Let’s start with what may be the most obvious question about The Incredible Pol Farm, the new NatGeo Wild series that follows the Pol family as they convert 350 acres into space for livestock:
Is it replacing The Incredible Dr. Pol?
“No, no, no,” Dr. Pol told me. “I love doing the show because what we hear from people is how they learn how to take care of animals. This is so important!”
The Incredible Dr. Pol, which has been on the air for more than 12 years now, is actually back for its 24th season (NatGeo Wild, Saturdays at 9).
And its star will also show up on The Incredible Pol Farm (NatGeo Wild, Saturdays at 10), which features three generations of the Pol family, including Dr. Pol, his son Charles Pol, Charles’ wife Beth and their kids; and Beth’s brother, Ben Reinhold.
Charles Pol had the idea for The Incredible Pol Farm in the early days of the pandemic.
“My dad was an essential worker, but like most Americans, I was at home because I wasn’t essential to his essential business,” he told me. “I would go out and grocery shop and noticed how empty the shelves were, and it got me thinking a lot about food security, and also inspired me to want to get closer to our own personal food supply.”
Charles and his wife, Beth, also wanted “to give our children the ability to grow up on a farm, to have the experience that I had as a child,” he said.
Dr. Pol had that experience, too, growing up on a dairy farm in the Netherlands. “Charles and I and his sisters all grew up with animals. We were at a veterinary clinic, but we were living out in the country,” Dr. Pol told me. “And we always had some kind of animals. We always had horses. My sister in Canada and I imported fish and horses. So we always have had horses, still do.”
“When Charles said, Hey, let’s start another farm, that was perfect,” Dr. Pol added, “because his kids are now at the age where they have to learn to work with animals and appreciate the satisfying feeling you get when you take care of animals.”
The multiple projects that went into converting empty fields into the farm—including beehives and space for sheep to grace—are not without challenges, and Charles’ struggles provide comic relief in early episodes.
“I grew up on a farm, like my dad said, and we had been going out and working with farmers on the vet show for about 12 years at that point. So I felt, like, pretty confident about it,” he told me. “But I was shocked about how much of a challenge it was, how much I didn’t know.”
Dr. Pol said that “Charles knew how to take care of animals, but farming the land is not something that he had done before. And this is where the biggest challenge was. It wasn’t as easy as it looked on the outside. So, there you learn a lot.”
Charles was also doing this work with cameras watching. “I never really got defeated or felt like you couldn’t do it with the farm, even with the challenges of the hay field,” Charles said. “But when you added the filming and the pressures of filming a show, and the deadlines that are involved with that, there were some nights where I just wondered how we were going to do this, and if we got over our heads.”
“That definitely was an added challenge. But, again, it was super-rewarding to do it. When you do a first season of a show—and dad can attest to this—you’re really discovering how you shoot the show, what the show is as you’re making the show. And subsequent seasons are always a lot easier. So I think we worked out a lot of the kinks in filming,” he said.
Charles pointed out that “I don’t think people realize that the average age of the American farmer is 59 years old. There’s a lot of institutional knowledge that goes into farming that you can’t learn from books, and, you know, we had to learn the hard way. If we don’t get a next generation of farmer to step up, we’re going to lose that knowledge, some of it for good.”
While he’s learning, he’s also trying to teach his kids—and perhaps even people who watch The Incredible Pol Farm.
Charles said that “I think people be surprised how much your kids can do even at a young age. My daughter’s four now. My son is two. My daughter loves collecting the eggs from the chickens and the peacocks. They help me pour the grain into dishes, fill the water. Teaching them that responsibility at an early age, getting them excited to be involved with the animals is going to give them valuable life lessons along the way.”
“I hope this show inspires people—folks with children, like young children like this, but anybody—to get involved, and maybe get an animal,” Charles said. “Maybe you can’t have a cow, but maybe you can have backyard chickens. There’s a lot of people in the suburbs that can have backyard chickens.”
Charles’ dad echoed that.
“Animals teach kids a different thing that we cannot do, and this is so important,” Dr. Pol told me. “This is why we always had cats and dogs in the house to work with the kids. And many, many years ago, we had a [Great Dane], and we still have a picture of Charles sleeping on top of the dane. It’s just fun to see the interaction between animals and kids.”
“It gives them responsibility,” he added. “It gives them a love of animals. And that makes them better people when they grow up.”