Chad Bartlett and his daughter Mackenzie Maka, 10, chat with their neighbors at their hundred-year-old barn next to Chad's house in Twin Lake, Michigan. Chad left behind the city life to create an environment for his children to learn skills and lessons beyond the life of an urban city. “We lived in an apartment for a long time,” Chad said. “Back then, we had to go out to do things, because they really couldn’t go outside and play because there’s no area that was ours. Here, it gets our family active a lot more, because we’re outside doing stuff. We’re not in the house all the time.”
Mackenzie holds her sheep Gunther while her other sheep, Rosita, gets trimmed for the upcoming county fair. She named her sheep after characters in the movie Sing.
Chad, left, and his children take turns riding a bucking barrel ride outside his house.
Chad's six-year-old dog Spudz passes Harkin, Mackenzie, and their older brother Logan Bartlett, 14, as they play video games in the living room. During the weekdays, everything falls onto Chad’s shoulders. He said his biggest challenge is juggling his 50-hour-per-week trucking job and taking care of the animals by himself when the siblings are at their mother's in Allendale, Michigan.
Mackenzie practices putting on a halter on her sheep Gunter and Rosita at her father's house. Mackenzie and her older brother Harkin Bartlett, 12, live with their mother and grandparents about 45 minutes south of their father Chad’s home in Twin Lake. Since April, the siblings have visited their father’s house every other weekend and worked together to raise market animals to show and sell at the county fair.
Chad, left, instructs Harkin and Mackenzie after hearing a dispute between them while working on their animals at Chad's house. Mackenzie said Harkin's effort to help her was too involved. "I know that I have to try to do it on my own,” Mackenzie said. “If he did it all for me, then I’ll just expect that I want him to do it.”
Harkin leads his hog, Ace, to the show arena with his cane at Newaygo County Fair in Fremont, Michigan. It is the second year in 4-H for Harkin, who has raised two hogs, Ace and Blizt.
Harkin combs his hair in his pig's pen before the show at the county fair. Harkin said he was initially attracted to the idea of making money by raising the market animals. “But in the end, I just took all that out of the picture and decided I was going to do it, because I thought it would be fun,” Harkin said.
Mackenzie waits for her turn to show her sheep Gunter in the show arena at the county fair.
Chad consoles Mackenzie before showing her sheep Gunter in the arena. The fair marked the end of the children's project, but it also meant it would soon be time for them to say goodbye to the animals.
Bartlett family gather around the dinner table featuring pork tenderloin, quinoa and potatoes at their house. Chad feels that the importance of farming isn’t common knowledge to young people and he wanted to give his children the opportunity to become a part of it. “Them having animals, is that going to help them in the future? I don’t know," Chad said. But he believes it can teach them valuable lessons about where food comes from and what it means. "These kids understand that there’s value in a life. When something dies, it doesn’t come back,” Chad said. “The animals are only here for a few months and then they are processed into products that nourish us. I think it’s important that they understand that.”