Commentary: Lessons learned from scooping corn and walking beans

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More than 3.5 million children aged 14 and under received medical treatment last year for sports injuries. From 1982 until 2002, 256 young people were killed in organized sports, including, believe it or not, 21 fatalities from cheerleading. Around 3,000 young people between the ages of 15 and 19 are killed each year in auto accidents. All of which, if you are a Washington bureaucrat, means that something has to be done about kids working on farms.

A new rule advanced by the Department of Labor would end the exemptions that allow farm kids under 16 to have 4-H or FFA projects that include operating machinery and working with animals. Not only that, the department is moving to tighten regulations to forbid farm kids from working on their grandparents’ farm, a farm owned by their aunt or uncle or a family farm organized as a corporation.

Farm safety is a concern, and farming is, by nature, a dangerous occupation. However, any death in a farming accident is one too many. From 1998 until 2009, the rate of farm accidents involving young people dropped by 48%. That statistic alone would argue against the need for drastic changes in the regulations dealing with kids who work on their family farms.

 “60 Minutes” did an expose; Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis is concerned; and regulations governing kids and farming haven’t been changed since 1970. The year 1970 doesn’t seem like that long ago and was hardly the dark ages of the industrial revolution, but never mind.  Something has to be done! The date of the last change in the regulations brings back some memories for me. I spent the summer of 1970, when I was 13, scooping corn and walking beans. I spent some of my time working on my father’s farm, which would be legal under the proposed rule, but much of the rest of the summer was spent working for my grandfather, which is verboten under the Obama administration’s plan.

Let’s face it, I was exploited for most of that summer, and every summer until I turned 16. Where was Secretary Solis when I needed her? Solis has said she refuses to “stand by while children are robbed of their youth!” Exactly!

Of course, there is another side to the story, but it is hard to make the argument for the virtues of work. I guess it is accepted by everyone that summer should be a time for exploring, for being a kid, for camp and family vacations and for baseball. In a recent piece in a Kansas law journal, the authors make the case for stricter regulations protecting kids from the life my brothers and I lived. My favorite quote from the piece made the argument that we’ve advanced beyond the hidebound belief that labor is honorable, commendable and a thing of value: “Even today, many Americans believe in the value of labor intensive work, and that positive work experience can foster individual development, and a sense of responsibility.”

Well, yes, even today. Looking back on those days, I credit much of what I have achieved to that forced discipline, to the effort my father and grandfather spent in training me. I learned that in order to be treated like a man, I had to do a man’s work. I was expected to keep up, to finish the job, and whining was not tolerated. I’m thankful that technology has lessened the need for that kind of work, but that thankfulness doesn’t change the fact that I benefitted from the lessons I learned with a hoe in my hand. My grandchildren now help me do the same kind of jobs in our greenhouse business, and they are, I hope, learning the same lessons I learned.

(Blake Hurst, of Westboro, Mo., is the president of Missouri Farm Bureau.)







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Salado, TX  |  December, 29, 2011 at 07:31 PM

Any death of a youth is a terrible thing. I started driving a tractor on my father's farm when I was 10. Dad just did not throw me on the tractor without hours or training. And working around machinery with power take-off was especially dangerous, but Dad never taught me to dismount the tractor with the power take-off engaged. When I was 14 I was earning what I thought was big money by working for other farmers putting up hay. I guess those days are no more. But having the limit on youth not working on a farm is by far government run amuck. More youth under the age of 16 are killed each year by texing than one cares to think about. It is time to change out the current administration.

garrison, tx  |  December, 30, 2011 at 10:28 AM

I agree with Doug. I started working in the hay feilds for one of my dad's former ag students when I was 11 years old. I was the # 1 rake hand. Because of that job, I was able to purchase an 8 house broiler farm with my father when I was 23 years old and today he and I are operating 12 broiler houses and small heard of registered Angus Cattle....all because of my hay field job that I started at age 11 earning good money at $3.00 an hour!! If we let our government take those opertunities away from our youth that be have got bigger problems than we can ever imagine!!

Montana  |  December, 30, 2011 at 12:10 PM

This is more Government interference in our private lives.... If this new rule goes into effect, there will be more overweight, lazy, & unmotivated young people in this country that will not have a clue how to work. I am very thankful I was able to grow up on a ranch & learned right from wrong, how to pack feed buckets, how to care for animals, how to drive safely, how to ride a horse & how to be a responsible adult. It also taught me that community is important & that you should help your neighbor. I think they have more important things that they should be consentrating on instead of this..... It just goes to show how much lack of COMMON SENSE there is in Washington.

Alturas, Ca  |  December, 30, 2011 at 12:38 PM

My dad taught me in my youth how to calve heifers, feed cattle, work cattle horseback and run equipment. Today I manage a large hay and cattle operation and I thank my dad for the working skills he taught me. I wonder how the government can replace thoughs values taught by my father?

AZ Don    
Arizona  |  December, 31, 2011 at 12:06 PM

I was born and raised on a farm in the late 30's. I was the only son, one sister. In those days everyone in the family had to contribute to the family. That meant hard work as a small boy. By the time I was nine, and after WWII, I was doing the work of an adult. I also learned many things other “city” kids did not learn. Like responsibility and dependability. Also what a persons word really means. And respect for adults. We did not even have electricity until I was 15. Lived seven miles from town and did not go there very often. It is true there are farm accidents today just as there were then but they are few and far between. Relative to all the other dangers in the modern world. Besides if anyone desires to be totally safe from everything they will have to become recluse. There are things in life that present danger every day. Growing up with them and learning about them is part of growing up and living. One of the things wrong with today’s world is over protection. Life is not easy the sooner the kids learn that the better off they will be. If you put your hand in a sausage grinder it “ain’t” gonna come out the way it went in! We are raising a bunch of pansies today. That’s why we have a “give it to me now,” younger generation attitude. We are for some reason showing our kids how easy life is, that’s ridiculous it’s not easy. Consequently, we, the adults are in essence lying to them and giving them false expectations. If something is not done soon those children will take this country into some type of a totalitarian government and they will no longer be free as we have enjoyed in our lifetime. It may already be to late to turn this back, that remains to be seen. We are currently experiencing the OWS gangs. That is exactly what has gotten us here. Things take time to take place, but many of them are not willing to take that time. They want it all now, and it’s our fault because we didn’t teach them differently.

pueblo, co  |  January, 02, 2012 at 01:06 PM

got to aggree with AZ don, i have been working on the fam farm since i was 5, now i am proud to have my 6 year old son and 3 year old daughter helpping me as much as they can. they go to grand parents house daily after school and are told they need to help. they usually have no problem helpping with setting water, turning hay bales , feeding or just any thing grandma wants. they don't have video games and that is just fine since even when the are at a cousins home that has one they would rather be outside. when the cousins come home to visit they don't want to do a damn thing but sit on their duff, i blame this on my sibblings not making there kids get out and help with the family chores. i learned about helping family in times of need and generaly how to fix just about any thing just from being on the farm and tinkering sure hope my kids can to.

tim munns    
snowville ut  |  January, 02, 2012 at 12:00 AM

I agree with Russ , have not seen or heard from you in years give me a call or email Tim

Mike B    
Texas Panhandle  |  January, 06, 2012 at 09:03 AM

I'll take someone who was raised and worked on a farm anytime for an employee than someone who was raised in the city. The farm kid doesn't feel that he is entitled to anything except what he gains from his own labor. Just ask any job recruiter that goes to the colleges and I'd bet he'd rather hire a farm raised kid than city raised. A farm kid will know how to work, the city kid not necessarily.

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