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 now 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 nineties, 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, this young man
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 number ten 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
was now 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. Their
effort represents another move to make us citizens less dependent on each other
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 D.C. like Senators Roberts and Moran will fix the
problem. Believe me, they are doing
everything they can, but after hearing both of them address the topic last
week, 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 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 D.C. 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. They
must withdraw the proposal completely.
Our way of life depends on it.
Harries lives in Manhattan and works for the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers. He also is a member of the Kansas Agriculture and Rural Leadership Class XI.