by Melissa Brunner
My first workplace experience was on my uncle's dairy farm. Every day, I'd walk the quarter mile to the barn, where my cousin and I would take care of the little calves. We'd feed them from nipple buckets, then teach them to take milk and, later, grain from buckets. We'd clean the mess out of their pens - always a lovely-smelling task! In later years, we ventured to assist in the milking parlor, where my brother and relatives from the other side of the family were working. We'd help get the cows in from the yard, sometimes there's be hay or straw to unload. During that time, we also showed animals at the county fair through 4-H, halter-training them and leading them around the barnyard.
It has been interesting, then, to follow the debate over the proposed youth farm labor regulations. Had they been enacted, it's likely many of the experiences from my youth would have been prohibited - or undertaken illegally. The farm community protested, as did lawmakers including Kansas Senators Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran. Thursday evening, the White House and Dept. of Labor announced they would withdraw the regulations.
In there statement, though, the administration still pledged to work with the farm community in achieving what they say drove the regulations in the first place - an interest in improving the safety of agricultural activities for young people. I don't think anyone would argue the inherent risks of farm activities, for both children and adults. There is heavy machinery involved and the unpredictability of animals. My family wasn't immune to accidents. On the minor side, I recall the first time I took a heifer I named Vanity outdoors for a leading session - she took one look at the lucious green grass, reared up, landing on my lower leg, and bolted! I found her calmly grazing behind a hay wagon, while I nursed a nasty bruise! That story aside, I believe most families, 4-H leaders and others involved in the industry always have safety top of mind.
I wouldn't trade those farm experiences for anything. The economy forced the sale of the family farm while I was in high school, the same fate befell thousands of smaller operations during that time and the trend continues today. I'm glad a more cooperative approach will allow young people to continue to have those experiences while taking steps to ensure all are reminded how to make them as safe as possible.
What do you think - were the regulations a good thing or a bad thing? Was the administration overreacting or on the right track? And what do you think of the compromise?