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Young farmers call for better rural childcare

Lack of care can make it hard to get work done — and presents safety hazards for kids and parents

Young Manitoba farmers have asked KAP to lobby for better rural access to childcare.

“If I didn’t have that support from another family member then I’d be home and I couldn’t work,” said Sam Connery-Nichol, who seconded the resolution.

“You can’t get a lot done with an eight-month-old wandering around, crawling,” she added. Connery-Nichol farms near Portage la Prairie with her mom and brother.

Connery-Nichol and Colin Penner brought the resolution forward at the Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) annual general meeting on January 26.

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The resolution, which passed with 72 per cent in favour, asks KAP to lobby the province to “invest in young farmers by developing programming under the Canadian Agricultural Partnership that will assist farmers in covering costs related to childcare.”

Why it matters: Young farmers need to have access to the resources that allow them to balance family, work and the farm.

It also directed KAP to lobby the province to “review funding and licensing requirements for childcare spaces in rural Manitoba, considering the inconsistent and irregular hours required for agricultural producers and employees.”

The group does not have a specific solution in mind as others more familiar with the industry may have better ideas, said Connery-Nichol.

Penner told KAP members it can be difficult for farmers to find childcare in rural settings and its cost can be prohibitive. The resolution came out of discussions in the Manitoba Young Farmers group.

“I’m lucky to have one great-grandparent available,” Connery-Nichol told the Co-operator.

She spoke from her farm office with her young son babbling in the background. Her grandmother was caring for him as Connery-Nichol’s mother, Beth Connery, also works on the farm.

Connery-Nichol said she registered her son for daycare in April 2020, two months before he was born, in hopes of getting childcare in time for seeding in 2021. At the time, the daycare centre thought it would have a space available. With COVID-19 restrictions, she’s no longer sure it will have space for her son.

Kristine Tapley with husband Graham and their children Walker and Jocelyn.
photo: Courtesy 
Kristine Tapley

In 2017, Canada had daycare space for about 25 per cent of children under 12, wrote sociologist Susan Prentice in a paper titled The Challenge of Rural Childcare in Canada. Rural, northern and Indigenous communities are particularly underserved.

Colin Penner, who farms near Elm Creek, said there is a two-year wait for his local daycare. Penner’s children are ages eight, six and four. The older two are in school, and when he spoke to the Co-operator he was caring for the youngest.

Penner’s wife Lori is an elementary school teacher. Fortunately, her work season mostly coincides with a less busy time on the farm, said Penner. However, if he has to haul grain to the elevator on short notice, finding childcare for his young son can be challenging.

“I don’t think it’s fair to have my kid bouncing around in the semi with me all day when I can’t find childcare,” he said.

The truck ride is exciting at first but, “by the third or fourth load it gets pretty old and I think it’s really taxing on both of us,” Penner said.

Kids tagging along on farming tasks can also put them at risks for accidents, said Kristine Tapley who raises cattle near Langruth. The kids might be hanging on the fence at the wrong time or left in the vehicle alone.

It may also leave parents vulnerable if they are forced to do two-person tasks alone because their spouse is busy with the kids, she added.

“A main cause of injury and death among farm children is related to riding on farm machinery, or being present at a worksite,” wrote Prentice. “Very young children are at even higher risk.”

Tapley, who also works as an agrologist for Ducks Unlimited, said she has found daycare space for her two young children in Langruth. Outside of daycare hours, she leans on family support.

The local daycare is more flexible than some, she added. It allows her to register the kids here and there as needed.

All three farmers said the odd hours farmers keep are difficult for daycares to accommodate. Many farmers also have off-farm jobs — sometimes neither parent farms full time — so they rely on evenings and weekends to get farm work done. Daycares usually aren’t open then.

If a daycare would consider opening some evenings, said Tapley, a small rural community might not provide it enough business to make that financially feasible.

Childcare can also take women, already under-represented in agriculture, out of farm life. Penner said that as the Manitoba Young Farmers discussed the resolution, mothers in the group expressed frustration that they’d been sidelined.

Tapley acknowledged this has discouraged her. She and husband Graham started their farm together and evenly split the responsibility of running it. Now, she is more likely to take care of the kids while he’s more likely to take on farm tasks.

“I wouldn’t ever put that on Graham or our kids,” she said. “That’s just kind of how it goes.”

Tapley said this would likely be a stage of life, and she’d be back to a more active farming role once her kids are older. Meanwhile, she worries she’s losing her skills or her grasp on the day-to-day status of the farm.

“Overall, childcare spaces are so lacking in Canada that parents who are in the system talk about their good fortune in ‘winning the lottery,’” wrote Prentice.

Lack of rural childcare can be blamed on several factors. The usual suspect — rural depopulation — is one, according to a 2016 paper from the Childcare Resource and Research Unit. Seasonal work or work with non-standard hours is also a key issue.

Finding and retaining qualified staff can be difficult due to financial pressures that keep wages low, Prentice wrote. Workers may move to more urbanized areas that offer better wages and working conditions.

In some areas, training isn’t accessible even with the rise of distance and online education, Prentice added.

“The combination of all these characteristics, coupled with rural-specific child safety issues, adds up to concerns about the lack of childcare in rural communities that have persisted for 30 years,” wrote the Childcare Resource and Research Unit.

About the author

Reporter

Geralyn Wichers

Geralyn Wichers grew up on a hobby farm near Anola, Manitoba, where her family raised cattle, pigs and chickens. Geralyn graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in 2019 and was previously a reporter for The Carillon in Steinbach. Geralyn is also a published author of science fiction and fantasy novels.

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