MALTA – A farm can be a very dangerous place for a kid to live and work at.
To demonstrate this point, Mark Baker, a Stateline Farm Rescue coordinator, motioned to a tractor that had a mower attached to its rear. Tied onto the power take-off line of the mower was a newspaper-filled mannequin named Buster.
“This PTO line turns at eight revolutions per second,” Baker said to a group of children. To show how fast this was, he had a child volunteer spin around eight times as fast as he or she could. Despite their best efforts, the children could not spin around that fast.
Finally, Baker turned on the tractor and mower. Buster, who is as tall as a regular teenager but without a head, hands or feet, quickly wrapped around the spinning PTO line multiple times. Buster eventually ripped open, and out came his newspaper insides.
Baker's presentation on farm machinery was just one of 12 safety focus areas at the DeKalb County Farm Bureau's Farm Safety Camp, an initiative by the bureau to cut down on farm accidents by raising safety awareness amongst children.
The camp, held every two years, is open to all children in DeKalb County who have some sort of connection to a farm, whether they live on one, work at one or live close to them.
"Over the decades that kids have been involved in farming, there have been a lot of accidents with young kids because they want to be with their mom, they want to be with their dad ... they want to be a part of the family farm and that involves being involved with some of the equipment," said Kevin McArtor of Jonamac Orchard in Malta, which has hosted the camp since 2000. "We all know some horribly tragic stories that have happened to families over the years."
In addition to farm machinery, children also learned safety tips on how to operate all-terrain vehicles and lawn mowers, and what to do in case they run into a downed power line. For instance, if a power line falls onto the truck they are in, a representative from ComEd advised the children to stay in the vehicle, as touching the outside of the truck could electrocute them.
But if the truck happens to be on fire, the children should open the truck door carefully, and jump out of it as far as they can.
Mariam Wassman, the farm bureau's director of information, was unable to say if there has been any drop in farm-related accidents or deaths in the county since the camp's inception in 1994.
"It's hard to measure, but we can't help but think that we're doing some good," Wassman said. "I think we're doing good. The parents say yeah, the kids learned a lot, they had a great time. We hear positive feedback. Did we prevent an injury or accident from happening? We hope so."
Each of the presentations engaged the kids in some way. At the lawn mowers and garden tractors station, Tom Newquist of DeKalb Lawn & Equipment and Dave Kohlagen, a Toro representative with PMA Outdoor Equipment in St. Charles, showed kids how to operate two kinds of lawn mowers before letting the children use them.
"It's a part of growing up," Newquist said of learning lawn mower safety. "We all have to cut grass or cutting hay, whether they are working on their farm or on their parents' yard. You have to have safety. You have to have basics of how these machines work."
Caleb Cursio, 11, was paying close attention to Newquist and Kohlagen's presentation. He said his mom signed him up for the camp because he has a summer job on a farm this year. He said the lawn mower presentation was his favorite one.
"I like mowing my lawn," Cursio said.