The growing season is winding down, and soon it will be time to celebrate the bountiful harvest of autumn. The fall season often evokes memories of life on the family farm. Many senior adults who grew up in the early 20th century come from a tradition of family farming. Survey your group members to see how many of them were raised on a farm. Ask participants to describe the change of seasons on the farm. What chores/activities did they do during the fall? Did they feel a special connection to the land and nature? Pass around farm prints from artists such as Grant Wood, Warren Kimble, Grandma Moses, and Currier and Ives. Ask your group to name the simple things in life they came to appreciate from their rural lifestyle. Talk about the concept of stewardship as it applies to farming.

During October, the Harvest Month, you can celebrate National Family History Month with some sessions on the family heritage of farming. Other special events in October include National 4-H Week and Farmer’s Day.

There was a certain simplicity of life in the countryside during the early 20th century. Ask your group members to talk about life without electricity or television! Encourage them to reminisce about farm communities in the 1930s-1950s. Show vintage photos of a farmhouse, church, country store, and a one-room schoolhouse. What do participants recall about church potlucks and socials, Sundays with relatives, and going to town on Saturday nights? Did they have a favorite country doctor, rural schoolteacher, local veterinarian, or general store owner?

Here are more suggestions for activities related to the family farm. Speakers such as a local farmer, farm extension agent, or staff from a local agricultural school would be valuable resources for some of the session ideas.

  • Talk about the different types of family farms, e.g., crop, livestock, dairy, and poultry. Talk about the growing trend of hobby farms.
  • Locate the farming “belt” regions, e.g., cotton, corn, dairy, wheat, on a U.S. map.
  • Sample fall produce from farmers’ markets and farm stands, e.g., apples, pears, grapes.
  • Talk about changes in farming methods and technology over the past fifty years, such as organic farming.
  • For hobbyists, pass around John Deere miniature farm toys; show pictures of old farm tractors and equipment.
  • Talk about preparing for livestock shows and county/state fairs. Ask if anyone ever won the Grand Champion prize.
  • Reminisce about the round of daily farm chores for boys and girls: haul water, weed garden, fill wood box, gather eggs, milk cows, feed livestock.
  • Reminisce about simple pleasures on the farm: ice skating on the pond, riding the hay wagon, going fishing in the creek, making homemade ice cream. Share favorite props such as old skates, ice cream scoop, and fishing rod.
  • Display copies of The Old Farmer’s Almanac and magazines such as Farm Journal and Progressive Farmer. Talk about using the almanac for planting and weather information.
  • Sample some recipes for country or “down home” cooking, e.g., pan-fried chicken, corn pudding, buckwheat cakes. Display old farm cookbooks such as Farm Journal’s Country Cookbook, 1959. Chat about cooking on a wood stove.
  • Show pictures of restored barns. Plan an old-fashioned hoedown or barn dance with square dancing and caller.
  • Reminisce about the faithful farm dog, e.g., collie, sheepdog, or shepherd. How are farm dogs trained to guard and herd? List favorite names for farm dogs.
  • Giggle at some simple country humor from the classic comedienne Minnie Pearl, Hee Haw television show, or the movie adventures of Ma and Pa Kettle. Watch the movie Summer Stock and see Judy Garland singing in bib overalls.
  • For intergenerational fun, read children’s books related to farm life, e.g., The Year at Maple Hill Farm and Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm, written and illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen. Snack on animal crackers and milk.
  • Discuss the purpose of farm associations and organizations such as Farm Bureau and National Grange; for youth 4-H Club, FFA, and FHA.
  • Share old photographs from the Farm Security Administration of farm life during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl. What New Deal programs were established to aid farmers?
  • Examine the history of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, established in 1862. Talk about changes in the USDA Food Guide Pyramid.


Dairy farms have undergone many changes in the last fifty years. Invite a local dairy farm family to talk about a typical day on a dairy farm. Explain the process of getting milk from a milking parlor to a dairy processing plant. Children can show pictures of their dairy cow breeds such as Holstein and Guernsey. Sample dairy products that come from milk – cheese, ice cream, and yogurt. Chat about the origin of the Dairy Queen Store. Challenge your participants with a trivia quiz titled “Moo, Cow, Moo!”

  1. A place where dairy products are processed and sold is called what? Creamery
  2. Name the part of whole milk that is rich in butterfat. Cream
  3. The liquid left after churning butter from milk is called what? Buttermilk
  4. What is a milkmaid? A girl or woman who milks cows or works in a dairy
  5. What was the name of the cow pictured on Borden’s milk products? Elsie
  6. An individual serving of butter in a restaurant is called what? A pat
  7. What two states are the nation’s highest dairy producers? Wisconsin and California
  8. The Chicago fire in 1871 was blamed on what? Mrs. O’Leary’s cow
  9. Cheese gets better with what? Age
  10. What does the slang term “milk run” mean? A routine trip or undertaking presenting little danger or difficulty


“What we hope ever to do with ease, we must learn first to do with diligence.” ~ Samuel Johnson

“FARM LIFE” written by Sue Hansen. © 2006 ElderSong Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

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