Editor of the Iowa Soybean Review

(Photo: Joclyn Bushman/Iowa Soybean Association)

Rural Route 2: My First Classroom

May 26, 2022 | Bethany Baratta

A recent visit to my son's preschool reminded me of my first classroom.

We didn’t have Dr. Seuss themed posters. But we did have framed aerial images of the farm hung on the walls.

We didn’t have assigned seats at the dinner table – though implied due to my left handedness but not labeled with table tents.

We didn’t have a set schedule; our work was done when the animals were fed, pens were cleaned and chores were completed.

My first classroom wasn’t really a room at all. Rather, it was a farm with our house, some buildings and barns situated along Rural Route 2. My siblings were my classmates.

Sometimes, a monumental rock in a field east of the house served as the lunch “room” where we would eat our lunch between picking up rocks during the summer. One chicken coop, which housed upward of 150 birds when my four siblings and I were in 4-H concurrently, taught us responsibility. We set up the coop for the broiler chicks, ensuring that wood shavings and heating lamps made a cozy spot for them to grow and rest.

Our gymnasium was the outdoor lots and barns we bounced in, between choring pigs, cattle, sheep and rabbits. Five-gallon buckets filled with feed and water were the weights we lifted over gates, through doors and to troughs.

We reinforced our math skills by blending feed rations and learned from past mistakes to conquer new challenges. We learned about love and loss as animal babies were born on the farm, perished or left for the market.

My first teachers were my parents. They instilled the values I hold dear today. Values of family and faith. Values of growing the sense of community wherever you are. Values of not being afraid to try something new, for even in failure, you learn something.

In this edition of the Review, I hope you learn something, too. Thirty years after the soy industry discovered soy diesel (now called biodiesel), new uses for soy oil have expanded into tires, asphalt, shoes and candles. The soybeans your family and my family grow on our farms go into these products and millions of others. That’s pretty awesome.

The work you do on your farm is difficult to teach through a textbook; it’s a learn-by-doing experience. There is no better classroom.