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How Ohio farmers protected opportunities for youths
The passion of Ohio Farm Bureau members along with the use of some simple technology gave the organization momentum as it helped block an unpopular proposal on federal youth labor rules.
The Labor Department proposal, which sought to tighten rules on farm work performed by youths, had drawn criticism across the countryside. Many argued it was unnecessarily intrusive and would disrupt family tradition and educational opportunities. The administration eventually killed the proposal under pressure from farmers and others.
Farmers had communicated their concerns about the plan at Ohio Farm Bureau legislative district meetings, regional cabinet meetings and other events throughout the state.
But when it came time to take action, the organization used an online survey to allow farmers to channel their voices. Hundreds of members sent comments to Ohio Farm Bureau about why they opposed the rules. Within days, staff had compiled the comments into a book that volunteers carried with them to Washington, D.C.
Most of the comments reflected farmers’ strong belief in the value of farm work and family tradition:
“Farming is not only a way of life, which is a very good life, but it is a teaching experience also,” one person wrote.
“Family farms teach so much - but only if the children can participate fully. Parents know best. Let us choose,” wrote another.
Comment after comment echoing these sentiments had poured in via the Internet survey. And when Farm Bureau’s county presidents headed to the nation’s capital, they had a message to deliver.
The volunteer farmers presented to their congressional delegation signed copies of the books that contained the comments of their neighbors back home.
Several congressmen, led by Rep. Bob Latta, then signed a letter opposing the rules that was delivered to the Labor Department along with Farm Bureau members’ comments.
With similar pressure from farmers in other states, it wasn’t long before the government announced that it was withdrawing its proposal and would not pursue it under the current administration.
“We worked together to share our story, and we got a great result,” said OFBF Director of Political Education Doug Foxx, who helped compile member comments. “We were successful because the use of technology allowed us to hear from our members quickly and then deliver comments that came directly from Ohio farmers.”
Foxx said there was power in farmers’ willingness to tell personal stories in their own words and then take action in a responsible and productive way.
“It’s a great example of how important grassroots policy is,” he said. “Members should look for more activity like this in the future.”
Photo by Dan Toland