Last week I traveled to Washington, DC to testify before the Subcommittee on Agriculture, Energy and Trade (Subcommittee of the House Committee on Small Business) on behalf of America’s farmers and ranchers about the Department of Labor’s proposed rules regarding Child Labor on farms and ranches. The Department of Labor has proposed new rules that would restrict children under the age of 16 from working on a farm or ranch. The list of tasks youth would not be allowed to do is astonishing to me. For example, milking cows would not be allowed, and neither would building a fence. One item that stood out to me was that no youth under the age of 16 would be allowed to use a tool that was powered by any source other than hand or foot power. That would eliminate youth using flashlights, garden hoses (because hoses are powered by water) battery operated screwdrivers, etc. When hearing this, my son asked me if that meant he no longer had to brush his teeth since his toothbrush was battery operated. (Nice try Conner, you still have to brush your teeth and yes, you will use the battery powered toothbrush I bought you!)
The work my children willingly do on our farm is a valuable life lesson they can’t learn from reading a book in school or playing a video game. It’s something they enjoy doing too.
It is not dangerous; we don’t allow our children to do tasks that are not safe or not age appropriate. Working beside our children is precious to Kevin and I, it builds memories we will all treasure forever and it’s about passing on our farming heritage to the next generation. More importantly, it teaches our children that hard work is rewarded, that doing a job well is something to be proud of and it builds self esteem.
Our daughter learned at the age of 3 ½ how to use a bolt, washer and nut to help build farrowing stalls for our hog barns. She did this along side her dad in our machine shed. She was never in danger, and the smile it brought to her face because she was helping dad farm was priceless. The lessons she learned that day have taken her far. She learned to never give up when she was turning the nut the wrong direction. She learned to follow directions – the washer had to go on the bolt before the nut and if she forgot, she had to start over because the nut wouldn’t fit securely without the washer. When she and Kevin had finished building the stalls, she was so proud. She couldn’t wait to show me her work. She showed every neighbor who stopped by the shed her work. And each time she went inside the hog barns, she would proudly proclaim, “I helped dad build this.” Since that day Rachelle has learned to do several other tasks on our farm. And each task has taught her that determination is the key to success and that hard work pays off.
To have the Department of Labor (DOL) think my child’s safety isn’t a priority to me is frustrating to say the least. I love my children more than anything in this world; I would never put them in harm’s way. I went to Washington, D.C. last week because farmers and ranchers need the DOL to understand they can not regulate with a one size fits all policy. I left all of my work behind because I want to secure my children’s future on our family farm and to protect their freedom to farm.
I want my children to be able to choose if they want to return to our family farm one day after they finish their education. If our children are not allowed to work on our farm as they grow up, they will lose out on many lessons and skills, not to mention they will be robbed of the childhood my husband and I loved when we grew up. Besides, how will our kids know if they want to come back to the farm if they are only allowed to work on it for two years before they leave for college? I appreciate DOL’s intentions to keep children safe, but as a parent, no one cares more than I do about my children’s safety. I’ve been protecting my kids since I carried them in my womb and I will continue to protect them, even if it means testifying before Congress to protect their freedom to grow up working on our family farm.