Food Plotting Builds Bonds with Kids

By David Hart

When Jerry Browning was given a choice four years ago, it didn’t take him long to make a decision. His wife was going to be out of town for the weekend, but with autumn rapidly approaching, Browning wanted desperately to get out to the family farm in central Pennsylvania to work on his food plots. The problem was that he had to watch his two young boys, and the farm was an hour from his home. His son Kyle was 11, and Matthew was just eight — too young, Browning figured, to be much help.

“I ended up taking them with me. I wasn’t real sure what to do with them at the time, so they mostly just played in the creek while I disked the four fields I wanted to put into food plots,” he said.


That turned out to be a life-changing decision. Since then, the three Brownings have been actively planting and maintaining food plots together on the family farm. They spend weekends in spring and fall working the fields, and they hunt those plots every chance they get. The boys have not only increased their labor input, helping move heavy equipment and bags of fertilizer, they have become nearly as knowledgeable as their father, who started food plotting five years ago. In other words, involving your children in all aspects of hunting, including planting and maintaining food plots, is a great way to spend quality time with them. Not only will it benefit the family as a unit, it will help children learn about all aspects of nature, including how plants grow and why they flourish in some situations and flounder in others. What they learn depends, of course, on what you teach them, so it’s up to you to use every opportunity to impart some sort of lesson they can use later in life.


The first steps to involve children in food plotting should be simple ones, especially if your children are young. They can include anything from chucking rocks out of the food plot itself to spreading seed and helping gather samples for a soil test. You can also include young children in planting wildlife-friendly shrub seedlings along field edges and you can have them offer input into what plants to include in the plots. Even if you are new to food plots, including your children will help you both learn valuable lessons. Browning figures that’s one reason his children are so involved now. “I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be doing at first. I think one reason this has worked out so well is that we were in this together from the beginning. Even though my boys are still pretty young, I think they feel like they own the food plots just as much as I do,” he said. Older children can take on more responsibility like actually spreading seed. The simple act of handing a sack of Imperial Clover and a hand spreader to a child gives him not only a sense or responsibility, it gives him a reason to stay involved. By planting the seed himself and watching it grow, a young boy or girl will have a vested interest in the plot even before deer season rolls around. In fact, as Browning learned, a child who starts a food plot will feel a sense of ownership of that plot and will likely continue to work on it. Of course, children might lose focus on a food plot just as they might on like any long-term project. It’s up to you to keep them interested and involved. You can do that by assigning them various tasks as the season progresses.


What tasks a child performs depends entirely on his age and maturity level. You certainly don’t want to turn the keys of your tractor over to a 12-year-old. Many children drive heavy farm equipment, but many tractors, especially older ones, have little in the way of safety accessories. Browning won’t even allow his children to ride on his tractor while he’s driving it. He understands the importance of granting children small tidbits of responsibility, and driving a tractor is indeed a major step toward adulthood. However, safety should always trump any other decision. That’s not to say his sons stand by while he does all the work. The Brownings also use an ATV to tend two smaller plots and he will allow his older boy to use the four-wheeler to tow a disk or spreader. He not only gave him a stern lecture about safe ATV operation before he took the keys, Browning carefully monitored his son’s handling of the machine before he turned him loose. He won’t allow his boys to handle or spray herbicides. Although herbicides available through farm supply stores and through Whitetail Institute are approved by the Environmental Protection Agency, they can be unsafe if handled improperly. That’s why it’s wise to handle all chemicals yourself. “I’m very conscious about wind drift onto non-target plants and I certainly want to avoid getting any type of chemical herbicide on myself, so I think it’s just better to do that work myself,” he said. “I do set an example by wearing eye protection, rubber gloves and long pants and a long-sleeve shirt whenever I handle any chemicals. Hopefully my boys will understand the importance of safety when they are on their own.”


Building and maintaining food plots doesn’t just demand physical labor. It requires plenty of mental work, as well. Although the science of a soil test is conducted by a high-tech machine at some distant lab, it’s up to you to implement the recommendations printed out on the results. Instead of making the necessary calculations by yourself at the kitchen table, why not turn the effort into a math lesson, along with another great excuse to spend time with your children? Gather your children, a pencil, some paper and a calculator and then head out to your plots to sketch and measure them. Have your children make a rough drawing of each plot while you pace off the measurements. Then help your children determine the area of each plot and the amount of fertilizer and lime you’ll need to spread based on the recommendations of a soil test. Lessons can be extended to the field by examining the science behind fertilizers and lime. Truth is, it’s a lesson many of us could use ourselves. Do you have a concrete understanding of the role of various fertilizer ingredients and lime on food plots? Spend time with your children on the Internet researching not just food plot plants, but farming and gardening in general. You’ll not only spend more time with your kids, you’ll learn some useful information along the way. There’s no telling how much knowledge children will actually absorb, but even if just a little, it will be time well spent. Browning, an avid naturalist, insists food plots shouldn’t be just about drawing deer into bow or gun range in the autumn. Instead, they should provide food to a wide variety of wildlife all year. That’s why he and his boys planted shrubs around the edges of their food plots. He also incorporates some sort of conservation lesson whenever he can. “For instance, we’ll identify different plants and try to determine if they provide food for birds or mammals. I don’t want my boys to think we are simply growing a bait station for hunting season, because that’s not what food plots should be all about,” he said.


There’s no question food plots are grown primarily by deer hunters for deer hunting. That’s why hunters put so much time and effort into creating high-quality wildlife habitat. But as Browning learned four years ago, a food plot can be so much more than a great location to hang a tree stand. It can be a place to build a strong bond with your children. A

Plot Of Their Own Turing children loose on a patch of ground with a sack of seed is a great way to give them a direct connection to their very own food plot. Set aside a strip or a corner or even an entire field and let them work up their own plot. However, it’s critical they have the proper foundation for a successful plot or they may get discouraged when it doesn’t grow well. You’ll need to help them get rid of unwanted plant growth through the use of herbicides and/or disking to help them loosen and expose soil for good seed germination. You can do that with a rake or a disk pulled behind a tractor or ATV. No matter how much help you give, you’ll be doing your children a favor by starting them with a bag of easy-to-grow seed like Whitetail Institute’s No-Plow, Secret Spot or BowStand. All three of these products germinate well on bare soil, making them excellent choices for a young boy or girl.