Rural child care is vital to rural community success

Agweek is starting a series on rural child care. Agweek publisher Katie Pinke and editor Jenny Schlecht tell their rural child care stories and the reasons for the series.

Three little girls pose for the camera. Another little girl is in a red wagon. A teenage girl is with them.
Katie Pinke recalls how family friends brought their children to her home in summer 2017, and a trusted teenager helped watch them.
Katie Pinke / Agweek

This week, Agweek and AgweekTV begin a rural child care series.

As rural moms, we wanted to share our own stories on the importance of rural child care. While our respective children are not as reliant on outside care these days, we know this remains a struggle for other rural and farm parents. This series, we hope, will shed some light on the issue and the work being done toward solutions.

Katie Pinke

Katie Pinke

As a working professional in agriculture, I relied on a rural in-home day care , with a grandma as my backup. I also juggled different career roles — from full-time roles to cutting back to part time, then back to full time again.

Amid a workforce crisis in rural America, employers need to creatively find ways to meet the needs of employees who want to work but need their childcare needs met. Agweek’s coverage of this topic impacts all of us in agriculture and across our rural communities. We cannot do the business of agriculture without employees, without a workforce.

More than seven years ago, when an in-home daycare closed in our rural community, I volunteered to care for my friends’ kids while another home day care got through the licensing process. For six weeks we made messes of baking cookies, created batches of homemade play dough, read a lot of books, played outside as much as a North Dakota winter would allow and took daily naps. If I didn’t take care of the children of friends in those weeks, our family-owned business wouldn't have had a key employee. We needed day care for our employee’s livelihood and for our own too.


Many summers when school was out, I would hire a responsible teenager to care for our young daughters in our basement. She would take them to activities and play at the park with them. Two farm mom friends brought their kids over to cover gaps in child care. My girls and their friends put a homemade sign on the door to our basement that said, “Katie’s Daycare.” Meanwhile, I was upstairs in my home office working, and their dad was at our small business working. The memories of “Katie’s Daycare” will always be with our girls and their friends. What I can do to address the day care crisis our communities face also stayed with me.

Tammy Erickson, one of the people in the first part of our series, was 50 years old by the time she was the owner of Lil’ Buckaroos in Kindred, North Dakota. Are you someone in your community who could jump-start growth by writing a business plan and starting a day care? Do you know someone who could? Ask them. Seek out local, county and state support and get started in your new business venture.

Our livelihoods depend on collaboration around child care to keep fueling rural America’s economic growth.

Jenny Schlecht

A woman in a teal shirt with glittery details around the neck leans against a weathered wooden gate. Her arms are crossed and she's smiling.
Jenny Schlecht

When my first daughter was born, I had a fulfilling job that, unfortunately, didn't always fill my bank account. I budgeted to see whether I could stay home with her while freelancing and helping on the farm. Once I factored in the cost of health insurance — to say nothing of dental insurance or vision insurance or other benefits — the answer was clear: I needed to maintain work off the farm.

It's not unusual for farm families to have one person working off farm simply because of the costs of acquiring private health insurance. Child care allowed me to provide health care for my family.

Read more of Jenny Schlecht's The Sorting Pen:

I am forever grateful for our neighbor with an in-home day care who has become like family to us. She was flexible and affordable when we needed that most. My girls grew and bloomed with more loving adults in their lives and more contact with other kids.

We know of rural parents who have left the workforce to the detriment of their financial well-being and career satisfaction. And who's to say how many rural businesses never have gotten off the ground because potential owners and the potential workforce couldn't swing it without child care.

To keep our rural communities — and our farm families — strong, we need child care. We can’t wish our way back to a different economy where two incomes weren’t necessary. We need to work to improve the world we do live in.


Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke. Jenny Schlecht is the director of ag content for Agweek. She lives on a farm and ranch near Medina, North Dakota, with her husband and two daughters. You can reach her at or 701-595-0425.

Opinion by Katie Pinke
Katie Pinke serves as Agweek and AgweekTV's publisher and general manager and since 2015 has written a weekly column. Pinke resides in rural North Dakota with her husband and children where she is a 4-H leader, active community volunteer, and a proud fifth-generation farmers' daughter.
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