Growing up on my parent’s farm in rural Illinois, we had many daily chores and jobs to do. We had a very diversified farm. Animals included beef cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens, ducks, a horse and pony, and, of course, a watchdog and barn cats. Along with my two brothers and sister, we had our daily chores in taking care of the animals, making sure they had fresh water and food and that their living quarters were bedded with straw. And there were a variety of other tasks to complete: baling hay, pulling weeds out of beans, repairing fences and making the usual fixes and repairs typical on a farm with buildings, grain storage and equipment.
There were many rewarding experiences and lessons learned growing up on a farm. My parents were very conscientious of farm safety and taught us to respect power machinery, working around farm animals and the many dangers of not only living on a farm, but just…living life. I often reflect how fortunate I was to grow up on a farm and learn from early childhood the hard work, personal responsibility and perseverance it takes to operate one.
Last September, the Department of Labor released proposed revisions to child labor regulations. These regulations are part of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which sets the criteria for the permissible employment of minors under 18 years of age in agricultural and non-agricultural occupations. In a news release dated September 5, 2011, U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis issued the following statement regarding the Human Rights Watch report, Fields of Peril: Child Labor in U.S. Agriculture:
“The Human Rights Watch report released today documents the many dangerous jobs that U.S. farm worker children perform. It details the long hours many of them work and negative impacts on their health, education and well-being. I commend Human Rights Watch for focusing on this issue of critical importance. We simply cannot—and this administration will not—stand by while youngsters working on farms are robbed of their childhood.
“Under my direction, the U.S. Department of Labor will continue stepping up enforcement efforts on behalf of all farm workers—including the youngest among them—regardless of status. We have added more than 250 new Wage and Hour Division field investigators in the last year alone, and we plan to bring on even more.”
Along with working on my parents’ farm, I also worked for my aunt and uncle, grandparents and various neighbors doing simple farm tasks. The proposed regulations would prohibit young teenagers from learning valuable life skills if the farm is not operated by their parents. In other words, my friends would not have been able to help us put bales of hay in the hayloft or pull all those ragweeds, velvetleaf and cockleburs that always thrived in our soybean fields.
One Peoria County farm owner made the following statements concerning this issue that I feel hits the target. “Farming is a vocation learned by apprenticeship. The teachers, role models and supervisors are the parents of each generation who pass on the needed knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary to the success of those who follow them. To date, this system of American agriculture surpasses all nations in supplying the world with high quality and abundant food.
“To tamper with this apprenticeship with artificial restrictions such as an individual’s age, arbitrary working conditions and isolation from animals will begin to erode the most successful apprentice program in the world. This proposal represents a needless intrusion by government.”
Farmers and the Illinois Farm Bureau are working to get some common sense into these proposed regulations, and to instead, focus on activities that are truly hazardous. Farm work provides constructive learning experiences and gainful employment, and builds character values and useful life skills for young people—including those who may not call a farm their home, but who live in rural communities or take an interest in agriculture. iBi