By Jennifer Nelson, MOSES Organic Specialist
The statistics on farm accidents among U.S. children are sobering, if not downright terrifying. Every day, about 38 children are injured on farms, and a child dies about every three days from a farming-related incident, according to data from the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety.
Many of the beginning farmers MOSES serves through our New Organic Stewards program are parents of young children—so am I. My husband and I grow flowers and veggies on 16 acres while raising a 3-year-old. I also work off-farm as an organic specialist for MOSES, and manage the New Organic Stewards program.
Like me and my husband, many new farmers with children have chosen to live on a farm because they value the lifestyle and what it offers to their families: wide outdoor spaces; good, real food; hard work, and a connection with the earth and its bounty. The reality of getting the farm work done while keeping the kiddos safe and supervised can often be a bit trickier than we parents anticipated.
When MOSES received funding from the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety (NCCRAHS) to do education about children’s farm safety and I began researching the scary statistics, I was a bit horrified. My first instinct was to close the website and do something else.
However, as the project manager, I can’t do that. And so, I kept going through my fear to other side, to okay, now what? We know that farming is a dangerous occupation. We’ve all heard stories of drowning and tractor run-overs and silo nightmares. We also know that farm life offers families and children great opportunities. Those of us who choose to farm with families and create our home life around our farm business can’t imagine any other profession. We do it because we love it. And we love the benefits for our children and our small visitors. So how do we use these frightening statistics to shape our farm into a safe place for little ones?
One of the first steps we can take is to understand what our little ones are capable of and how we can create an environment that supports their learning and progress while keeping them safe. NCCRAHS provides a publication titled Creating Safe Play Areas on Farms. This booklet details step-by-step instructions for creating safe play areas for very small to 10-year-old children, beginning with developmental characteristics and resulting potential safety issues.
My son is three, and very active. He loves tools, fixing anything, especially farm machinery, and climbing and jumping. This is our first season on our new farm, and we’ve been making big plans for his special play space on the farm. He will be on the farm with Grandma on Monday all day, with an off-farm care-giver Tuesday – Thursday mornings, and accompanying my husband on deliveries on Friday. We’ll have a garden where he can help work and eat cherry tomatoes.
Earl also helps with our laying hens, getting the eggs out of the nest boxes and filling them with fresh straw. We always try to make sure that the area he’s in is free of things that could fall on him, and the tools he’s using are appropriate, and he hasbeen shown how to use them. We’ve been talking about the special play space he’d like to create – he wants a play house and a sandbox and a lawn mower and some binoculars. You know, the usual stuff.
Creating Safe Play suggests finding an appropriate site sheltered from the elements, off the beaten farm machinery path, and free of open water and electric. We have a little grove of apple and maple trees off to the side of our house and fields that seems perfect. A little bit shaded, but pleasant and within the natural elements.
The next steps, according to Creating Safe Play, are to prioritize activities and budget; make a list of materials and sources; draft a layout plan; and finally put it all together. We will have a climbing structure, some kind of a play house, sandbox and a balance beam. Eventually we’d love to add a small trampoline. Various containers and toy tools and vehicles will complete the area. The safe play area will be about 12 x 12 feet in size.
NCCRAHS also strongly encourages surrounding the safe play space with a child protective barrier, stating “fences or barriers are the most important feature of a safe play area.”
We’re working on making our farm a safe play space. I’m glad to have the NCCRAHS resources to reference. We’ve posted them here for you, too: Keep Children Safe on the Farm.