The Family Farm and Working Children

Start song! Sly and The Family Stone-Family Affair (1971) []


This morning, the NY Times ran an opEd calling for more regulation of child labor on the farm, pitting-child-safety-against-the-family-farm.

However broad minded this may be, it would kill us.  My children are the best workers I have.  And, they religiously save the $1/hour I pay them.  My son has been driving a boat since he was 3, my daughter has cranked the winches since she was 4, leaning over the gunwales into a nor’easter on a cold November day when we absolutely needed another 2000 oysters.

The yeoman farmer, and his working children, have been the backbone of democracy from the Greeks to  Jefferson, according to the Greek scholar Victor David Hanson.  The junker farmer, his small plot and his family, built Prussia from a swampy backwater to an international power.

We have so much regulation now that I can barely get out on the bay.  I’d guess that the budget on Long Island for the regulatory agency, the DEC, exceeds the dollar amount of all the fish and shellfish landed on Long Island.  How can that be?  How is that sustainable?

Working on a farm is one of life’s greatest learning experiences for a child.  It is something sorely missing from American culture.  My kids are not obese, they can outwork any adult I know.  And they are proud of what they can do, they feel a sense of accomplishment when the harvest is cleaned and on the dock. We have a Christmas tradition here – no presents until we go out and bag 1000 oysters, no matter the weather.

Well meaning regulations are an anathma.  I need them like a hole in my boat.  Nor am I some agribusiness or woolly Republican.  I voted for Obama and within months his administration arranged the ban of American oyster exports to Europe – a fact I’ve never seen reported in the NY Times.

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