I came across an absurd USA Today story from last week that I just couldn't let pass without reacting to. From the very first lines I struggled to keep my jaw from dislodging from my face and falling to the dirt.
Summertime can mean danger for children on farms.
An 18-year-old Amish man died from oxygen deprivation and his 14-year-old brother was injured last month as they worked in a neighbor's farm silo in Pennsylvania. Also last month, a Maryland man and his sons, 18 and 14, died of asphyxiation while working in a farm manure pit.
The federal government and safety groups are working to build awareness of farm hazards after a Labor Department decision to withdraw regulations that would have restricted children's work on farms.
The first thing that went through my mind is that EVERY day of the year can mean danger. Recently, one of my daughter's classmates was killed in a traffic accident trying to cross an intersection. A little over a year ago, another kid was killed when a truck hit his 4-wheeler.
There is an effort out there to scare the general public – a public that doesn't have the feintest clue about life outside the urban jungles – that farms are these dangerous, child killing places.
I grew up working on my family's farm. We are a fairly large operation farming over 6,500 acres for various purposes. We raise thousands of head of free range, pasture cattle. We grow wheat, sorghum, hay, corn, and oats. We are wholesalers of grain seed for other farmers to plant their crops.
Because my dad was in the Navy the only time I was able to work on the farm was during the summer. Each summer, I would travel to Texas to help my uncles and Pawpaw and earn a little extra money. It was tough work, but it instilled a sense of discipline, drive, and work ethics I probably wouldn't have had otherwise.
It was also fun.
I learned to drive at a young age. At just eight years old, I was sitting on my Pawpaw's lap and driving the little Massey-Ferguson or John Deere tractor through the fields rolling hay to dry. By 12, I was driving pickup trucks with trailers full of that hay from the fields to the our storage lots. I also helped grind feed, immunize the cattle, and help deliver calves that were in distress. I ensured that the cattle had plenty of food and water in the pastures. I labored HOURS and HOURS in the pee patch plucking black-eyed peas from their bushes that we would later have to shuck. THERE IS NOTHING IN LIFE WORSE THAN PICKING PEAS!!
It wasn't easy work and it wasn't as safe as working at McDonald's or Taco Bell working a cash register. One time, I was chased up a tree by a protective mother. My uncles got a good laugh at that one. Another time, I had my hand crushed by a bull that decided he no longer wanted me touching his horns. He pinned my hand between the fence and his horns.
Perhaps the most labor intensive thing I did over the summer was bailing and loading hay. In the 80's, we didn't have the loaders that we have today that automatically stacked all the hay in neat stacks without ever touching a bail. I would either walk along a truck with a giant hay elevator (essentially a ramp with spikes built into a chain that would grab the bales as we passed them and raise them to the bed of the truck) or I would be in the truck taking the bales off the elevator and stacking them on the bed. Each bale weighed about 60 pounds and seemed to gain weight as the day wore on.
The media and some morons in Congress want you to believe that our kids are dying exponentially on our nation's farms. These places are death traps and need to be regulated. No kid should have to work where death is certain and acceptable.
Reid Maki, director of social responsibility and fair labor standards for the National Consumers League, a non-profit economic and social-justice advocacy group, doesn't believe that farmers have the best interests of kids in mind when working their trade. According to the USA Today article, she thinks we simply need more “firm regulations.” This is the fix for all big government bureaucrats.
Her statements couldn't be further from the truth. My uncles and Pawpaw always emphasized safety. We wore gloves and other protective equipment. They always made sure I KNEW how to operate the equipment I was allowed to use and maintained vigilent oversight until they were comfortable. They always knew when I tried to cut corners. Because most of the these farms are family owned and run, the “child laborers” are generally sons, daughters and cousins.
Today, my 12 and 14 year old cousins work the farm the same way I did as a kid. My 18 and 20 year old cousins have doing it for years and now work full-time. Not a single person has ever been killed on our farm. No one has lost a finger, foot, or follical. Well, maybe we've lost a few follicles.
I'm appalled that the media, government bureaucrats, and “non-profits for social-justice” think they know better than we do about what farmlife is like. I would argue that were it not for our nation's farms, many of these kids wouldn't know the first thing about survival or providing for a family.
I learned more than just how to toss a bale of hay. I learned how to keep the equipment functional by greasing important parts. I learned how to change tires on a rim. I learned how to weld. I learned how to use my hands. I learned how to barter and make connections with people. I learned the value of a dollar and the work it takes to earn it. I learned how to maintain the soil and replace nutrients used up during cultivation of crops.
When I retire from the military, I want to get back into farming. Not sure if my wife would allow that, but we'll see. I enjoy working the fields and making them usable year after year. If we allow the Labor Department” to ban kids from working on farms or impose cost-prohibitive regulations on farmers the entire country will suffer.
How many of the figure heads know the first thing about farming other than what they've read in books or been taught in school? They need to get real and recognize that we do everything possible to keep our kids safe while also teaching them valuable life lessons. I learned those lessons growing up and now my kids are too. I'm proud of the reputation that Grisham Farms has in our community and the contributions we make.
I guess we can be thankful that so far this effort has failed. However, power grabbing liberals don't stop when they fail. They will start to find other ways to incrementally get what they want. And when they do, everyone will pay the price for it.