some of it, I was flexible on. I was originally planning on doing butter churning right after my cow calved, and waited until this month because she’s out on grass and it’s really going to be yellow now. So last fall, we were tapering at the end of grazing season, and so her butter was pretty white because she was eating hay. So some of those things we’ve been more flexible on. Our chicken season got postponed a month just because of life and weather. So we did the chicken one a month later, but I planned that curriculum out a year in advance, and you would be surprised how many things you can talk about. And if you only have an hour, you’re going to have to divide it amongst a lot of different classes. You know, if you only raise beef cattle, there’s a lot that goes into that that you can cover. There’s no way you’re going to cover in just one event. So plan out. And open your doors. Be willing to talk to people. People aren’t as scary as you think they are. And there’s a lot— you’re going to meet people who want to support what you do and who want to connect with you. And they become lifetime customers.
Lisa Bass And they’re interested. Like what you’re doing is interesting. That’s one thing I think farmers, at least in my area, maybe, I don’t know, in my area, I feel like we have a lot of farmers who are just like, “Oh this is nothing.” You know? “Everybody knows this.” Or that it’s not interesting because they’ve been doing it so long. So I think that’s the difference. Well, thank you so much for sharing all of your knowledge. I know that there are so many things to learn. You’ve just basically opened up a whole new world for people. Let us know where is the best place to find you? Where should we send people?
Brianna Widen You can find me on Instagram. It’s @widnorfarms. But you can also find us on WidnorFarms.com. I document a lot on there on our blog and just through our website. You can shop through our website, you can get your— our meats are pastured, Pacific Northwest meats sent right to your door. But you definitely connect with us online or on social media, because that’s a place to find kind of all of it in one place.
Lisa Bass Awesome. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to share all of this with us.
Brianna Widen Thank you.
Lisa Bass All right. Well, thank you so much for listening to this episode of the Simple Farmhouse Life podcast. Make sure to check out the links in the description in the show notes to the resources that Brianna recommends, to her own resources, to her meat, to farm school. If you live in the area, that would be amazing. I hope that you were inspired to get your kids learning through farm life. As always, thank you so much for listening and I will see you in the next episode of the Simple Farmhouse Life podcast.