Rural childcare an important topic at Farm Science Review

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Talking to farmers is one way that Shoshanah Inwood gathers her research data at The Ohio State University. She quickly found that childcare, or the lack of it, was often a topic of conversation.

As one Ohio farmer told her, “Lack of childcare has been the primary impediment to growing my farm.” Inwood, an associate professor of community, food, and economic development in Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) has spent the last 10 years building a national reputation related to the issue.

Inwood discovered that the Ohio farmer was far from alone in his opinion when she collected data for the 2023 National Farm Families Childcare Survey. Along with co-author Florence Becot from Pennsylvania State University, they surveyed farm and ranch families in 47 states.

They found that nationally, three quarters of farm families (74%) experienced childcare challenges within the last five years — most often due to cost and availability, followed by distance to and quality of childcare.

“Access to affordable childcare is tied to keeping children safe, farm viability, and economic development,” Inwood said. She will staff an in-person childcare photovoice exhibit at the 2024 Farm Science Review in London, Ohio, Sept. 17-19, to prompt discussion around this important topic.

The Douridas family of Madison County knows all too well the costs and challenges of childcare in agriculture. Nate and Amanda are parents to Madi, 4, and Max, 7. Both have worked in agriculture for around 20 years. He serves as FSR farm manager, responsible for 1,500 acres of corn, soybeans, and wheat. She is an Ohio State University Extension educator, agriculture and natural resources, in Madison County.

They do have a day care available in London, and her parents live about 15 miles away. Even so, on days when day care is closed and, in the evenings, “things can become hectic with the biggest challenge being schedule management and figuring out how to prioritize what each of us has to get done,” Amanda said.

Her advice for other farm families is that while rural day care might be available, it’s very hard to get into and there might be limited choices. She counsels to find childcare as soon as possible, even before the child is born. Get on their day care lists very soon.  

“Childcare is a huge issue for everyone, but it’s exacerbated on the farm due to hours and time commitments,” Amanda said. “It’s most challenging in the evenings. When I have evening meetings and Nate is working on the farm, it can get real difficult. My Master Gardener group, which meets in evenings, know my children well.”

Inwood reported some additional findings from the 2023 national survey:

  • Eight in 10 farm families (88%) reported that someone in their household has felt more stress and anxiety since the arrival of the children.
  • Eight in 10 farm families (86%) take care of children on the active farm worksite due to the lack of alternative childcare — paid or unpaid — options.
  • Nine in 10 farm families (97%) are concerned that their children could get hurt on the farm. Having and raising children can be a source of mental health challenges.

Childcare is a definite national agricultural policy issue, Inwood said, and she has worked tirelessly to get it added into the 2024 Farm Bill. She has given testimony before Congress and has worked with various committees to have childcare recognized as the important issue that it is.

Inwood shared that three quarters (76%) of farm families surveyed believe that farm organizations should represent their needs in national childcare policy discussions, and 71% believe the U.S. Department of Agriculture should represent their needs.

The good news is that for the first time in history, the two largest farm organizations, the American Farm Bureau and the National Farmers Union, included childcare in their policy priorities for the federal Farm Bill that passes every five years.

The House recently released their version of the Farm Bill, also including childcare in the Rural Development Title. When Congress passes the final Farm Bill, the USDA might have a new suite of tools to address rural childcare needs by prioritizing projects that address the availability, quality, and cost of childcare in rural and agricultural communities.

“As land-grant university scientists, our responsibility is to conduct public research to inform public policy and meet the needs of America’s farmers and ranchers,” Inwood reflected.

CFAES News Team
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Shoshana Inwood