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The last farm safety story I ever want to write

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HELPERS: Turns out, everyone wants to help harvest for the guy who always helped whenever and wherever he could.
Stop thinking it won’t happen to you, because that kind of thinking is killing us.

“We just have to pray he’s OK and everything’s fine.”

Those are the words Brianne Satorius shared with her kids on Aug. 20, when she knew there’d been an accident but didn’t yet know her husband was gone. Moments later, they’d learn he died in a grain bin on a rural Menard County, Ill., farm.

It’s remarkable how quickly life can turn.

On a dime.

Without notice.

I was 13 and out in the pasture with Dad when I looked across a hill and, in a flash, realized the bull had him down. He lived, but with a lot of broken bones. Charlotte Chatterton got a call on a snowy morning when her husband was on his way to a Precision Planting conference, and he was gone. The combine windshield broke for a family in Kansas, and suddenly, their 5-year-old daughter was killed on the bean head. Beth Armstrong went to bed one night, her blood clotted in her brain, and she never woke up.

If you’ve ever been in that gut-churning moment when life irrevocably changes, you know: It’s impossible for our human brains to make sense of. We miss our beloveds and the quietly uncomplicated worlds we’d inhabited moments prior. We’re shattered. And then our communities come around us. 

They bring the food over. They bring the crop in. They line up the tractors at the funeral. It’s weirdly comforting.

Brianne says the outpouring since Brian’s death has been unreal. Turns out, everyone wants to help harvest for the guy who always helped whenever and wherever he could.

“Brian used to say it meant a lot to someone even just to drive a grain cart for 10 minutes — because they helped,” Brianne remembers.

They want to help because of who he was, and because of who they are. A rural community wants to serve. And with that service maybe comes a small measure of healing.

“So many people want to be a part of that at harvest. And I want them to have that opportunity,” she adds. “Brian loved harvest.”

What works

We write dozens of stories on farm safety every year at Farm Progress: Six ways to stay safe with livestock, the latest stats on farm kid accidents, robots for cleaning out bins, how to keep teenagers safe on the farm, and on and on and on and on.

They’re all important, and we sure hope they help. But the stories about real people are the ones that make you stop what you’re doing, read, and on the best days, maybe even move you to action. Way too often, they’re tragic stories, told by a shattered family left behind.

Sometimes I think, as farmers, we read these stories to figure out what they did wrong, so we can reassure ourselves that we don’t do that thing, so this bad thing that happened to them won’t ever happen to us.

But here’s the deal: We’re not that good at predictions. All you can do is make one right choice after another. Even when it’s been a long day. Or there’s an easier way. Or you think it won’t happen to you. Quit assuming you’ll see this bad thing coming. Stop doing the thing that puts you — or your children — in danger.

This harvest season, please: Stop going in grain bins. Put a seat belt on kids in the buddy seat. Stop thinking it won’t happen to you, because that kind of thinking is killing us.

Please take care of yourself and your people. Don’t let their lives turn on a dime.

Comments? Email [email protected].

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