You have got to be kidding me. This week, one of our reporters wrote on new regulations that have been proposed by the Federal Department of Labor that would make it all but impossible for children under the age of 16 to work on a farm, unless it is owned by their parents.
Yes, I understand that there are rules about how old you have to be to be hired for a job, but these regulations would also make it illegal for say, the grandson of a farmer to, and I quote:
“Participate in agricultural work with animals, pesticide handling, timber operations, manure pits and storage bins. They would further be unable to operate almost all power-driven equipment.”
So, what these rules are saying is that if you live on a farm and you are under the age of 16, don’t leave the house.
When I was a kid, I spent the vast majority of my summer and plenty of weekends at the South Farm in Essex when my grandparents oversaw the estate that is now owned by Gov. George Pataki.
What did I do when I was there?
Well, I milked cows (not a lot, but even once would be a no-no under these new regulations), jumped at the chance to be the one to use the “bug bombs” in the barn, cut down trees, clean out the barns, work in the hay mow, silo and grain bin and drive tractor while operating rakes, mowers, bailers and a wide assortment of other power-driven equipment — all before the age of 16!
So if I were to have my kids do that, you’re telling me that I am creating a felon? That by learning how to work, I am doing something wrong?
I learned how to drive on the farm. In all my years there (I probably started driving around with assistance before I turned 10 and drove on my own by 12), I only had one accident with a tractor or truck (it had to do with a tractor, a barn, and the wall that used to be on the back of said barn).
There is no way that you can tell me that working on a farm is damaging to kids. Obviously, they have to work at a pace that they are comfortable with. But to have new regulations that make it a labor violation to basically step into a barn — c’mon.
This type of legislation could also lead to the extinction of the family farm, something that is almost here already.
Many families farm together and pass their knowledge on from generation to generation. They work together to tend the animals and crops then harvest the spoils — none of which children under the age of 16 would be able to do anymore.
So, what are the kids to do. They can’t feed any animals, because that could be considered agricultural work. They can’t drive a small tractor to help out, because that would be a no-no. I don’t even know if they could play Farmville (I’ve never played it, but if it has anything to do with farming, no playing until you’re 16).
I’m sure that these regulations are being driven by people who have never even set foot on a real farm in their lives and who think something like, “having their kids work on the farm at such a young age is basically having free labor and taking advantage of children.”
That’s just idiotic. No one ever forced me to work on the farm. The fact is, I thought that everything there was really cool and I wanted to use it, ride it or work on it. Kids always want to work with their parents or family, and parents get the chance to be with their children and teach a couple life lessons along the way.
To the argument that kids working on the farm takes jobs away from older people who need the work, you’d be wrong yet again.
The fact is, no one wants to do the work. I remember several people who assisted my grandfather on the farm. There were two families. After them, he had to rely on the help of his own family, friends and a high schooler. After he left, my grandfather never found another helper, forcing him to cease the dairy operations.
So, to the Department of Labor, stay out of this one. Let the family farm continue to be so, and worry about more pressing matters in an economy that desperately needs more labor.
Keith Lobdell is the editor of the Valley News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org