From the musical, “Porgy and Bess,” George and Ira Gershwin composed the memorable song that begins with the phrase, “Summertime and the livin is easy.”
I mean no disrespect, but summers on the farm are far from easy and 2012 has already given us quite enough of Mother Nature’s wrath. The heat, the storms, the winds and fires, and electrical outages have cost us dearly in terms of our time, our energy, and our emotional well-being.
Farm folks are a resilient species, but these are challenges to a normal routine that already includes plenty of other unexpected events. Even with an excellent work ethic, there are still only 24 hours in any given day.
None of this, however, can compare to the storm that brewed earlier this year concerning the proposed child labor laws. Adults and parents were outraged at the thought of government intervention into the daily core values of farm life.
Those of us in production agriculture have thought that our best product was the next generation. Our youth have established values and a solid identity in their experiences with growing food and animals. They also have better relationships with others as they have learned how to invest in the family through routine farm chores.
In an era where most Americans must create rather simplistic chores such as carrying out the trash, doing the laundry, or mowing the yard, farm kids have been assisting with the birth of a calf, scrubbing parlor walls, and exercising their biceps in a hay field. Limiting the exposure of our young people to these habits could have had a lasting impact on the future of agriculture.
If we are to double production efficiently and effectively by 2050, we need to offer these meaningful work experiences. The idea to have limited on farm employment to teens appeared to be destructive to not just the agriculture industry or specific farm families, but to their entire generation.
I grew up on a farm and my parents and the neighbors helped me to learn work ethic by providing an opportunity. When I could prove myself capable of the next step, it was assigned but with careful supervision of an adult. It was invaluable when I stepped into a career.
When I began teaching about 40 years ago, I quickly realized that some students had not been given such an advantage. With each succeeding year I have spent in the classroom, the bond with agriculture and chores became even more remote!
It seems humorous that my parents worried about the vices of television, and today technology and modern conveniences are stealing away youth from investing in the bonds of family. In a more global world, there is an entirely different set of safety concerns that parents in the 21st century face.
Just last week, I saw some clips of the Andy Griffith show and realized that “Mayberry” may no longer exist, but it does not mean that we can’t resurrect some of those fundamental lessons of life.
However, when government attempted to intervene into our lifestyle, we responded in full force. Agriculture has already been dealing with farm safety effectively. Despite all the rhetoric about the proposed farm labor issue and safety concerns for teens, it is important to note that a USDA study cited farm accidents among youth fell nearly 40% between 2001 and 2009 to 7.2 injuries per 1000 farms.
Our massive effort to provide more programs on farm safety and the creation of more safety features on equipment are testimony of our commitment to a safe work environment.
Many campaigns have come directly from adults who have lost a child and are on a mission to create awareness for others. Their testimonies are the most important tools we have to educate others. That same technology that we are concerned with has also created opportunities to dispense our messages.
The pages of Farm and Dairy tell the stories clearly and effectively. There is no substitute for common sense and focus as it relates to farm safety. No doubt we need assistance from our representatives and senators, but it is difficult to legislate common sense.
Following are a few tips (worth stating) for all of us in agriculture when it comes to chores, work ethic, and safety.
• Safety should be at the top of the list. Accidents happen when we lose focus, take an unnecessary risk, or when we just need to supervise more and do a better job of communicating.
• Avoid allowing kids time to just sit around with technology. “Re-create” chores to make them seem less like punishment and more like productive outcomes.
• Be careful of the “silver platter” logic that says we would like to give our kids all the things we did not have. Oh how I remember that little black pony I bought in 1957 by gleaning corn fields for every leftover ear of corn I could salvage and sell. If we earn money and respect, the sense of self worth is sustainable.
• Part of the work ethic is still wrapped up in AB Graham’s motto for 4-H. Making the best better states that quality work and honesty means a quality product. Employers are searching for such a connection in the work place.
• Remember that kids are going to make mistakes. These are the teachable moments that we learn far more from than all the successes combined. If we rob them of the struggle, we also rob them of the learning process.
• By far, the most important tip is to be a good example. It is also the hardest, but don’t forget that youth are always watching us. Someday, when they are asked where or from whom they learned something, I am sure you would prefer it was an attribute you could take pride in.