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An Agricultural Perspective on the Child Labor Law Changes

It was speech time again this week! We’ve been working for a while (too long in my opinion) on our persuasive speeches. My class covered everything from Study Away to the existence (or lack thereof) of time and space as we perceive and measure it. I chose a topic that I’ve written about on Farm Out Loud before – the Department of Labor‘s proposed changes to Ag H.O.s.

I gave the speech today, and while I haven’t taken the time yet to analyze the video that was taken during its presentation, I decided it wouldn’t hurt anything to share it – maybe someone who doesn’t like to read will listen to it (and that is what I would suggest – listen, I don’t know what you’ll see if you watch.) 🙂 I hope you enjoy it – mistakes and all!

For those of you who do like to read, the transcript of my speech is below the video.

A New Mindset for Child Labor

When we hear the phrase “child labor,” almost all of us get the same mental image

We see photos from history books of immigrant children in the United States or sweatshops abroad working among dangerous machines for little pay.

I’m Laura Wolf, an agriculture student at Missouri State University, and my topic today is child labor, but it isn’t what you think.

When I say “child labor,” high school vocational classes probably aren’t what come to mind.

Today, I’d like to show you my mindset about child labor by explaining proposed changes, their effects on vocational education, and its effects on me as a representative of the effected group.

First, let’s look at changes proposed September 2011.

The U.S. Department of Labor issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to amend the child labor in agriculture regulations in 2011. Their goal was to make the rules for agriculture more like those for non-agriculture industries. According to Garrett Hawkins, an expert on the subject and legislative liason for Missouri Farm Bureau in 2012, the U.S. Secretary of Labor is using this proposal to take care of a problem prevalent in her home state of California – the children of migrant workers becoming a liability in orchards.

The changes don’t just apply to migrant workers, though – they are for all workers in the U.S. under the age of 16.

Here are a few examples from a handout written by Nurse Mary E. Miller for a rural and agricultural health center in Washington in 2011 outlining the differences between the existing and proposed rules. It sounds a bit – well, a lot – like legal jargon, so I’ll keep it short.
1. “Reduces maximum height at which youth under age 16 can work at elevation from 20 feet to 6 feet, including work on ladders.”
2. “Expand prohibitions from lists of specific machines to all power-driven equipment.”
3. “Prohibit engaging or assisting in…practices that inflict pain upon the animal…such as vaccinating and treating sick or injured animals.”

Imagine that you’re a legislator and one of your people has briefed you on these changes – what do you say?
It sounds good, and it’s needed… right? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 40,000 agricultural workers were injured on the job in 2011, out of a total of 967,800.  Given this information, my guess is that you’d think, “Yep, check, let’s move on to the real issues,” which could be exactly where many actual legislators are right now.

Now that we know the basics of the proposal, let’s take a look at how schools could be affected by it.

When vocational and agricultural educators came across the same legal jargon I read to you earlier, they heard something different – a threat. The maximum height rule means that students working for area farmers can stand in a hayloft, but would be legally unable to assist in retrieving hay from the loft until they were 16. The power-driven equipment rule means that landscaping classes couldn’t use certain tools to landscape, and construction classes couldn’t use many necessary tools to construct. The rule I read about animals would keep students from exploring and gaining valuable experience in the field of veterinary science until their junior year when the career crunch is on.

When Heath Wright, the agriculture teacher at Ozark High School, heard about the proposal, he could feel his students’ opportunities shrinking instead of stretching. According to a Springfield News-Leader article March 6, 2012, the high school is in the process of building a school farm to add to other hands-on experience with local farmers and in greenhouse and welding shop classes. Hands-on work experience is important – in a survey I conducted March 9, over half of you mentioned work ethic or responsibility as benefits of holding a job as a student. If the opportunities are more restricted for work in high school, it follows that fewer students will choose to hold a job and develop those traits.

Do you remember the statistic I told you earlier? Imagine what might happen if fewer of those workers had been trained for more than a few weeks because of the new rules. It could be that accidents and injuries would increase instead of decrease. Another increase we wouldn’t want is in the strain on our pocketbooks – food prices may rise because of an even more limited number of willing and able agricultural workers, resulting in produce scarcity.

We’ve heard a little about the changes and how educators feel about them. Now I’d like to tell you a short story about my reactions.

As a farmer’s daughter, future teacher and advocate, and vocational agriculture student, the proposal would have a significant effect on me. I decided in 7th grade Ag Expo that I’d be in FFA – an agricultural organization – in high school. Our class project was building flower boxes using circular saws, drills, and other tools under the supervision of our teacher. First, we had to pass a safety test with a 100% as part of the Ag. H.O. student learner exemption. No one got hurt, and we learned a lot about basic safety precautions for a shop setting.

For FFA, I was required to hold a job and keep records for a supervised agricultural experience project. I chose to mow lawns and crop scout for my dad. Under the proposed rules, those two jobs would have been illegal until I was a junior. The rules prohibit the operation of power-driven equipment, which includes lawn mowers. They also eliminate the usual exemptions for students working for parents if the company is incorporated – my dad partially owns Brauer Farms, L.L.C.

Now that you’re more aware of the U.S. Department of Labor’s proposed changes and their potential harmful effects, I have a challenge for you. Keep those history book pictures of child labor from clouding your vision and help others to do the same. Spend a few minutes on Google learning more about new developments. When you find an article that makes a great argument, share it on Facebook. Then take a step further – contact your congressmen to explain what you’ve learned and where you stand.

Instead of doing something wrong that sounds right, show your government that you expect the right thing to be done, even when it sounds wrong.

Farm Out Loud!

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Top 10 Tips – Farm Blogging

My PR in Ag class was visited last week by Judi Graff, a farm blogger who has dedicated a blog to helping new bloggers set up their sites and tell their stories consistently. Our assignment for the week? A top 10 list based on what we learned.

My top 10 is divided up into a few categories.

For Farmers

Farm Blogs

  • Blogging is for everybody – Judi offers many suggestions on her FARMnWIFE blog for new bloggers to help with post ideas, design tips, and other advice.
  • Telling your story is free – Many of the ways people gather information are online – and it’s free to add to the internet’s wealth of knowledge in many ways (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, e-mail, etc.)
  • Your story online is important – When you take time to write or videotape a part of how you make your living, you give a face to agriculture that customers can identify with.

For Business

  • A blog gives a website life – Since it’s updated regularly, search engines like Google will move your site closer to the top of search results in your field because its algorithms prefer recently updated material
  • Blogs build customer confidence – Consumers feel more invested in your business when you open up and allow them to see your day to day operations.
  • You can be more responsive to customer concerns – If your business has an active presence online, customers will know that they can ask questions of you and get good answers.

For Bloggers

  • Know your answers to a few questions – Why do you want to blog? Who is your target audience? How are you going to encourage your readers to connect with you?
  • Keep it simple – When you choose a design, make it clean and easy to navigate without distraction
  • Make it obvious – Make sure it’s easy to find the information that people look for on a website, like information about the Farm Blogsauthor, contact info, and what to do next. The phrase Judi uses is “above the fold,” meaning on the website as it loads when you type it into the address bar and before you start scrolling. Everything a site visitor needs should be above the fold.
  • Repeat – Give site guests multiple opportunities to respond to you, like contact pages, badges, an about page, a mini about on a sidebar, and share buttons connected to each post.

I have learned a lot about blogging and social media in my PR in Ag class so far this semester. I don’t have everything perfect yet, but I’m working on it as I go. I encourage you to check out Judi Graff’s blog, and allow her to encourage you as I have to take the next step in telling your farm story.

Farm Out Loud!

Eating Intelligently

I told you in my last post that in my public speaking class, we had been writing and delivering career speeches. I wrote mine about Agriculture Advocacy, or “Ag”vocacy. I’m not sure if that counts as a “career” per se, but my professor was okay with it, so I went with it.

For a little background, I am majoring in Agricultural Communications and Agricultural Education at Missouri State University (not Mizzou, in case you were wondering). My dream job is to work with professional agriculturists (farmers, ranchers, businesspeople, marketers, etc) to manage the authentic on- and off-line presence of their sector of the agriculture industry. It’s becoming more and more important to be transparent as an industry in order to build and maintain trust in our consumer base, regardless of whether we feel we are doing anything wrong. I would also love to work as an FFA Advisor, expanding the opportunities of upcoming generations of “ag”vocates, or to work for a university extension program, helping farmers to become more efficient and more knowledgeable about new findings and technologies. However, for the purpose of my speech, I went with the communications side – an advocate for agriculture.

Interested? Here it is, for your viewing pleasure: my career speech.

Eating Intelligently: Agriculture Advocates and You

According to Terrence Loose in a recent Yahoo! News article, Agriculture is the number one most useless college major. As an Agricultural Communications student at MSU, I would like to challenge that assertion. Does the agriculture industry have a significant effect on your day to day life? It is the job of agriculture advocates to serve as the voice for food and fiber producers to consumers. Agriculture advocacy is both an engaging job and a career that can truly make a difference.

First, I’ll give you an agriculture advocate’s job description, and then I’ll show you how this career is important to consumers.

Advocates for agriculture, also called public relations professionals, engage in dialogue with producers and consumers alike.

A job description might include things like:                                                 
1. Writing press releases
2. Planning corporate events
3. Making sales pitches
4. And even managing the internet presence of a business or public figure through Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and other sites.
Agriculture public relations is all about engagement.

It includes working with farmers to help them tell their story directly. It also involves explaining the science and technology of agriculture to a consumer base that is worldwide and largely generations removed from the family farm.

I’ve explained what an agriculture advocate might do on a daily basis and what the overall goal is for the career. Now I’d like to highlight the importance of this career in your daily consumer life.

Agriculture public relations can make a huge difference in how consumers view the companies that have a hand in food and fiber production. I asked earlier about the agriculture industry’s effect on daily life. I would contend that the industry has a significant part in day to day life. To make use of an old cliché, everyone in the world has to eat.

In fact, the relationship you have with your food and its sources is very important. It determines what you eat, where you buy, and how good you feel about what you consume. It may also determine how you vote on ballot issues.

Having a good food relationship depends on the consumer learning enough about how the food is produced, stored, shipped, and cooked to feel confident eating it.

This is where the agriculture advocate comes in. To find out about your food, you might look to a number of sources. You may check out the Food Safety page on Tyson Chicken’s website. Maybe you’ll find a news article that could open your mind to the idea of genetically optimized seed. Perhaps you’ll come across a YouTube video of a local farmer giving a tour of his cattle operation, so you choose to buy beef directly from the farm. All of these are examples of ways agriculture public relations can help consumers make informed decisions when it comes to food.

Public relations professionals in agriculture help us make decisions about our food by providing valuable content online. They also work with producers to help them show their consumer base what really happens on the farm.

The French writer Francois de La Rochefoucauld said,

“To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art.”

Will you join me in allowing agriculture advocates to help us eat intelligently?

If consumers eat intelligently, and producers continue to produce intelligently, wouldn’t we have an easier time of it? I think it will take our industry being transparent and open to questions, even when accusations are flying. It’s tough, but it’s worth it.

Farm Out Loud!

thanks to Agriculture Impressions for the factoid photos. Check them out on Etsy for more.

Chipotle, Sustainability, and Questions

At the Grammy’s last weekend, a commercial for Chipotle, a mexican grill, debuted. It has received a lot of attention from the agriculture industry, good and bad.

If you haven’t seen it yet, watch it here so you’ll know what I’m talking about:

When I first watched this video, I really didn’t know what to think. On one hand, it’s a great illustration of a company that prefers working with family farms that produce food organically. On the other, it’s a slap in the face to the agriculture industry. I don’t know which one is more correct.

I wonder what Chipotle meant the message of their ad to be. It’s probably safe to say that they were promoting organic agriculture. Their website refers to “food with integrity” and sustainable agriculture. Now, the chain restaurant is still supporting the ag industry, so they’re probably not trying to insult the industry. However, they exclusively serve relatively inexpensive burritos. My next question was who is the person behind the ad and the company? What I found out was rather odd. Steve Ells, the founder of Chipotle, has a degree in Art History and also attended culinary school. He doesn’t have a background in agriculture, but on the company’s website, he claims to know a lot about how food is produced.

As Chipotle began to grow and expand, I learned quite a bit about the way most of the food in the US is produced and processed — and what I learned was pretty grim. Pigs are raised in stark confinement, produce is grown on vast factory farms with little or no regard for the environment, and dairy cows are confined and injected with hormones that make them produce 8 times their normal amount of milk.

I don’t deny that in this country exist farms that might fit this description, or have at some point in time. Once in a while, somebody gets caught up in new technology or making money and loses track of what customers expect about their food. However, the issue with Mr. Ells’s view on the subject is the word most. Most of the food in the US does not come from the ugly farm he describes. Most of the farms in the US don’t look anything like that. It is also possible that the description is an exaggeration of the truth. Many farms feel the pressure to deliver low cost food, which cannot economically be produced on a farm with descriptors like “free range, organic,” etc.

We as an industry have come a long way from the defamed “factory farm,” but we still have a long way to go. One of the issues the industry is facing is an ever-growing demand for agricultural products, meanwhile small groups of consumers and voters are tying our hands when it comes to meeting that demand. If a solution is found that allows more bushels of grain to be produced per acre, someone somewhere is against it. It’s even worse if the same idea is applied to animal agriculture.

Small groups of people make their voices heard on such issues, meanwhile a silent majority continues to buy (and therefore fund) the products as they are already produced. It’s confusing for producers. Do you listen to the loud minority, or follow the bottom line? If the average consumer truly prefers food from sustainable or organic sources, the best way to communicate that to producers is to vote with their dollars. The more people who are willing to pay more for the organic foods some say are the best, the more producers will sit up and listen.

Regardless of what consumers do, our industry does have a responsibility to work to find ways to operate in ways that are more sustainable. That is, once we can agree on the definition of the word.

What do you think about the Chipotle ad? How do you define sustainability? How should we react to people and companies who choose to get our attention this way?

I certainly don’t have the answers, but I do know that the voice that’s missing in the ad is ours.

Farm Out Loud !

Winter Projects

When it’s very cold outside, or generally wintertime, there are a lot of seeds in the fields around home. Mostly winter wheat, which does best with hard freezes and such, hence the name. There are lots of seeds, but not lots of farmers in the fields. It’s not surprising that weather determines what farmers do on a daily basis. But a whole winter? That’s a lot of time.

I used to have a sneaking suspicion that my dad went to “work” on winter days just to stoke the fire and farm out loud at the shop. I was right about him spending time in the shop, and I’ve been there enough times to know that a whole lot of farming out loud goes on there. But, there’s actually a lot of work to be done in the winter. There’s paperwork to fill out (and tax forms, oh joy), and there is machinery to clean up, fix up, and generally get ready for the hectic work of spring (and all the other seasons).

This winter, my dad has been working in the shop on the John Deere 4960. It needed new interior. So what did it get? The works, of course. Not only does it have a freshly installed interior, it also has a very detailed, not to mention good looking, paint job. This is one of those little stories that wouldn’t necessarily get told to the world. But this is where a whole host of nerd farming comes in. My dad is a perfectionist when it comes to, well, everything, and that includes his winter project. So he was a little proud of himself, unsurprisingly. (I mean, check out that paint job in the slide show!) First, Dad told his friends on Facebook about his good-as-new tractor. Then, he took his story to the nerd farmers who care the most. He clicked over to a forum on AgTalk about machinery and proceeded to let other farmers check out his hard work. Some of them want to give him directions to their shop so he can spruce up some other local machinery in John Deere green.

http://talk.newagtalk.com/forums/thread-view.asp?tid=286605&mid=2223317#M2223317

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This is a great example of somebody with a pretty cool story taking it directly to the readers who want to hear about it. Props to Dad for totally getting this stuff I’m learning about in school. It’s proof to me that it’s worth my time to learn. Telling your story directly, to the people who want to hear it, when they want to hear it – that’s farming out loud at its best.

Have you found your opportunity to

Farm Out Loud?

Passion

 I wrote in an earlier post about how important passion is to me when it comes to careers. I think it makes the difference between a life of joy and one of regret. It’s more than that, though. I love this quote (above) because it makes so much sense. The biggest determinant of a person (or business, or industry)’s  success is their drive and commitment to their cause. I know I would rather do business with someone who is excited about what they’re doing and excited to allow me to be a part of it than with someone who is just doing their job. To me, that’s the difference between a job and a career. If you’re doing what you love because you love it, it’s a career. If you’re doing something, in order to get something that will allow you to do what you love… that’s a job.

I have a friend who makes amazing jewelry. She takes unique silverware patterns that she finds at antique stores and yard sales, and remakes them into something truly special. Spoons, forks, and butter knives become rings, bracelets, and necklaces. The most exciting part for customers is bringing in their own inherited silver sets, if they’re willing to part with their intended use. She’s had whole sets of family Christmas presents made from just a few pieces of great-grandma’s first silver pattern. The most exciting thing for my friend is taking on new projects. Her newest idea? Antique buttons. I can’t wait to see what she does with them.

Time for a shameless plug before I go on. My friend’s company is called The SilverSmiths, and it’s based in central Missouri. 

            

The SilverSmiths are just one example of a business, and a person, with a passion for what they do. Deb, the founder, is so excited about her creations that it’s contagious. It’s obvious that this project is more than just a job – it’s a fun and rewarding career. Her workshop is full of inspiration and her friends are very willing advertisements. I  have several pieces, and I love knowing that I’m one of a few who know where to get something so unique. I’m going to relish that idea, because I know it won’t last long. Her secret’s out!

Now, to bring this idea full circle, let’s consider this idea in the context of agriculture. There are honestly very few people who work in the agriculture industry who are not passionate about the work they do. And, let’s be honest: they aren’t in it for the money. So, here we are with a bunch of farmers, ranchers, marketers, communicators, service providers, engineers, scientists, (and the list continues) with a passion for their careers. How can you share your passion? If you happen to be a row crop farmer like my dad, then you spend a lot of your time alone, in a quite literal field. You can imagine a day like that to be as exciting or a boring as you want. Either way, nobody knows about it.

I’ve been reading a good book (do you believe that it’s a textbook? my nerd is showing, sorry about that) by David Meerman Scott called The New Rules of Marketing & PR. A lot of my seemingly original ideas probably originate from this book, and I highly recommend it. Or you can go for the free versions he posts on his blog and website. (oops, that was another plug, and I didn’t even warn you that time…. oh well, it’s worth it, I promise)

Back to your day in the field.

What if, after a particularly interesting day in the field, you decided to tell the world? Where would you turn first? Probably the same place your customers would: Facebook, Twitter, a website, maybe a blog. Now, you share your story in your own words, be they printed, spoken, or photographed. You now have something out there that people will find when they’re wondering about you. When your loyal customers wonder what you’ve been up to after you’ve missed a couple of days in the coffee shop, there you are. And most interestingly, when someone wonders about where their food comes from and want to see a face or a name behind it, they can find you!

Of course, there is a variety of kind of technical things that can go on behind the scenes to make sure you come up in Google where you want to be found. But the truth is, the things I’m suggesting here are really user friendly ways to get your story out there. The sites will even walk you through the steps. So what are you waiting for?

Farm Out Loud!

Farming out loud

I’m the product of a rural school district in a small Missouri town, a farming community where I learned the value of hard work and the importance of faith. In high school, I got the chance to venture into uncharted territory and found that I can be comfortable even outside my bubble – on stage, behind a mic, in costume, on a four-wheeler, in the city, in the middle of nowhere, and in a blue corduroy jacket.  I am now a junior in college, settling into my area of interest, studying Agricultural Communications and Agricultural Education at Missouri State University. I am a proud resident of the honors dorm, which we affectionately call the Nerd Box. I have a passion for learning, and the more I get into agriculture, the more I realize there is to learn. I love representing my state and my school at conferences and events, and I’ve recently discovered a new love – covering events as a reporter for Missouri FFA Today and Cattlemen’s News, a publication of the Joplin Regional Stockyards. I’ve had the privilege of working as an intern at the Missouri Department of Agriculture, and I’m looking forward to this summer and the opportunities for great experience I’m certain it holds. It is my hope that I can contribute to the revolution of the agriculture industry by helping farmers to tell the story we’ve been in the middle of for as long as we can remember. I’m proud to say I’m a part of the minority – an American who isn’t even one generation removed from the family farm.

Since this is my first blog post, I think an explanation of this blog’s title and tagline are in order. Farm Out Loud is a combination of a couple of things – an old FFA slogan “Lead Out Loud,” and especially my favorite characterization of my father, the original “nerd farmer” in my life.

Dad finds people to visit with everywhere he goes, and he’s always talking about farming. Mom and I are supportive, but we know that it’s more likely than not that when we’re ready to head out for lunch after church, dad is behind the last row of pews “farming” with his friends. We smile and roll our eyes and Mom says, “Your father is farming out loud again.”  She even tells people sometimes that she teaches to support her husband’s farming habit.

All kidding aside, growing up with parents who are both passionate and excited about their careers made me the person I am today. I don’t know anything about choosing a major or a career for money – it’s all about passion. Having a job that takes up a lot more time than a typical 9 to 5 but doesn’t exactly pay that way is all I’ve ever seen, and I’m glad for it. Mom is a farmer’s daughter herself, Dad is a full-time row crop farmer, and agriculture has been ingrained in the whole family for as long as I can remember.

I can’t wait to enter the field as a liaison between farmers and companies, or even between farmers and customers. It’s unfortunate that many people seem to distrust their food sources. Regulation proposals based on misinformation are also a growing problem. There are exciting developments happening in agriculture too, like new technology, smarter equipment and stronger plant strains. My passion is to learn from any “nerd farmers” out there about how they would tell the story behind America’s agriculture industry. I believe that it’s time for farmers to join the conversation already in progress about food production and reliability everywhere it’s happening, including on social media. The good news about that? A lot of us are already here!

If my description of a “nerd farmer” sounds like you, I’d really love to hear from you! Leave a comment and/or a blog link if you want to help me out on this journey of discovery. If you have questions you want me to ask a nerd farmer, let me know!

’til we meet again, don’t forget to
Farm Out Loud!