My very first job off my parents farm was for my neighbor, Don Altman. I was 14.

He had me drive a grain truck. Of course, I had to learn how to drive the truck, so he taught me. It was old, and I had to double clutch it, first to take it out of gear and then to place it in a different gear.

Mr. Altman drove a combine harvesting wheat. When the hopper was nearly full, he would stand up on the driving platform and wave to me. I would drive the truck to the combine and line it up under the hopper spout. Then he would unload the hopper while still combining.

I learned to drive that truck really well. If I stalled it or if I went too fast, the grain would miss the truck and land on the ground. You can bet that Mr. Altman would yell at me whenever that happened.

He taught me the value of a strong work ethic that has stayed with me all my all my life.

When I was 15, I milked Guernsey cows for my neighbor, Wayne McCoy. I also helped bale hay for him. I never did decide where the hottest place was doing this: in the sun on the hay wagon behind the baler or in an airless hay loft in his dairy barn.

I also used his tractor with its bucket loader to load the manure spreader, and then I would spread the manure on his fields. I did this sometimes before school started. Once the high school principal took me aside and suggested that I shower and change my clothes before coming to school.

Mr. McCoy taught me how to care for farm animals.

Of course, I also worked on my parents’ farm. It was a typical multigenerational family farm, but at the time my grandparents still owned it.

I did field work when I was 12: plowing, harrowing, cultivating. In the fall, I drove a tractor to the fields and hooked it up to a full wagon of either shelled corn or soybeans. Then I drove the tractor and wagon back to our farm yard and unloaded the grain onto the grain elevator, which took it to the top of the storage bin and dumped.

My parents and grandparents taught me how all members of a farm family need to help to make it successful.

Now the U.S. Department of Labor apparently thinks the work that I, and thousands of other young people working on farms, did is hazardous work. This includes driving and being around farm equipment and working with livestock (including horses). So, the labor department proposes new regulations that will prohibit any one under 16 from doing this work.

The proposal still has a parental exemption, but one needs to read the fine print to learn what this actually means. The exemption is only for the children of the owner of the farm. It doesn’t apply if the child is part of a multifamily farm that has incorporated for tax or legal reasons.

If these rules were in place when I was a teenager, I couldn’t have worked for either Mr. Altman or Mr. McCoy. It would have been considered hazardous. I couldn’t have worked on my parents’ farm, either, because, at the time, it was still owned by my grandparents. There is no exemption for grandchildren doing hazardous work on a family farm.

I hope people in Congress come to their good sense and stop this proposal. It’s unnecessary.

I wonder if the person who dreamed this up thinks their milk comes from the refrigerator case at the supermarket?

 

Jon Olson is the lobbyist and executive secretary for the Maine Farm Bureau, a non-profit, non-governmental, voluntary, grassroots organization that works to protect the rights of farmers and landowners.