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10 Minutes With Shari Burgus

Hobby Farms sits down with the director of Farm Safety 4 Just Kids to talk about child safety on the farm.


Education director at Farm Safety 4 Just Kids Shari Burgus

As the education director at Farm Safety 4 Just Kids in Urbandale, Iowa, Shari Burgus leads the organization’s efforts to initiate, design, develop, and evaluate farm-safety and health educational resources and programs for children, youth and families. 

She has taught in middle and high schools in both rural and urban settings, and has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Education from Iowa State University as well as a specialist degree in Adult Education from Drake University.

Hobby Farms: What is Farm Safety 4 Just Kids’ role in farm-safety education?

Shari Burgus: Farm Safety 4 Just Kids has a mission of promoting a safe farm environment for children and youth to prevent health hazards, injuries and fatalities. The national office develops educational resources, manages programs and provides training opportunities for state- and community-program leaders. The public is also encouraged to use the material.

The rate of childhood farm-related injury has declined by nearly 60 percent between 1998 and 2009, according to The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. This is an encouraging sign that research and public awareness efforts are making an impact. After nearly 25 years of providing farm-injury-prevention programs at the community level, Farm Safety 4 Just Kids has helped to reduce farm-injury rates among children and youth.

HF: How was FS4JK founded?

SB: Farm Safety 4 Just Kids was initiated in 1987, a year after the death of an 11-year-old Iowa farm boy helping with harvest. Keith Algreen suffocated in a gravity-flow wagon, and his mother Marilyn Adams began a campaign to promote farm-safety awareness. Soon after the organization started, it became evident that programs at the community level were needed to reduce the number of farm-related injuries to children and youth taking place each year. FS4JK now has 119 chapters in 26 U.S. states and four Canadian provinces. Nine outreach coordinators also conduct farm-safety and health programs within their respective states.

HF: On small-scale farms, such as hobby farms, what is the biggest safety consideration for parents to keep in mind?

SB: The farm can be a great place to raise children and is often the reason parents choose to stay in or move to a rural environment. But the farm is also an environment where living and work settings overlap, often putting children within close proximity to dangerous situations. Farm machinery, including tractors, is the leading cause of fatalities to children on the farm. The tractors and machinery don’t have to be big to be powerful and dangerous. The inexperience of novice adult operators and children’s curiosity can be a deadly combination. Other safety concerns on the farm, even the small hobby farm, include the ever-increasing use of ATVs, the variety of livestock, chemicals used in crop production and landscaping, and rural-roadway issues.

Parents play a big role in providing a safe and healthy environment for their children to grow up in. Providing a safe play area, setting safe boundaries, setting and enforcing strict rules, assigning age- and ability-appropriate tasks, supervising children and youth properly, and providing training about safe operation [of equipment and tools] will help children and youth stay safe within the rural environment.

HF: How can we balance fun with education and safety on the farm?

SB: Education doesn’t have to be boring or avoided. It can be fun and is important to a child’s well-being. Farm Safety 4 Just Kids believes that education and programs should be interactive, where children and youth learn about the risks of being on the farm without being hurt. Demonstrations help them comprehend the risks and ways to prevent injury.

Puzzles, activities and games are available through Farm Safety 4 Just Kids to help program presenters encourage safety and health messages, help students internalize the concepts, and ensure students take home the activities to other family members.

Parents have a big influence on their child’s safety and health. Like it or not, children often imitate their parents. Parents can use this to their advantage and help prevent injury at the same time. Be conscious of your own actions and complete farming tasks safely. Both adults and children will benefit and be less likely to experience injury.

When training a child to complete a task for the first time, keep the mood relaxed and encourage questions. Don’t expect children to complete a new task perfectly the first time. Supervise closely and give constructive criticism when needed.

HF: A lot of our readers are fairly new to farming. What are good resources for beginner farmers to access information about farm safety?

SB: Farm Safety 4 Just Kids has an extensive listing of resources that can be used to conduct programs about staying safe and healthy on the farm. Visit www.fs4jk.org for free resources as well as educational material for purchase. Call 800-423-5437 to ask for technical assistance in finding the right resource, identifying data, conducting educational programs or ordering material.

Fact sheets and brochures are available for youth and program presenters. Educational packets help presenters deliver fun activities. Demonstration and game ideas help make presentations interactive.

HF: Is there anything else you would like Hobby Farms readers to know about FS4JK?

SB: The demographics of agriculture are changing. The two ends of the spectrum, small-farm operations and the largest farms, are increasing, while traditional farms of several decades ago are decreasing in number. But one thing remains constant: The next generation of farmers is at risk. Many rural children and youth are growing up on hobby farms. Farm Safety 4 Just Kids wants to ensure that they have a positive and safe experience so they can keep agriculture alive for their children and grandchildren.

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