Western University of Health Sciences


Life Lessons Learned While Growing up on a Farm

photo of a wheat field ready to harvest

Katelyn Reist

Veterinary Medicine student

While attending elementary, middle, and high school, my classmates always asked, “what’s it like to live on a farm?” I never really knew how to respond because I have lived on a farm my entire life and have never known what it is like not to live on a farm. Living on a farm was just a part of my life and something that I have learned to cherish. These past few years, I have come to realize how grateful I am to have grown up on a farm because it has instilled in me many valuable lessons and life experiences. These experiences will always be a part of me and have shaped me to become who I am today.

photo of a dog next to a tractor on a farm
Photo by Katelyn Reist, Veterinary Medicine student

I grew up in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in the heart of Amish country. Although my family is not Amish, we have many wonderful Amish friends and neighbors. Our farm has been in our family for over six generations. My great-great-grandfather built our current home and barn! Currently, I help my family in raising corn and soybeans. Our farm has two horses as well as Angus cattle and Jersey oxen.

After moving to California for veterinary school — and being immersed in a completely different environment — I came to appreciate my childhood, and I began to feel grateful for the environment in which I was raised. After moving to California, I began to miss Lancaster. I didn’t necessarily miss my family per se, but I missed the farmland, the large oak trees, the smell of fresh air in open fields, dairy cows grazing outside, mules working in the fields, the green grass — and yes, I missed the smell of organic fertilizer! Whenever I return home to Pennsylvania, I have a deeper appreciation of the area and what it is like to live there. We never really appreciate something until it is gone. Albeit, it is not truly gone, just far away — whether it be a possession, a family member who has passed, or simply moving to a new area.

Living on a farm has taught me many valuable lessons that have helped me become the person I am today. Working hard is definitely something that I have learned while living on a farm. One can certainly never say that they are bored; whether it’s mowing the grass, weed eating, fixing fences, or caring for livestock, there is always something to do! Growing up on a farm is tiring work, but my family always makes work fun. From helping clean out horse stalls, to pulling weeds in our vegetable garden or staying up late planting corn, laboring on my family’s farm is enjoyable. I have also learned to appreciate the value of hard work after seeing how hard people in the past have worked compared to today. It is amazing how the farming technology that has been developed makes it so much easier to farm. Watching an Amish man plant corn with a team of mules, versus planting corn with our tractor certainly has made me appreciate the lifestyle that I have — though much can still be said about the Amish people’s dedication and hard work. No matter what each of our backgrounds are, there are people in our life who have taught us to appreciate the value of hard work and dedication.

photo of a farm taken from the seat of a tractor
Photo by Katelyn Reist, Veterinary Medicine student

“Slow down or by heck you might just cause a wreck!” This was a sign that my grandfather would put along the side of the road when it was time to harvest crops. Many people drove so quickly past our farm, and he didn’t want anyone to accidentally run into the farm equipment as we were putting it away in the barn. Many times, we were in a hurry or too busy to enjoy the simple things in life. I feel like that can certainly be said about me now as I am in veterinary school and as studying seems endless! It is difficult to learn how to slow down and take time to enjoy nature around us. One of the things that I enjoy most about Lancaster County is the peacefulness it offers. I like to take my time as I drive down a country road, looking at the farmland and livestock in the fields. As students, we need to remember to take time and enjoy nature. It is very easy to get stuck behind a computer on Zoom or while studying, but taking breaks to be outside or with friends and family is certainly beneficial.

During the recent pandemic, many people seem to have grown kinder to each other. I noticed that while I was at the grocery store or walking to the park, people are more willing to help each other out. Difficult times bring people closer together. That can certainly be said for living on a farm — when something doesn’t go the way you expect or plan, people come together to help each other out. Neighbors help neighbors. Many times after the corn was combined from the fields, there would be corn fodder (corn stalks) left on the ground. Most people would keep it in the fields for fertilizer for the following year, but some bale the fodder and use it for bedding horses. During the fall, our family would offer our corn fodder free of charge to an Amish neighbor, so that he can use it as bedding for his horses and mules over the winter. Offering a helping hand to a person in need not only benefits the recipient, but also feels good to the giver. I absolutely love the song sung by Glen Campbell, “Try a Little Kindness.” A little kindness goes a long way!

One of the things about farming is that you can never predict how the season will go. In addition to soybeans and corn, we have raised hay and rye. Helping with planting these crops has taught me the value of patience — a trait that certainly did not come easily to me — as well as trust. Whether or not the thousands of seeds that you put in the corn planter or grain drill (and ultimately into the field) will grow into a productive harvest is beyond our control. No matter how much fertilizer is placed on the crops, we need to remain patient and trust that the seeds will come up. In some years, we experience a frost which definitely impacts how the seed germinates. Other summers, it is drought or excessive flooding. Understanding the importance of faith, trust, and patience is certainly beneficial in the veterinary field as well!

There are so many benefits to living on a farm and I would definitely not trade the experiences that I have had for anything in the world. It has shaped me to become the person I am today. No matter where we may grow up, whether it is on a farm or in the city, we all have experiences that shape who we are. And we can use these experiences in our profession to help those who we will encounter, from animals to humans.