Dixie Farm Challenge might let boy, 10, practice manliness, helpfulness

Bill Ensinger of Dayton, Tenn., is considering my suggestion that he engage my 10-year-old son as a farm apprentice.

By David Tulis

It’s lunchtime between the two worship services at my church, and I am diving into the hot fare next to Bill Ensinger, a farmer in Dayton, Tenn., who travels almost an hour to worship with us on the Lord’s Day. Mr. Ensinger recently hosted a “Local economy in one lesson” event that included my readers and his farm goods and soap business.

The Ensingers run Dixie Soaps (see nearby ad) and sell eggs and produce. The Ensingers keep people at church supplied with eggs and soap. Often members come in with return egg cartons for the farmfolks piled atop their Bibles and catechisms.

The father of a daughter and three sons, I am interested in my youngest boy, 10, gaining experience this summer in ways varied from what I might normally do for him. Many children go to camp. Could this boy go to camp at the Ensinger farm, and be useful to a good man and his family?

The idea is for Mr. Ensinger to try out for size what could be called something like “Dixie Farm Challenge” or “Farm Camp.” What a swell compliment to “Local economy in one lesson!”

I take a reluctant Jacob up for a day to help out and visit. Let him play a little, but let him get into the spirit of work and accomplishment. Whatever Mr. and Mrs. Ensinger need, Jacob is there to help. In the course of a day he might  help make a repair, move heavy objects around, feed the goats, spread hay in a barn, haul dark matter to a compost pile and milk the goats.

The lessons aren’t yet done; I’ve come back from my job at a radio station, and Jacob, 10, is just out of view on the right, awaiting a bit of book work with dad. Is being a student ALL bookwork?

Leaving weenie-dom behind; the bold boy

Jacob Tulis, 10; does he look deserving of a summertime farm adventure?

If my idea of mutual aid works out, I envision Jacob spending three days with the Ensingers, and boarding there two nights. We shall figure out the arrangements, and make everyone happy. I’m discussing the prospects with the boy, whom I trust will warm to the idea of being a man of the farm. My life has so often been preoccupied with study, reading, writing, newsletter publishing, theology, law, economics and the like. I don’t want my sons to be negligent of the physical world, as sometimes I am. So preoccupied am I with a work schedule that I greatly enjoy mowing, running my chain saw, hauling wood. Too rarely do I have occasion to pursue these things. There’s a balance between the physical and the intellectual, and I usually do not attain it.

“Boys [should be] inured from childhood to trifling risks and slight dangers of every possible description, such as tumbling into ponds and off of trees, etc., in order to strengthen their nervous system…. They ought to practise leaping off heights into deep water. They ought never to hesitate to cross a stream over a narrow unsafe plank for fear of a ducking. They ought never to decline to climb up a tree, to pull fruit merely because there is a possibility of their falling off and breaking their necks. I firmly believe that boys were intended to encounter all kinds of risks, in order to prepare them to meet and grapple with risks and dangers incident to man’s career with cool, cautious self-possession.”

These words are from R.M. Ballantyne in his book, The Gorilla Hunters. Mr. Ballantyne wrote more than 100 books such as Coral Island and inspired Robert Lewis Stevenson of Treasure Island fame, among other adventure writers.

Take heart, dads.

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