The Farmers Back Study has been almost done for a long time now, but today we finished data collection for real! We drove over clear roads in clear weather, but ended up spending the day in snow covered fields. I am glad the nice fall weather lasted long enough for us to finish up, I did not fancy driving grid roads in the snow. Now we get to spend the indoor winter months processing and analyzing our data. Fun times!
“Our kids died living life on the farm. It is a family farm. We do not regret raising and involving our kids… on our farm,” he read. “It was our life.”
This week 3 sisters died by grain engulfment in rural Alberta. This is undeniably terrible for their family, their community, and agriculture in general. This is also not a surprising nor unheard-of event, grain engulfment is a widely-acknowledged hazard in agriculture and transportation industries, and there are multiple campaigns to help workers stay safe during grain loading. Simply described, grain engulfment is drowning in grain, not being able to breathe or to free yourself from the heavy grain on top of you. It can happen if you get stuck under an auger, behind a grain dump truck, or if grain stuck to the side of a bin comes down on top of you. This is not a peaceful floating-off kind of death, but rather several minutes of pain, choking, and struggle.
For this type of catastrophe to happen to kids is heartbreaking because it is predictable and preventable. This has happened before many times, and just as before, the media is not doing a safety-oriented job of reporting it. The Marshfield Clinic guidelines for reporting farm injuries and fatalities are clear, but see if you can spot where the narrative of this story deviates from the ideal:
- DO use the word ‘incident’ rather than ‘accident’
- DO describe the safety violations or prevention measures – this gives a fighting chance at a prevention message along with the catastrophe
- DO depict farming as an intense, high-risk industry
- DO emphasize the adult’s role in prevention
- DO NOT describe children as ‘loving to help’ – this gives the impression its OK to let children into industrial zones and near high-risk tasks
- DO NOT describe incidents as ‘completely unpredictable’ or ‘freak events’ – everyone should be aware of the hazards and risks of farm machinery, tasks, and environments
- DO NOT suggest that unsafe practices are ok because they are a ‘tradition’
Responding on the news story to a commenter that questioned having children around the workplace, Bott wrote: “This is our life. It is not sterile like city life.”
Many of the quotes and even the articles themselves seem to glamorize the earthy virtue of farming, without much critical thought around how this could be prevented. I understand that reporters are reluctant to criticize parents ‘when they are down’ and already grieving a terrible loss. However, I don’t think things can really get much worse for those parents no matter what is written, and I’m sure they would want other parents to avoid the type of grief they are going through. So reporters: don’t hold back! Tell the safety story and ask experts for prevention quotes so that readers are left with a sense of purpose, not only a sense of loss.
I did find one article which addresses safety and the responsibility of adults here (in metro of all places). I hope some folks hear the message and take action to prevent child deaths on farms.
You know that saying, party till the cows come home? Well, party’s over…
So we have nearly completed the data collection for the Farmers Back Study – it’s been a long season! Since starting this study in March, we have had several adventures in rural Saskatchewan and seen a lot of ‘country stuff‘ along the way.
So far, we have measured about 50 people on 22 farms, involving dozens of different farm vehicles and at least 20 different farm tasks. This summer was busy enough that I am not that sad about the arrival of Fall (unusual for me). I will miss being out on the farms and visiting the farmers (and their cats), but it will be good to spend some time in the office and lab processing our mountains of data… and the students need to finish their theses sometime!
Bye bye farms
Combining started a week or so ago in Saskatchewan, first peas and now wheat and canola. This video is from Kansas (they are a bit ahead of us in terms of weather and crop development). This year I have been out at farms a lot throughout the growing season. Harvest time marks the beginning of the end for the Farmers Back Study.
Attention BC homies, who have been enjoying all the prestige and cachet for specialty horticulture: Saskatchewan farmers are coming for your market share! It’s a short growing season but they use real dirt and everyone knows you can’t have terroir without it.
Although I’ve had some luck, many farm kitties are not very friendly. Sometimes you get the idea that they once were petable, and deep down they want pets, but that it is a long term project to actually get your hands on one as an advanced cat whisperer. I rarely take photos of them since they are usually running away. This week I found some barn kittens and even picked one up, but the minute I took my hand off to pet him this 8 week baby LAUNCHED out of my hands and into the hay to scurry away with his siblings. Here are a few of the photos I have managed, mostly grainy due to extreme zoom!
More views from the farms we’ve been visiting for research.