My dad is one of nine children born to my grandparents. I used to kid my grandma that at supper time, she must have put a feed bag on dad, given a bottle to the baby and thrown the rest in a trough for everyone else to fight over. Certainly, that supper was usually hard-earned by the kids. Nine “child laborers” came in handy back in the day on a dairy farm.
But the chores usually extended beyond the family farm. A son or two might be sent to help an uncle put up hay on one day, while some daughters may have gone to help an aunt clean some chickens on another. If a neighbor should get laid up by illness, all would rush to their aid, whether finishing harvest or milking the cows. This kind of community kindness would be considered illegal for anyone younger than 16 under rules proposed by the U.S. Department of Labor.
I can recall a day in the mid-1990s, a couple of years before my grandfather died, when we had a surprise visitor on our farm. Grandpa, my dad, my brothers and I were talking shop when a Johnson County Cadillac pulled up. This is not a common occurrence in rural northwest Marshall County.
It turns out the surprise guest had been on the farm before. Decades earlier as a young man, he had spent a few weeks on the farm as part of a special program for at-risk, minority, inner-city youth. For those few weeks, he had been the No. 10 child in the family, and he had worked and lived like the other nine. On this particular day, he had returned to our farm unannounced to thank grandpa for those few weeks he had been a country boy.
He relayed to us how the work ethic, family values and faith in God he had experienced during his time with our family had likely changed his course in life for the better. He had become a successful businessman with a family of his own. A little hard work as a kid on a farm meant more to him than we could ever imagine. Growing up and being able to work on a farm changes lives, and, I would argue, makes the lives of others better.
Now, the U.S. Department of Labor is trying to change a way of life that we hold so dear. The effort represents another move to make us citizens less dependent on one another and more dependent on the government. That’s not a road I want to travel down.
This is not a time to sit idly by and assume our good representatives in Washington, D.C., like Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran will fix the problem. Believe me, they are doing everything they can, but after hearing both of them address the topic recently, I sense they are very concerned about this. They need the help of the voices of agriculture, the farmers.
What can you do? 1. Visit the “Keep Families Farming” website — http://www.keepfamiliesfarming.com — to learn more about the proposed rule. 2. Support your commodity growers associations by becoming members. These associations are your voice in Washington. 3. Submit a letter to the editor to your local paper so our non-ag neighbors know what the threat is and how it could affect rural economies.
A proposed “revisiting” of the proposed regulations by the Department of Labor is not enough. It must withdraw the proposal completely. Our way of life depends on it.
Aaron W. Harries 6120 Blue River Hills Road, works for the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers. He owns some farmland and provides free labor at harvest time for his brothers, who farm in Marshall County.