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Farm Safety Day highlights ways to stay out of trouble, on and off the farm

Students at Farm Safety Day in Steele, N.D., on April 25, 2018, learned about fire safety and got to try out some fire extinguishers under the direction of the Steele Rural Fire Department. Jenny Schlecht / Forum News Service1 / 2
Gary Schoenhard explains to Kidder County elementary students how he lost part of his arm in a PTO accident. The presentation was part of Farm Safety Day on April 25, 2018, in Steele, N.D. Jenny Schlecht / Forum News Service2 / 2

STEELE, N.D. — With big machinery, big animals, things that burn and things that spin, farms aren't the safest place for children. But for the past 25 years, groups in Kidder County, N.D., have tried to give students a leg up on knowledge to keep them safe.

Agriculture is considered one of the most dangerous industries. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 12,000 youth were injured on farms in 2014, with 4,000 of those injuries blamed on farm work.

Julie DeKrey for five years has served as the coordinator for the Farm Safety Day event in Steele, N.D., put on by the Kidder County Farm Bureau through the Progressive Ag Foundation. They've continued to offer the program for generations of students because, she said, "it saves lives."

"You get kids that come and say, I told my parents this or that," she said. "It travels onto the parents, too."

The Progressive Ag Foundation helps fund and put on Farm Safety Days across the country, including at least 17 in North Dakota, seven in Minnesota, two in South Dakota and one in Montana. The foundation and its Farm Safety Days came to be after a Progressive Farmer magazine profile of nearly 100 farm fatalities. What followed was an increased focus on safety in the magazine and an increased effort to get the message out to farm communities.

Local events are put on by a variety of organizations, including groups like Farm Bureau, local health districts or extension offices and others. Numerous local and national organizations also provide money, volunteers or materials for the day.

Educators at the Kidder County event on April 25 came from a variety of places. Penny Nester, the North Dakota State University Extension agent for Kidder County, presented on large animal safety. The North Dakota Highway Patrol used a rollover simulator to show the importance of seat belts. The Steele Rural Fire Department and Kidder County Sheriff's Department talked about stranger danger and situational awareness. The Steele Fire Department talked about fire safety and showed kids how to use fire extinguishers. Kidder County FFA members urged students not to bully others. Medina FFA members talked about Power Take-Off (PTO) safety.

Safety day participants include all fourth, fifth and sixth graders from across the county's two elementary schools, as well as the county's homeschool students from the same grades. Every year's event includes different topics to expose students to a wide variety of information that can help them on and off the farm, DeKrey said.

Cody Mack, a senior at Medina High School and the FFA chapter president, said teaching kids to stay away from PTO shafts and to be cautious around large equipment was an important task. He and his fellow chapter officers got some help from Gary Schoenhard, a local producer who lost part of his arm to a PTO accident. Schoenhard's testimony offered the reality of farm safety and showed kids how quickly bad things can happen.

"It's very important because they're young kids. They're inexperienced," Mack said. "Here in North Dakota, there's a lot of kids who are on the farm, and they have a lot of responsibility, so they need to know how to be safe."

The students at the event appeared to be having a good time and picking up valuable information. Tappen Elementary School fourth-grader Taryn Mittleider lives on a farm and called the farm safety topics "fun" and "very useful."

"When I go back home, I'm going to be aware of the things around me and just be careful," she said.

DeKrey advised anyone interested in putting on a Farm Safety Day in their community to visit " target="_blank">