Just about all of us have heard (or as parents, have ourselves said) some version of the following sentence: “You really need to learn the value of a buck.”

It is, often, a staple of parent-teen interactions: The young person wants something, really badly, and wants it immediately, of course. They’ve gotta have the nicest clothing or the latest smartphone or maybe, even, a car to get around. It’s just how things are in the more-more-more era in which we live. Perhaps you could say it’s indicative of how well people in my line of work, marketing, stimulate demand — how we subtly steer John Q. Public toward the next must-have item.

That leads to soul-searching on the part of many parents, as it did for myself and my husband when our three children were growing up with consumption habits forming: Didn’t they already have plenty? Weren’t we already too indulgent? 

That soul searching led us to an easy answer: yes, of course!  They absolutely needed to learn the value of a buck.

The answer was fulfilling, if a bit unconventional — a Christmas tree farm.  

Unique Opportunity

As we sought a new home for our growing family, we came to purchase a property that included this farm, which presented a unique opportunity for the children. And so, our answer to how we could teach them the value of a buck was to put them to work in the field! Yes, we put them to work on The Evergreen Farm, which we founded in 2004.  We hired some of their friends, too, the result being that it evolved into an ecosystem unto itself, a laboratory where many youngsters learned and grew.

Above and beyond that, it has become, in the 17 years we have owned it, a joyful little corner of the world. I mean, who doesn’t like Christmas? Who doesn’t get caught up in the spirit of the season? Who doesn’t love building traditions that include the outdoors at holiday time? It is always heart-warming to see families comb our seven-acre farm in search of a tree, always uplifting to watch them make their selection, then sit by the fire sipping hot cider. And it is always joyful to watch them drive off with a Douglas fir or blue spruce lashed to the roof of their car. 

In addition to the kids learning how to work and earn their way, there have been other extras. We have seen people meet their future spouses during their traditional foray to find a tree at the farm. We have seen them return in subsequent years, hand in hand, rings on fingers, children in tow. 

And as trees and families have flourished, so too have the youngsters working the place. That’s not unusual for teens toiling in what is often their first job. Those who do so become more disciplined, more confident. They improve their social skills and life skills. They become more independent, more aware of the possibilities that life might offer them.

And yes, they come to understand the value of a buck.

Shoring Up Weaknesses

We have seen all that first-hand in unique ways. We see that the teens we have hired over the years, usually for the first time as high school freshmen, have fallen into one of two buckets: Those who are hard workers but are uncomfortable talking with customers, and those who are social butterflies but don’t relish the work aspect of their time on the farm.

The impressive reality is that over time each group tends to shore up those areas that are in need of improvement. The grinders become more talkative and outgoing with customers. They grow in confidence and comfort. The minglers come to see that if they work hard, they’ll be rewarded well. They surprise us with their growing work ethic as the years progress.  Each of the young employees grows in their respective areas of opportunity.

Competitive Aspect

There is also a competitive aspect to it. The kids see how much tip money their friends are bringing in, for instance, and what to out-earn them — more-more-more, turned inside-out. Capitalism at its most basic level. Additionally, there is a marketing aspect to it, as they come to understand how much power word-of-mouth advertising possesses, when their friends and neighbors arrive at the farm.

Experts sometimes note that there is a downside to teens holding a job. It can, for instance, increase their stress level or leave them with an unfavorable view of the work-a-day world. Moreover, it can cause them to miss out on extracurricular activities or social opportunities, or leave them with less time to study.

To the latter point, it has been concluded that those teens who work 15 hours or fewer each week actually perform better in the classroom than those who don’t work at all, while those who work 15 or more do not perform as well as non-workers. 

Balance Is Crucial

The conclusion, then, is that maintaining a balance between work, school and extracurricular activities is essential. That, of course, is a life lesson unto itself, given how important work-life balance is over the span of one’s career — how it improves the physical and mental health of those in the workforce, while also making them more productive.

As a result, experts advise parents to gain a firm understanding of where their children are looking to work, and what, exactly, they will be doing. Happily, we knew where our kids were working during their formative years.  We have since seen them become high achievers. All three went on to great colleges and graduate schools, and have embarked on promising careers in medicine, data analytics and engineering.

There is no doubt that the seeds were planted at our farm — that far from just learning about the value of a buck, they were taught lessons that have allowed them to sprout in adulthood. So it is with young people and work. So it is with places that offer far more than meets the eye.