Got work?

My first paid job that I had as a child was pulling weeds in my grandmother’s garden. She would be nearby pulling weeds too. It was a supervised position that we could do together while we talked, and she could watch over me to be certain I wasn’t accidentally pulling little flower or vegetable seedlings.
I knelt on the ground with a pail near me, and she paid me one cent for every weed. If I could stick it out for a while, I might have pulled a pail or two full, earning $1. She was pretty good at working math into weed pulling, so I knew 100 weeds equaled 100 pennies, or 20 nickels, or 10 dimes, or 4 quarters or a $1 bill. I was only about 5 years old. Eventually, as I got older, I would pull more weeds and earn more money.
As I felt more confident working around the garden, I was taught how to use the push lawn mower. I learned how to mow around the gardens and to blow the grass clippings away from the flower or vegetable beds. I would sweep up the clippings that were on the sidewalk and rake the grass clippings into piles to haul in a wheelbarrow to the chicken coop to feed the chickens. I don’t remember what I was paid, but I know I felt trusted. It was an important job. These are memories that have influenced my life to this day.
While in high school, I worked at Kentucky Fried Chicken for a minimum wage of $3.35 per hour. I worked on weekends and eventually after school, when I got my driver’s license. Receiving my own paycheck, getting a bank account and managing my money helped purchase my first car. Back in the 1980s, everyone wanted to have a job, and even though the recession was going on, money was always important to have in your pocket. I bought my own lunch for $1.50 per day.
I have been short-staffed on the farm just as many other farms and businesses are today. I see that things have changed. Parents give their children money, and the idea of working for it has disappeared. There isn’t a push to get a car when there is a spare one in the driveway. The struggle to find help is devastating to many farms and businesses.
It wasn’t too long ago that college students would need on-farm experience for some of their degrees. I would have a list of students that would come for six weeks or maybe a full semester. After the pandemic, things haven’t been the same. Requirements have changed, and the atmosphere around campus has been disrupted. Declining enrollment and online classes are the new normal.
I try to find kids nearby to help do chores and work with fetching the cows to the robots. I’ve been reaching out to the high schools to see if the counselors know of any students who might be interested in working. The job would be working around, and with, animals and working outdoors. This would be a job that would require someone to lift 50 pounds. It would have paid training and supervision for an extended period of time. We will pay for boots, overalls and sweatshirts as a work uniform.
But, the big question is how much does this job pay.
In the recent past, we had a 14-year-old high school student who started at $8. As he went through high school, he received raises with employee evaluations and went up to $12 by the time he had graduated. He had a difficult upbringing and was challenged at school. We took him under our wing and treated him like family. I watched this young man get lost going from one building to the next and take the long way around to get a tool. We identified that he broke rakes and pitchforks without admitting he did. We tried to keep the relationship going, but it was frustrating.
As the working climate changed after the pandemic, he found that much more money was easier made at a big hardware store. He decided he didn’t like cows after all.
As we continue to recover from the difficulties of the pandemic, the impact of inflation, and the fear of another recession looms overhead, we will continue to feel pushed to find the help we need. Restaurants are closed with a note on the door saying, “Sorry, not enough help.” Gas stations and big hardware stores have resorted to offering enormous wages to employees.
The amount is too high for us to compete with. This leaves us seeking help from others who want to work. They show up on time, happy to do chores and like working with cows.
    Tina Hinchley, her husband Duane and daughter Anna milk 240 registered Holsteins with robots.  They also farm 2,300 acres of crops near Cambridge, Wisconsin. The Hinchleys have been hosting farm tours for over 25 years.


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