Friday, April 27, 2012

You Can Take the Boy Off the Farm...

You can take the boy off the farm
But you can't take the farm out of the boy!

The US Department of Labor has drawn quite a bit of fire recently by proposing that child labor laws apply to farm kids as well as their city cousins.  Farmers and farm kids were equally enraged by this intrusion.  Under the proposal, since withdrawn, farm children under the age of 18 would be forbidden from performing a long list of chores on their families' land.  Under the rules, most children under 18 could no longer work “in the storing, marketing and transporting of farm product raw materials.”

“Prohibited places of employment,” a Department press release read, “would include country grain elevators, grain bins, silos, feed lots, stockyards, livestock exchanges and livestock auctions.” The new regulations would also revoke the government’s approval of safety training and certification taught by independent groups like 4-H and FFA, replacing them instead with a 90-hour federal government training course.

As someone who has been there and done that I also find myself enraged. 

I grew up on a farm -- not a livestock farm, but a dirt farm.  Our main crop was tobacco, a labor intensive crop and one requiring a great deal of detailed hand work.  Like most of my rural chums, I had chores. When I was very young, these included keeping the woodbox behind the kitchen stove full.  When I got older, I also became responsible for chopping the wood with which I filled the woodbox. With an ax!

I learned to drive on a John Deere model B tractor at age ten, and from age eleven on, I spent summers in the fields and tobacco barns with my Dad and Grand Dad, making the new crop and preparing the old for market.

I can truthfully state that at age 12 I would have welcomed imposition of the child labor laws.  Looking back now, I find myself glad that they didn't apply. Working on the family farm did much to set my world view and make me into the man I am today.

Growing up on the farm impressed on me the truth of the words "If a man does not work, neither should he eat."  It also impressed me with the absolute miracle of being obtain food from the ground.  But before the food could be harvested, it had to be planted (at the proper time), cultivated, and then harvested (again, at the proper time) and then stored.  And the farmer was wholly responsible for getting the work done at the proper time.

Growing up on the farm taught me self reliance.  We ate what we grew and stored.  If we wanted more, we grew more.  If we wanted less, we grew less. Whether we grew more or less, what we had depended on what we did. I still look on life with the idea that the outcomes I get depend on what I, and not on what  somebody else, might happen to do.

Growing up on the farm taught me independence.  Our farm operated independently from the farms around us.

Growing up on the farm also taught me interdependence and the value of being a good neighbor.  In out community neighbors got together to help each other at harvest time or on major tasks.

Butchering in the fall was closely coordinated to ensure that the meat could be processed and stored in the limited time before it spoiled.  So, Uncle Tal would butcher this week, and Cousin Junior next and Mr. Day the week following.  It all worked together and it all got done.

That way of life has largely disappeared from the area where I grew up, and I miss it.  When my children were growing up, I had to find other ways to teach responsibility, self reliance, and independence without the farm experience.  Somehow, I feel that they may have missed out on something valuable.

To the US Department of Labor, I say, "Leave the family farm alone.  The lessons learned there loom large in our national character and should be reinforced rather than diminished."

To the family farmer of today I say "Keep on keeping on. What you're doing is right and good and needs to be passed on to the next generation.

And to you all, I say "Thank God, I'm a Country Boy!"

What parts of your early life were most influential in shaping your character?

What are you doing to pass those values and life lessons on to your children and grand children?