Our Opinion: Don’t take the ‘family’ out of family farmsThe Labor Department should drop its plan to restrict the work young people can do on a farm.
Seven hundred children injured a day. More than 250,000 children injured a year. And 2,000 children killed a year. That’s the toll car accidents take on America’s youth. And yet, we accept it. Why? Because the benefits outweigh the costs. Cars mean so much and are so vital to modern life that we accept the risks. Farm families should be allowed to do the same.
By: Tom Dennis, Grand Forks Herald
Seven hundred children injured a day. More than 250,000 children injured a year.
And 2,000 children killed a year.
That’s the toll car accidents take on America’s youth. And yet, we accept it.
Because the benefits outweigh the costs. Cars mean so much and are so vital to modern life that we accept the risks.
Farm families should be allowed to do the same.
Of course, the issue on farms is not driving. The issue is whether young people should be allowed to do farm work.
Farm families, including countless adults who grew up on farms and cherish the experience, say yes.
But the federal government — notably, the Department of Labor, not the Department of Agriculture — is poised to say no. The department has proposed rules that would make feeding cattle, building fences, bucking hay bales and just about every other farm chore illegal for many farm youngsters.
What a sad overreach by the department, one that threatens a monumental American tradition: the tradition of families working together on a farm.
And what a thoughtlessly condescending action, too. “The ultimate frustration boils down to two things,” said U.S. Rep. James Lakford, R-Okla., to The Oklahoman newspaper.
“One is the assumption that the family doesn’t care about kids, so Washington needs to care about your kids.
“And the rules give you the impression of people that work on concrete trying to tell people that work on dirt how to do their work. That’s what frustrates me.”
It’s true that the rules wouldn’t apply to children working on their parents’ farm. But that’s only a fraction of most farm youngsters’ experience. Lots of work gets done for neighbors, grandparents and other relatives, but most of that would be banned under the proposed rules.
Work on one’s own family’s farm would be off-limits, too, if that farm is rented or run as a corporation.
Driving a tractor, pulling calves, stacking hay, mowing the lawn ... mowing the lawn? No, that’ll still be legal, on farms and in suburbia. But wait: In 2007, more than 16,000 children with lawn-mower-related injuries were treated in clinics or emergency rooms, the Consumer Product Safety Commission reports. So, a 15-year-old cutting grass for a neighbor is taking a real risk, just the kind of activity that the Labor Department seems eager to squelch.
Farm work, of course, can involve more serious risk, including the risk of death. “On average, 8 per 100,000 youth died annually from farm-related injuries between 1995 and 2002,” the Associated Press reported.
But farm work’s rewards for the other 99,000-plus youngsters and their families are dramatically greater, too. As the Amish would testify, there is no more wholesome and healthful way to grow up than on a family farm. To this day, it’s the ideal childhood as portrayed in classic children’s stories; not for nothing did L. Frank Baum in “The Wizard of Oz” put Dorothy on a Kansas farm rather than in Kansas City.
The chores before breakfast, the work after school, the neighbor-helping-neighbor spirit, and yes, to some extent even the risk, add up to a matchless human experience, one that generations of Americans have recognized as special and set apart. That’s why farm work was exempted from the original child labor laws, after all.
And that’s why the Labor Department should relax its rules to better reflect farm families’ concerns.
There are other issues, including the fact that running a farm can demand “all hands from different generations working together,” as The Oklahoman put it. Also, farm youngsters who spend their childhoods milking an Xbox rather than a cow are much less likely to farm as adults, farmers suspect.
But the bottom line is that if farm families believe the benefits far outweigh the risks, then the government should honor farmers’ historic place in society, and back off. As a newspaper in New Mexico put it, “Those who learned to drive a tractor before a car, or those who could herd cattle before they could ride a bike, feel that there are more lessons than there are dangers in the work.” There’s wisdom in those words, and our representative government should honor it.
— Tom Dennis for the Herald