In my wonderful years growing up in Mississippi, my body was often a haven for scrapes and bruises. These temporary wounds were usually caused by playing football with friends.
Some wounds were caused during work as a teenager on the Blake family’s ‘choose and cut’ Christmas tree farm — the state’s oldest Christmas tree operation at the time.
Tending to acres of cedar, pine, and Arizona cypress trees in the late 1960s and early 970s was the perfect training ground for this teenager and wannabe farmer. I learned a strong work ethic from my parents as we labored during 10 to 12-hour days grooming trees from young seedlings to near perfect 6-to-8-foot trees in just three-to-five years; thanks to 100-degree summer days, 100 percent humidity, and meticulous but enjoyable hard work.
Every mature tree always found a good home just in time for Christmas. People brought their families to the farm to cut their tree. Our family also delivered trees to waiting homes until Christmas Eve.
My father, now deceased, taught me how to safely operate a Gravely walk behind, self-propelled, two-wheel mower to mow grass in the 6-foot-wide tree plots. I later graduated to a large Kubota tractor with a 6-foot bush hog in tow.
Over the years, many branches hit my face causing stinging skin and a few cuts. That experience also taught me the art of quickly dodging fast-swaying limbs. It was on-the-job training.
Dad usually forgot to fill the 5-gallon metal gas can in town before we headed to the farm plots. To keep the tractor running, I learned how to manually siphon gas from the truck into the tractor gas tank.
This process involved taking a 6-foot long piece of old water hose and sticking one end in the truck gas tank. After several heavy sucking motions on the other end of the hose, gas spewed in the mouth and I quickly moved the hose into the tractor gas tank amid a lot of spitting.
Like many farmers, I learned the value of hard physical farm work. There is no better training than hands-on. These values help prepare farm children for life-long lessons — working hard for a fair wage.
But now, the U.S. Labor Department is pursuing a ban that could prohibit some farm kids from learning essential farming activities due to safety concerns, the American Farm Bureau reports.
Under the Labor Department proposal, farm kids would not be allowed to work on a farm that is not directly owned by their parents, or operate power-driven equipment — even something as basic as a battery-powered screwdriver.
The Labor Department says the proposal is needed to protect young people from dangerous work.
“Under this proposal, it sounds like youths would be allowed to push open the barn door, but whether they can flip the light switch inside is unclear,” according to American Farm Bureau labor specialist Paul Schlegel. “But they sure couldn’t use a flashlight or pick up a weed whacker. And they couldn’t go up in the barn loft because it’s greater than 6 feet above ground level.”
This is another illustration of government intrusion in our lives. Parents, not government, should decide what is safe and unsafe and teach their children accordingly. If a job has danger, this is a tremendous learning opportunity for parents to teach children to manage real-life situations.
The official comment period for the Labor Department proposal is closed. We can only hope that those responsible for rulemaking utilize horse sense instead of bureaucratic nonsense to sensibly guide our future farmers.
And in closing, in the spirit of the Christmas season, Merry Christmas from the Blake family to you and your family.