It is a hot topic that is creating controversy, confusion and concern: new child labor rules proposed by the Department of Labor. There are many proposed changes when it comes to kids on the farm and, it seems, just as many questions. Who will be allowed to work and who won't? Which animals and equipment will they be allowed to work with? And what about crucial programs like 4-H and FFA? The answers, in many cases, remain unclear.
I am concerned as well.
Some of my best memories come from time on our family farms. In fact, both of my great-grandfathers were farmers. I remember, quite vividly, picking corn as a youngster. My skin still starts to itch when I think about it. No feeling quite comparable to that one. But there is also no comparison to the discipline and work ethic I learned during those long, hot days in the field. I got up early and was taught to focus on finishing the job at hand. "The early bird gets the worm," I can still hear my great-grandmother saying to me. As a boy I remember thinking, 'That worm needs to learn to sleep in a little.'
The farm was certainly a place of strenuous work, but that was not a bad thing. I am a firm believer that all good things take hard work. The farm was also a connection between all of the families in the community. We helped our neighbors and they helped us. It was a small farm, but a very large connection to the community. It was good. I was happy.
That is not to say we did not struggle. We did. As many of you know I grew up in public housing and watched as my father worked three jobs to put my sisters and I through college. He later did the same for my mother. Our move into public housing was actually a big step up from our previous home. Many of the lessons I learned though, from my relatives' farms, I have carried with me throughout my life.
There is a real fear right now for the future of the family farm and ranch. In a recent public comment period on these proposed rule changes, more than 10,000 comments flooded the Department of Labor. These comments are currently under review, and the timeframe for a final decision has not yet been set. At the heart of the proposals, I believe, is the desire to protect children. But many have asked me if the proposed regulations would actually do that or simply result in harming farmers, ranchers, rural communities and a basic way of life treasured by so many. It is those with "boots on the ground" who do the hard work of farming and ranching each day who should be heard on this issue. Those who are raising families and have their children's health, safety and wholesome upbringing at the very forefront of all they do.
I am a proud father of four and an adoring grandfather of three. I am fortunate to be approaching the celebration of forty years of marriage to the love of my life. I am a strong believer that our core development begins at home with the family. I do not want to see family taken out of the family farm. Farm and ranch families are the poster children for "Made in America and it should stay that way.
I want to hear from you.
Please visit my Facebook page to take a short survey (https://www.facebook.com/emanuelcleaverii) to express your opinions on specific areas of the proposed regulation changes. And please share your stories with us about the farm, what it means to you, and any concerns you may have about these proposed regulations at firstname.lastname@example.org.