I was raised on a family farm; something that is becoming increasingly rare these days. I believe there are two characteristics that are almost completely unique to family farms and that is what makes them so special: 1) The family basically lives and works in the same location. 2) There is so much work to be done that everyone is required to do their share. If you put these two items together it means that children are always present in the workplace, and as soon as they are old enough, they join right in, working side by side with their parents. There sure aren’t too many places remaining in this country where these things can still occur.
Parents and children working side by side can result in many good things. Children become exceptionally responsible at an early age. Children also learn to work hard while enjoying firsthand the fruits of their own efforts. As for parents; they have numerous opportunities to influence the development of their children by being able to instruct and nurture them on a daily basis. Yes, there are many benefits for children when they are raised on a family farm!
This type of life can have its drawbacks too, however, but don’t expect me to be overly critical of a lifestyle that’s so near and dear to my heart. I wish to simply mention my own observation that a family farm is not an entirely safe place for either children or adults. Yes, every work place has its particular hazards, but there are more pieces of moving machinery on a farm than almost anyplace else, and it’s also the home and playground for children of all ages. That’s a scary combination!
I won’t go into all of my own close calls, but be assured; I’ve had plenty of them! Some are certainly general childhood mishaps that could have happened anywhere, but there is also a fair share that could have only occurred on a farm. And don’t call me accident prone; I grew up in a farming community where virtually everyone has experienced either an accident or a close call. We all share a basic understanding that but for the grace of God, any of us could easily have been maimed or killed while working on our farms.
It’s because I understand the dangers of farms first hand, that I feel sad when I’m told that there’s nothing that can be done about children being injured or killed on farms. Farm groups say that the world is a dangerous place, and we can’t overprotect our children. The US Department of Labor says teenagers working on farms are four times more likely to die than when they work anywhere else! Is this an acceptable risk to parents out there? Everyone has to evaluate what they are personally willing to expose their own children to, and decide if the risks are worth the payoffs. I realize that sometimes, for small operations, having the children involved at an early age is the only way a family farm can hope to survive, and they do the best they can to make it a safe place.
Whatever the case, the US Department of Labor heard loud and clear from farm groups last week that their meddling in farm life status quo wouldn’t be tolerated. The Labor Department was trying to require kids who were hired to operate machinery on farms be old enough to have a driver’s license. This was not about the children of the farmer; this was only about other children the farmer may want to hire. Even for what I feel was a reasonable request, the opposition by farm groups was too powerful, and the Labor Department announced that they were giving up attempting to implement this requirement. It seems that nobody, even the US Government, wants to interfere in the work practices of people on a family farm. Nobody is willing to stand up and say there is an age, any age at all, that may be too young for children to operate farm machinery. Nobody wants to infringe on the personal freedoms of farmers to use their children and their friend’s children however they see fit. It’s a minefield of opposition that nobody wants to enter, so everyone just leaves it alone.
I’m sure that there are things that can be done to make the family farm safer. Laws are not the answer as they will certainly be ignored and impossible to enforce. On the other hand, allowing any organization to police itself has never proven to be effective either. I may not have the answers, but I’m at least relatively certain that a dialog between farmers and safety groups needs to be initiated. The success of this conversation will ultimately depend on two things: 1) Are safety groups willing to acknowledge that family farms are unique work environments that need to be handled differently from other locations like say, factories, and 2) Are farmers interested in making their businesses a safer place even if it ends up costing some money to accomplishment.
I would say at this point that judging from the reactions of both groups, we still have a long way to go!