More than 800 attend MU Farm Safety Day in Mennonite country.



Linda Geist

FORTUNA, Mo. – The people of the Fortuna and Versailles areas know what a farm tragedy feels like. In the last few years, Mennonite families there lost two children to farm accidents. Another was critically injured.

Members of the community recently invited University of Missouri Extension to help with the first Farm Safety Day at the Central Missouri Produce Auction. More than 800 people attended and visited seven interactive farm safety exhibits provided by MU Extension and area businesses. Nearly 98 percent were from the 17 churches in the area Mennonite community, said Joni Harper, MU Extension agronomist.

“Our county has experienced a couple of fatal accidents involving children recently and it has been heavy on the hearts of many in our community to do something that might prevent another loss,” Harper said. “Members of the community involved MU Extension from the beginning to help them put their thoughts into action.”

The Mennonites’ farming methods remain integral to their scriptural beliefs, Harper said, and are representative of 20th century practices that pose more safety risks than modern techniques.

Mennonite parents teach children the importance of hard work at an early age. Chores may involve driving a team of horses or working with livestock. Farm ponds, used for watering livestock and gardens, also present dangers. They work in the barn and garden as early as 5 years of age.

At the event, children and adults learned about the dangers of grain bins and power takeoff devices, look-alike poisons in the home and around the farm, how to make low-cost lifesaving devices for ponds and lagoons, and more. Pharm to Farm, a joint effort of the Missouri AgrAbility Project and the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Pharmacy, offered free health screenings. MU Extension offered free educational pamphlets for adults and safety-themed coloring books for children. MU Extension safety and health specialist Karen Funkenbusch said church and community leaders have already asked for another educational event on farm safety.

Lowella Zimmerman of Barnett was one of the supporters of the event. Her 2-year-old son, Norman, died in a 2016 farm accident. Norman had Down syndrome. Like other farm children, he was curious and drawn to the sound of farm equipment. He liked doing chores with his father, Curvin, and watching the dairy cows eat.

Norman was toddling toward the house when he heard the sound of the skid loader Curvin was driving. Norman crawled under an electric fence and into the machine’s path. His father felt the tiny bump of the child’s body as the loader ran over him.

The father hurried to the farmhouse, carrying his child’s limp body. Lowella ran frantically from the garden where she was working. Mother and father knelt on the grass with their child. “I had an instinct that it looked like the life was fast ebbing,” she said.

She held little Norman while her husband summoned emergency services. “He took his last breath and he was peaceful,” she said. Emergency medical technicians unsuccessfully attempted CPR when they arrived.

“It took only 10 minutes from the time of his accident to death,” Lowella said. The Zimmermans’ faith sustained them through that time and the years after. “When you have hope for salvation, it is a comfort.”

The Zimmermans attended the MU Extension Farm Safety Day with their other seven children. Lowella appreciated the exhibits that engaged the Mennonite children. “It made the children more aware of where others are when they are on the tractor,” she said.

“We came today to learn more about safety. I don’t think there is such thing as being too safe,” she said.

Farm safety committee members who planned the event included local farmer Mel Gerber; Bill and Carol Jones and Brian Williams of the Versailles Rural Fire Protection District; Joni Harper and Elaine Anderson, MU Extension; David McCollom, Co-Mo Electric Cooperative; Debbie McCollum, West Central Missouri Community Action Agency; Jason Moon, Farm Bureau Insurance; and James Martin, NutraAg LLC.


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