Sunday, April 29, 2012

Lucky Growin' Up Like 'at

Life in the country is unlike life anywhere else…

Those of us who have grown up out here take a lot for granted, as pointed out in this Rodney Atkins song.

I was 12 years old with some bolts and a wrench,
a piece of plywood that was 3/4 inch
and daddy said son once your chores are one I'll give you one of them creosote barn poles.
I went out in the pasture with no cow patties,
Got some post hole diggers, and I got after it.
Had some sun on my back and a blister on my hand, but man I had myself a goal!
I dribbled that ball till the grass was gone and the ground was brown and flat.
Me and Daddy played horse and the cows all "mooed" and we laughed.
I was lucky and I didn't even know it growing up like 'at.

I learned the birds and the bees from the cats and the dogs,
 And a frog starts out as a pollywog.
The best blackberry cobbler is made from scratch,
And worth every one you get from the briar patch.
I found out firewood will warm you twice,
once when you cut it and once when you light it.
and I can't help but smile when I look back,
cause I was lucky and I didn't even know it
growin' up like 'at.
There was an old wooden barrel hind my grandpa's house
where we threw our tater peels and coffee grounds,
if you want to catch catfish long as your arm,
son you gotta have a night crawler farm.
Well we'd sit on the dock and share a bottle of pop
and catch a few and then head on back.
Me and Daddy cleaned fish while the cats "meowed" and we laughed,
 I was lucky and I didn't even know it growing up like 'at…                    
                                                                               -Rodney Atkins

Not only is life different out here…we all like it that way and don’t want to see it change.  We like our trucks and tractors and livestock shows.  Families, little kids included, work the land together and prize this rural lifestyle.  Despite the fact that lots of the kids head off to college and lives elsewhere, you can take the kid out of the country, but you will never take the country out of the kid.  That might explain the near palpable sense of relief that the administration’s Youth Farm Labor rule was rescinded.

There had been a lot of talk and concern in the Ag community regarding the Department of Labor’s proposed ruling concerning young people employed in agriculture. There was concern that this far-reaching proposal would indeed change everything by severely restricting, and in some cases, prohibiting the participation of youth in a variety of agricultural activities.  This was a BIG deal in the Ag world.

This story originally made headlines back in September. I remember hearing about it but didn’t understand the scope of the situation, so I was a “Johnny-come-lately” to the recent conversation and spent the last couple of days trying to verify the story and its ramifications. If the rumors were true, life in rural America was in for a big change that could have had dire effects. I wondered what I could/should do….whether or not “someone” was doing "something". It was with great relief that I read that the DoL had backed off completely.  
Gratitude goes out to the Farm Bureau, local representatives and all those farm families and youth in agriculture who worked so hard to keep this intrusive rule from coming to fruition.

As a former kid who deeply appreciates that I was farm fed and rural raised, I was heartened to see that farm kids were vocal about protecting their way of life.
As the parent of farm kids who relied on the hard work and tenacity of some of those kids to keep the small family farm a thriving entity, I was thankful to see that farm-related businesses and our local representatives stepped to the front to protect our way of life.
As a farmer looking toward the future of agriculture with great concern, I was incredibly relieved to see the DoL respond to the comments and concern of the American agricultural community!

I have lived most of my life in rural America, where the animal population often outnumbers the humans…where tractors share the roads with other vehicles…where the kids work in the fields alongside their parents and sometimes even their grandparents.  This place I live marks the passage of time in planting and harvest, breeding and birthing season, parade and fair schedules.  The school year hearkens back to the days when the children were needed on the farm in the summertime because the workload demanded all hands.  To say that life “out here” is different from life in urban areas is a huge understatement.  It is a place where change does not come easy, and when change does come, its effects are felt far and wide. To have people making decisions for us who have never experienced this type of life, in some cases never even VISITED a farm is appalling.

This is a place where kids identify themselves by family farm, tractor brand and/or farm product.  Most everybody knows everyone else and looks out for each other.  Summer vacations are spent running the livestock show circuit, possibly cutting hay or doing some sort of fieldwork, making some extra cash working for a neighboring farmer and/or preparing for the county fairs.  Despite the fierce competition in the show ring, I have seen some outstanding examples of graciousness displayed by some of the young competitors.  Overlooking disabilities and/or injury, competitors help one another, graciously congratulate the winners and console those who lost.  The parents could learn a lot from these young people!

The Department of Labor purportedly was concerned about safety of the young folks doing farm work. I understand that children’s safety is a big concern.  Farmers understand safety…perhaps better than anyone else.  Farming is a very dangerous occupation.  We know numerous folks missing digits or even limbs from accidents on the farm.  It takes just one moment of inattention to cause a lifetime of disability.  Many of the activities deemed “dangerous” by DoL seemed silly to farm kids.  Remember, these are kids who have grown up knowing how to handle themselves in the barn, in the field, on farm equipment.  There are rules of conduct that these country kids know instinctively. (and because farm parents teach them constantly)

To keep children completely away from farming activities might prevent accidents, but it also keeps them from a way of life and experiences that could affect their life choices…and the very future of agriculture. The young people would miss out on the richness that farm life affords its residents When I wrote about farm kids in the past…  and noted the life lessons learned in the barn, I only scratched the surface of the astounding number of lessons that farm life teaches on countless topics. Farm life is full of amazing experiences and awesome opportunities found nowhere else on earth. Educators would be hard-pressed to replicate these experiences in the classroom.

The farming population is dwindling…2% of the population is working to provide the agricultural products for the other 98%.  The farming population is aging…depending on the source, the average farmer is somewhere between 50 and 62.  If young folks are denied access to this possibility for a career path/way of life, the world is going to be a very hungry place in short order. Any youth interested in agriculture should be encouraged not excluded. The continuity of farm life is crucial to the continuity of the agricultural community. The continuity of the agricultural community is crucial to the continuation of the rest of society. 

If we were to keep kids from Agricultural activities, we’d have no Future Farmers…no 4-H…no real hope for innovations in Agriculture in the next decade, century and beyond. Life out here wouldn’t be the same without the FFA and the 4-H.  Both groups encourage leadership, teamwork and community-mindedness.  The many competitions that they sponsor help to develop these qualities in the young people. Interaction with business and community leaders create networks for later life.  All this hard work makes for a level of maturity among many young farm kids that is not seen elsewhere.  These young people give me great hope for the future of agriculture…and the country.

Despite the fact that I’ve never been a show-kid, a member of 4-H/FFA, or a even participant in the county fair, those kids who have are very special to me, and I am so thankful that this way of life can continue without interruption. Country kids rock…and I can prove it!

Back when B was injured so very badly, a lot of folks in the community reached out to her and J in a multitude of ways.  When word started getting around about the scope of her injuries and the astronomical bills that they might face, contributions began to come in.  That was a humbling experience!  One of the first groups to contribute was the local 4-H.  B had never been a member, but her younger sister had.  B was the cool older sister who acted as chauffeur for her younger sibling and always had a kind word for the little kids.  The donation was generous. 

The 4-H leaders said the kids wanted to do more.  The leaders tried to temper the kids’ enthusiasm.  The budget was tight…they had already helped…

When one of the leaders told me the story later, he got a little choked up.  “But, it’s B!” they said “We have to do more!  If we figure out a way…will you let us?”  The leaders acquiesced, thinking…what can a bunch of kids do?

Those farm kids put their heads together.  One of them had some hogs…they would raise a hog…sell raffle tickets at the fair…pay for the hog…and give the rest to B!  They analyzed their costs, figured out what they hoped to donate, arranged for tickets and advertising. The leaders were floored.  Who woulda thunk?  B & J were touched by the thought, but imagine their surprise when there was a sizeable check in the mail come the end of the fair! 

Farm kids rock!

This kind of generosity would be impossible elsewhere.  This is not to say that generosity is a farm thing…not by a long shot.  But, my kids…no…our whole family…was touched deeply by these young folks, all of whom were under 17 at the time, who put their heads together, pooled their talents and helped someone in need in a way that had escaped more “mature minds”, utilizing the skills and opportunities offered by the farm. Yeah…the FARM!

It is quite possible that if this invasive ruling by the DoL had actually been enacted that experiences like the one I just noted would have ceased to happen.  Young people could have been banned from so many agricultural activities deemed “dangerous” by the Department that the opportunities would have ceased to exist. That would be a shame…we would be so much poorer as a nation without the gracious, creative, and caring young folks that represent the next generation of agriculture in this country. They should be afforded all the rich educational opportunities that farming offers and encouraged in their endeavors!

Agriculture has been taken for granted for a long time.  Those of us in agriculture have long taken for granted that we can raise our kids like we want, teaching them as we go.  Maybe this should serve as a wake-up call. No longer should we take for granted

                                                           …growin’  up like ‘at!

(The song is actually sung like ‘at…leaving off the “th”.  If you listen real close…’at is how we sound out here, too!)

No comments:

Post a Comment