Nicolas Andre handed over a bag of fresh chicken livers to a customer at the West Tisbury Farmers’ Market on Saturday morning. After ringing up the sale, Nicolas, age 12, sent the customer on her way with a “Have a nice day” so sincere it could have only come from a child.
“It’s fun,” he said of growing up on his family’s Cleveland Farm in West Tisbury. “Local food is always around and we always have fresh meat.”
Meat is his favorite food group, he said.
Helping process chickens, as he had the day before, and going out to the coops every morning to collect eggs is a normal routine for Nicolas and dozens of other Vineyard children growing up on small farms.
At Cleveland Farm in West Tisbury, the work is a family affair. Richard Andre manages the livestock, his wife Ina Andre runs the vegetable garden and young Nicolas is the egg man. Every morning and evening, both summer and winter, Nicolas goes out to collect eggs.
“When you come home from school, how do you get to the house?” Mrs. Andre prodded.
“I like to walk past all the animals out of habit,” Nicolas replied.
“He comes up to the house all smiles,” his mom said.
“Farming allows you to spend a lot of time together as a family,” she continued. “We’re around when Nicolas gets home from school. We get to work on things together and enjoy it together.” She added: “The nice thing about winter is there’s almost no farming so we just get to hang out as a family.”
At Breezy Pines Farm in West Tisbury, the Thurber family is similarly all hands on deck, where they grow vegetables for sale at the farmers’ market and also their own farm stand off New Lane. They also make herbal and honeycomb skin care products.
“Everyone has a job, everyone has something they do, and not just something to do but something they like to do,” said Travis Thurber. “We really try not to force them to do anything, but we definitely try to reward them with what they do, and not just with food, though they do love that.
“The kids love vegetables. Who wouldn’t?”
Mr. Thurber, his wife Heather and sons Brahmin, 13, and Cabot, 11, all pitch in to help with weeding, planting harvesting and pruning.
“We try to teach them to do everything so when it’s their turn they have no questions . . . to have an idea of where their food comes from and if they need it, how to make more,” Mr. Thurber said. “It’s about having a knowledge of food and how it works and what it takes to take care of, what it takes to produce,” he said. “Most people don’t understand what it takes and they’ve never seen a tomato plant before, just the tomato.”
On Saturday, Cabot helped his dad with the farm table at the busy market. Asked about his daily chores at home, he ticked them off: collecting eggs, weeding and harvesting vegetables. He enjoys picking but “not the weeding” he said with a grimace.
Nearby, nine-year-old Joshua Dix of North Tabor Farm was learning how to make change under the watchful eye of his mother, Rebecca Miller.
“He’s doing a great job,” Ms. Miller said after Joshua counted out the correct change for a $100 bill. Joshua asked to keep the Ben Franklin, but his mother had a more sensible plan, to put the bill in the family vacation fund.
Joshua, his two sisters Ruby, 14, Sadie, 16, and dad Matthew Dix all work on the family farm.
“Everyone works at our house, it’s the rule,” Ms. Miller said. “Ruby says she doesn’t know anyone who’s 14 years old who has to work 15 hours a week, but they all work at least two days [in the summer]. We’re also training Ruby to take over the winter farmers’ market.
“She’s been in training for two years; by the time she drives I think she’ll have it down,” she said with a smile.
“Farming is hard work and we don’t get much time to play. It helped me be close to my children growing up. We didn’t do it for financial reasons; we did it because we wanted to be close to our food and we wanted our children to share in that experience.
“Even my daughter who’s 16 and doesn’t have to come to market wakes up early every Saturday and comes every week.”
The kids said they enjoy the lifestyle.
“My favorite thing about living on a farm is that I can ride my bike everywhere,” said Joshua Dix. Asked to name his favorite vegetable, he answered the question with another: “Does basil count as a vegetable?”
Ms. Miller extolled the virtues of raising a family on a farm.
“Oh my gosh, I could go on and on,” she said. “Our kids excel in biology because they live it — they know about birth, they know about reproduction, they know about death.”
North Tabor Farm employs workers from around the world every summer, another influence on the kids.
“They’ve grown up being exposed to people from all over the place and it’s been amazing,” she said. She concluded:
“I’m glad we did it. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
This column is meant to reflect all aspects of agriculture and farm life on the Vineyard. Remy Tumin may be contacted at 508-627-4311, extension 120, or e-mail her at email@example.com.