Child care on the farm
MILNOR, N.D. — Rose and Dave Colby raise a range of crops on their farm. Their favorite crop is kids — happy, rural kids.
Rose manages Colby's Corner Daycare, a child care facility that has literally taken over the old farm house on the farmstead where Dave grew up, a few miles west of Milnor, N.D. The rest of the site remains a working farm, across the section from where the couple has a separate farmstead.
The Colbys started a child care nine years ago and in July 2013 expanded it to a "group 30" license, indicating the number of children they can accommodate.
Rose works with the preschool with a team of four other teachers, including her daughter Katie Prante, of Milnor, the assistant director, and Rose's sister, Sandy Clayes, of Hecla, S.D., who runs the toddler room.
Much of the children's time is spent outdoors, in a large, fenced yard.
"It's so good for the kids to be on the farm," says Rose, who juggles the enterprise with farming tasks."You've got the country feel. We can learn agriculture. We can see ducks on the pond. Sometimes deer come through. It's just more of a learning experience out on the farm."
The Colbys offer children an unusual setting that emphasizes outdoor experiences and a celebration and insight into the farming background that most of the children share. Sometimes the setting means bringing a newborn calf in from the barn in the wintertime, rubbing shoulders with a peacock or goat or studying crickets. Ag-related activities include gardening or a visit from a veterinarian.
Colby's Corner is a partner in Bright & Early North Dakota, which is North Dakota's child care quality rating system. Verla Jung of Jamestown, N.D., is a community engagement services coordinator for Child Care Aware, a program that promotes child care professionalism. Both are programs of Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota.
Jung says child care capacity is a big need in rural North Dakota. Milnor is in Sargent County, where only 33 percent of theoretical child care needs are covered by licensed providers like the Colbys. The county has 583 children under age 12 who could potentially need care but has only 158 licensed slots. Colby's Corner has waiting list of a half dozen or so.
Colby's Corner is notable, Jung says, in the extent to which it integrates nature into the child care program on a daily basis — both inside and outside.
"Children can be seen painting trees, observing the many animals and playing outside in many interest areas," the organization says.
Dave's parents, Don and Sylvia Colby, had five children on the farmstead. Dave was second to the youngest raised on a farm known for its Grade A dairy. Three of Dave's siblings and nieces and nephews still farm separately in the area. When Dave was 19 he established his own farmstead about a mile across the pasture to the east, where he trained quarter horses and raised crops.
Don and Sylvia moved to Fargo in 2007. Don died in died in 2008. Before Sylvia died in 2014, she encouraged Rose's plan to convert her old farm home into a child care facility.
"She knew I loved kids, and she didn't want to see the house be empty," Rose says.
Rose grew up on a horse farm near Plummer, Minn., and has done child care since she was 13.
Dave and Rose met through horse events and were married in 2008. Together they have four daughters from previous marriages.
Initially, Rose convinced her sister, Sandy, to come from Minnesota to manage the child care facility. Rose helped, but she and Dave focused on the farm that raises corn, wheat, soybeans, rye, peas, oats and alfalfa. They also have some cow-calf pairs and a small feedlot and raise quarter horses.
But four years ago when Sandy married Mark Clayes, the two sisters switched roles. "(Sandy) went more to farming and I went to the daycare plus farming, and all of the above," Rose says. Later, Sandy returned to the daycare full-time as a teacher.
Rose enjoys juggling the two roles. On the farm she drives grain carts for harvest and fills seeders during planting. She throws square straw bales and hay this time of year.
Rose gives a tour of the converted farm home — the two-stall garage is converted to a classroom, with a screened-in door for a front-row view of the farmstead. A front room is a makeshift library. Some of the changes are "redneck," as Rose is happy to describe them.
Rural farm and manufacturing parents say they love the Colby's Corner program setting and staff.
Emeric Erickson, 31, is a grain farmer at Milnor. He brings sons Oliver, 3, and Theodore, 1, to Colby's Child Care. His wife, Casey, works throughout the day as a telecommuter to the Twin Cities.
"They don't shy away from talking about tractors and combines and making it very personable with them," Erickson says. "It's almost like an extension of a 4-H club or something."
Colby's Corner is open from 5:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with some coming on school buses after school. That's been a good fit for workers at Bobcat Company, where they make world-famous skid-steer loaders. Jason Kottke, who works in the service department for Bobcat, says his older children are too old for Colby's Corner, but son Adam, 3, is at the perfect age.
"It's nice that they're out in the country and get a lot of outside time," Kottke says. "There's farm equipment around, and sometimes they can go tour some of that."
Natalia Heitkamp of Wyndmere, N.D., an assembler at Bobcat, says she loves how her kids, Marley and Easton, love Colby's Corner.
"Anytime Poppa Dave pulls up on the tractor, she's just excited," Heitkamp says, adding it's "just another day at home."
Day by day
It's reactions like that that keep Rose going.
Sure, there are health and safety inspections to grapple with, and pondering how to replace a roof or repair the house. The money is secondary, and that comes "one day a time, just like the farm."
"It's more for the heart," she says, of her motive. "You work morning to nights, sometimes skipping fun things to come here, to work and prepare for Monday."
It's all worth it because of the human development and connecting kids to the farm. She remembers one particular 5-year-old who cried when he had to go to kindergarten.
"He told his parents he'd rather be at Rosie's. He wanted to do farming," she says. And then she smiles.