About our series ...
While almost every American industry has had rapid advancements in safety and oversight, small agricultural operations and family-owned farms are just the opposite. The truth is, the kind of farming that’s driving the Central Illinois economy remains one of the most dangerous professions in the U.S., injuring or killing thousands each year nationwide.
It’s a trend driven by a series of overlapping factors, from small farms being exempt from even the most basic federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules, to a reliance on outdated machinery, to the time-honored practice of children learning the trade through hands-on lessons, despite incredible risks.
Our in-depth special report “Safety on the Small Farm” over four days examined the trend, one that’s critically important to our region, where soybeans and corn plucked from sprawling acreage are shipped around the world, and where there is deep pride in agrarian traditions and a sense of independence.
What we found were farmers touched by profound disabilities, family members dealing with loss, and experts who study occupational safety saying there is an alarming lack of verifiable data on injury rates.
We told our story – timed for publication in advance of the harvest season – through imagery, graphics and videos, as well as an editorial on our opinion page. Importantly, we sought solutions to the trend and ways to engage.
Our strategy also included a promotional video posted on social media in advance of the series, where the subsequent stories received a tremendous response, picking up mentions by the Ohio State University Agriculture Safety and Health, National Children’s Center for Rural Agricultural Health & Safety in Wisconsin, Penn State Center for Agricultural and Shale Law, Agricultural Health and Safety Network in Saskatchewan, and Carle Foundation in Urbana, Illinois, to name a few.
We also were featured as a "Story We Recommend" by the"Telling the Story Project," a project funded through the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing Program.
We also produced a podcast featuring a roundtable discussion with staffers who worked on the series, and we’re continuing our engagement effort by planning a panel discussion at the University of Illinois Extension office featuring those in our series. We also followed up after the series published by reporting on local students learning about farm safety through a seminar that featured one of the experts we featured.
Our effort to educate about this important topic is just getting started.