Farmers share realities of caring for kids

By Jennifer Nelson, MOSES Organic Specialist

Go to main Farm Safety for Children webpage

blog 3As we enter the heart of the farming season, farmers, and especially farming mamas with families, can feel isolated on their farms. We have a million things to do, and limited time to do it in, let alone leaving the farm for groceries and diapers. Social interaction and community can be low on the list of priorities, but oh-so-important.

Social media, at its best, is a wonderful way for farmers to share their stories and connect with other like-minded folks doing similar work with similar challenges. I posted this on the Facebook MOSES Rural Women’s Project page earlier this summer:

Calling Farmer Parents!

MOSES supports a grant-funded Children’s Farm Safety program and I, also a farmer mama, get to manage it. It’s really interesting, and the statistic are slightly terrifying. Overall, I’m grateful for the education. It’s caused me to think very differently about all kids at our farm, and especially my 3-year-old son.

I’m curious how you’re managing kiddos on your farm. Please post your responses to this:
“I am most aware of this potential safety issue for children on my farm and this is how I address it…”

The post inspired some great conversation and questions. One farmer mama shared, “Forgetting to keep an eye on my toddler when I’m concentrating on something. I need to stretch a piece of fence across the end of my driveway when I’m working outside with her to at least keep her out of the road…I’ve been thinking, once I’m ready to bring in an intern, my goal will be to find a person with some child care experience. Having somebody around that can take turns both with chores and babysitting would be a much more valuable asset.”

Another said, “Just my 2-year-olds and 6-year-old wandering off. Near road, into corn fields, basically out of ear shot. Worry about them getting into oil, gas cans…tools. Not being seen by large delivery vehicles, tractors, lawn mower, etc.”

Another brave mama shared this important story, and her response to the experience. She said, “I hope these things will help other farm moms and dads. This is written with such a desire to keep kids safe. We had a cousin lose a child on their farm. Playing in the tree. At that point we made a decision we couldn’t put our kids in a bubble. We were still going to allow them to play in the trees.

Our farm situation is one that our house is not at our dairy farm. Our four older (children) are there without me at times. We have a 5-month-old as well, and I rely on baby carriers and strollers for the babes.”

She responded to my question with this list of safety precautions her family observes on the farm:

·         Bright fluorescent shirts for our kids

·         Older child/younger child buddy system

·         Clear communication with expectations

·         Hired help to clean the house so mom is more available to the farm

·         Amazon Prime membership resulting in less trips to town so mom is more available to the farm

·         Age-appropriate entertainment

·         Sand hill for kid entertainment

·         Safe water activities in the summer like the slip and slide

·         Teach and model safety!

She finished with, “I think the best place for kids to be is on the farm. Farming is a risk, but I think the best way to be safe is to teach them how to be safe.”

According to the National Children’s Center for Agricultural and Rural Health, the breakdown of leading fatalities for children on farms is this:

•       25% – machinery

•       17% – motor vehicles

•       16% – drowning

The statistic that give me (as farmer mama of a 3-year-old) most pause is that, while injuries for children over age 10 have gone down, injuries in children age 10 and younger have steadily risen since 2009. Even with these youngsters, the big culprits are tractors and ATVs.

This knowledge has caused me to draw some clear safety lines on our farm. Children don’t ride on tractors here. We also pay for our son to go to off-farm daycare three days each week so we can focus on farm chores without keeping an eye out for him. It’s a relief to draw those boundaries. Within them, he continues to get the benefits that childhood on the farm offers.

The statistics are frightening, but with a few safety precautions, it’s easy to lower the risk quickly. The National Children’s Center gives these top five recommendations:

  1. Keep young children off (and out) of tractors.
  2. Keep young children out of the worksite.
  3. Ensure age-appropriate work.
  4. Ensure a safe environment.
  5. Provide training and build proficiencies.

We do the best we can to follow these. We understand the risk of having children on the farm, but value the benefit very much, and make it a point to teach our children to be safe in each situation and to ask for help if they’re unsure. The balance of farming and raising a family will never be clear-cut and easy. I’ve found that with our family committing to a few boundaries, we still enjoy the benefits, and feel safer in the journey.

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