Child labour is a hot topic these days, as well it should be. All over the world, young people are robbed of their childhoods by unfair and exploitative labour practices. Of course, when Ted and I farmed, we relied an awful lot on kids. If they hadn’t helped us so much, we would never have been as successful.
Work can and should be an integral part of growing up. Children gain a strong sense of satisfaction when they’re given the chance to contribute, and they build habits and attitudes that will stick with them long after they’ve grown up. You just have to find ways to keep the work fun and ensure that it doesn’t interfere with other equally important parts of their lives.
When they were young, Bill and Jim were always bringing friends home from school. Their buddies from town loved the chance to be out on a farm. It felt like a different world to them, even though their homes were only a mile or two away.
As the spring evenings lengthened, they’d be up in the field transplanting seedlings. They’d hoe the rows throughout the summer, and they’d help out as the vegetables became ready to harvest.
Sure it was hard work, but the kids wouldn’t have kept coming back if they weren’t having a good time. It wasn’t even the fact that we paid them—although they never complained when I handed out the cheques. When I’d take drinks or popsicles up to them, I felt like I was walking into the middle of a rather sweaty social occasion. The radio would be blasting away, competing with a steady stream of jokes and conversation.
I have to admit I pushed them a little from time to time. As their energy started to flag, I’d go out there and say, “Come on, kids, just five more minutes!” Ten minutes later, I’d go back out and say, “Just two more minutes!” Somehow though, when the break finally arrived, they always seemed to find the strength to pick up a football and start an impromptu game.
Their parents, naturally, were thrilled at the idea of their children coming out to our place. The kids were happy and healthy, they were earning a few bucks of their own, and if they were tired out at the end of the day, that was a bonus.
I’ll never forget one afternoon, though, when a man drove out to the farm, his poor teenage son slumped in the back seat of the car. Something about this man’s manner put us off, even before he opened his mouth. He told us, “I want you to put my boy to work. He’s a lazy kid, and I want you to show him what real work is like. Straighten him up.” The boy had gotten drunk one night, and his father wanted to teach him a lesson. I guess he thought we were running some sort of boot camp.
Ted and I were appalled that this man would think of farm life as punishment. Clearly, he was the one who needed straightening up, not his boy. I don’t imagine he ever thought of sitting down to talk with his son, although it was obvious he was very mad at him. I wonder, if we had taken the boy, could we have helped him? But when you’re not the parent, when you’re only there for a short period of time, there’s not much you can do.
If you talk to the kids who worked for us over the years, I don’t think you’ll hear many complaints. Sure, they’ll joke about how we made them slave all day under the hot sun, but they’ll also talk about all the good times they had together. Many of them still come out to visit us from time to time, and we’re always thrilled to see them.
As a matter of fact, a few of them still work for us. And, if I’m not mistaken, they’re still finding a way to have fun on the job.
-Lois Hole I'll Never Marry a Farmer