Her knowledge of those family experiences combined with her occupation in nursing catapulted her into becoming one of the original organizers of what is now the Rural Health and Farm Safety program that is marking its 30th year at Carle.
“I had a great interest in helping with farm injuries,” Voights said, adding that the program started with teaching children on farms how to react in an emergency. Over time the program has continued to grow and evolve.
At the center of the program today is Amy Rademaker, Rural Health and Farm Safety Program coordinator. She started 20 years ago when the focus was mostly tractor and grain power take-off shaft safety. That continues today with the addition of much more including sun safety, mental wellness, ATV safety and lessons in use of auto steer in tractors that allows farmers to work longer hours, but can put them in jeopardy of falling asleep at the wheel. The Rural Health and Farm Safety Program is also now part of the Community Health Initiatives team that focuses on community outreach to improve health in other areas. Her work includes outreach to adults and children.
“We know on average, injuries occur to 33 children each day in rural areas and a child dies on a farm every three days and mostly while they are playing,” Rademaker said. “Fewer children live on a farm these days and many do not know how risky it is because they are not around it much. Grandparents with visiting grandchildren also can forget how little their grandchildren know about rural life.”
Grain, bike, ATV, electrical, chemical and roadway safety are among topics Rademaker and friends will present to grade school children through hands-on activities in St. Joseph on Sept. 24 during National Farm Safety Week. In November, Rademaker will visit school children in the Gifford area to participate in more safety activities through Rural Health and Farm Safety.
Looking back at the early beginnings of the Rural Health and Farm Safety effort, Bob Aherin said development of farm safety programs with Carle was a group effort. At the time, community leadership groups formed so farmers could talk about their needs and training sought, Aherin, then with University of Illinois Extension safety program, said. In those early days, efforts included designating nurses as being particularly knowledgeable about exposures to pesticides, melanoma/skin disease, and exposure to dust, he said.
“We tried to get farmers to think about the real risks to them financially and emotionally,” Aherin, now a retired safety specialist, said. “I commend Carle for continuing to support this program for so long.”
The average age of a farmer today is 55 or 56 years and they understand the importance of managing their resources and staying safe on the farm. “There are times, however, when some take risks such as removing equipment safety guards, letting a child operate a tractor or allowing others to ride on equipment they are driving,” he said.
The programs remind them the risk can result in injury so great that the farmer cannot work or the farmer cannot afford to farm due to litigation.
Jonathan Woods, executive director of Community Health Initiatives, said, “I could not be more thrilled to have Rural Health and Farm Safety in Community Health Initiatives. The work opens doors for collaboration with other communities we serve. What a testament to shaping generations in rural communities to live a safer and healthier way of life.”
Whether the lessons are on the farm, or in a rural area, Rademaker encourages others to get to know their neighboring farmers.
Today’s rural landscape can mean farmers work at a job off the farm, leave that job and extend their day by working long hours on the farm. “This can be very stressful and some farm alone without anyone to notice if they do not return home at night. We, as neighbors, need to help our farmers. Get to know them, take them a snack some day when you see them working in the field (stay clear of equipment until they see you). Most farmers will stop and appreciate the gesture. You may never know how much a snack and a glass of lemonade help a farmer feel appreciated,” Rademaker said.