Iowa Public Television


Farm Safety 4 Just Kids

posted on March 20, 2009

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America's farmers and ranchers are no strangers to adversity. Growers often endure volatile price swings, record input costs and nowadays - financial market turmoil. As if that wasn't enough, Mother Nature can remind many producers once again that farming can be risky business.

Farming also can be hazardous to one's health. And the National Safety Council currently ranks agriculture as America's most dangerous industry with nearly 30 deaths per 100,000 workers annually.

Tragically, many of the victims are children. One Iowa woman knows all too well just how dangerous the farm can be. And after losing a son more than 20 years ago, she's been on a mission to make the family farm safe for children. Cate Koester explains.

In the fall of 1986, Marilyn Adams lived every parent's worst nightmare when she lost her son Keith in a farm accident. While helping his father with the harvest the 11-year old climbed on top of a gravity flow wagon, was sucked under the corn and suffocated.

Marilyn Adams, Farm Safety Just 4 Kids: "A lot of times we'd give them more than they can handle. That's what we did with Keith. We gave him an adult job, expected him to react like an adult. And I guess I would be the first one to tell you that giving a child's life to farming is not acceptable."

Adams was determined not to let her son's death be just another farm industry statistic. One year later, Adams formed "Farm Safety 4 Just Kids."

Marilyn Adams, Farm Safety Just 4 Kids: "When I can actually spend time with these kids it's really a highlight for me because it pumps my adrenaline so I can see that they can learn and be a part of all of that and they get so excited. And they even connect with Keith and my personal story." "1 thousand 5… 1 thousand 6... 1 thousand 7... 1 thousand 8. Even though we counted kind of fast it still only took eight seconds to be pulled clear to the very, very bottom."

Adams started "Farm Safety 4 Just Kids" in a spare bedroom in her home, but today the non-profit organization has a staff of 5 and 132 chapters across the United States and Canada.

Marilyn Adams, Farm Safety 4 Just Kids: "We started out with, of course, zero for a budget and then our very first contribution was $20,000 and I thought that was going to last us a lifetime. But now with our development of our educational programs and our staff and all the outreach that we do our budget is really close to the million dollar mark and we have a lot of corporate sponsors that have been with us for many, many years. And that started with them calling us saying what can we do to help."

To assist communities in teaching farm safety to children "Farm Safety 4 Just Kids" offers to anyone a curriculum and a variety of resources. Their catalogue offers everything from activity books and videos, to t-shirts and decals, which can be affixed to farm machinery as a reminder of potential danger.

Marilyn Adams, Farm Safety 4 Just Kids: "We have puppet shows, skits and a variety of ways to deliver the message. We have it pre-packaged and they can call the office and get suggestions. And so we help keep everybody interested in having children's farm safety on the forefront and then they deliver the programs and we provide support."

When Adams began "Farm Safety 4 Just Kids," more than 300 children died annually in farm related accidents, but that number has dramatically declined. According to the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety between 1997 and 2005 an estimated 907 youth died on US farms.

Marilyn Adams, Farm Safety 4 Just Kids: "You know when I look at the statistics compared to 300 children dying on farms back when I started the organization, and now a little over 100, all of us that are in the children's farm safety movement should be proud of those numbers. But that's an average of two children a week. And so, looking at the whole picture, we've got a lot of work to do."

Since 2002, the annual "Volvo for Life Awards" has honored more than 17,000 everyday heroes and contributed millions of dollars to their causes. In May of this year (2008), Adams was presented Volvo's Grand Award.

Marilyn Adams, Farm Safety 4 Just Kids: "I would like to dedicate this award to the memory of my son Keith and to all of America's hero's, striving to make the world a better place."

The award includes $100,000 cash, and Adams will be receive a new Volvo every three years for the rest of her life.

Marilyn Adams, Farm Safety 4 Just Kids: "While he's no longer with us physically, you know his spirit is reflected in all the children and youth that are educated by the farm safety program. And his influence has spread far beyond his short time here on earth and his story has touched countless number of rural families."

Adams will use the $100,000 prize to create an endowment fund ensuring that "Farm Safety 4 Just Kids" will continue long after she is gone.

Marilyn Adams, Farm Safety 4 Just Kids: "Every day is a constant reminder for me that we lost Keith in a farming accident. But in a selfish way it might be my own way of keeping him alive. I don't know, I don't understand how somebody like me, a typical farm wife and mother and Sunday school teacher could pull this together, start an organization, but I had to do something and I wanted to prevent this from happening to any other family."

For Market to Market, I'm Cate Koester.


Tags: agriculture children farm safety farmers farms Iowa news safety