In farm child care, everyone is out all day

Feed the chickens, clean the donkey barn, shovel feces, change the hay in the cow barn, pet the horses, watch the cow milk, count its spots. It’s a typical day for 3-year-old Katharina. She is one of forty children walking around the agricultural childcare center De Vrijbuiter in Hedel, run by Mathé and Lilian van Goch. Together they also have a dairy farm with fifty cows, on the same site, next to the children who play, who learn all about farm life in the yard.

This is for the parents. Anna, 31, and Leo, 35, from Zaltbommel bring their two children (3 and 1) to De Vrijbuiter four days a week. It’s not close by – 25 minutes by bike or 15 minutes by car – but they are happy to talk about it. Anna grew up on a farm. I had to help take care of the animals and harvest vegetables and fruits. When I was a teenager I hated it, but now I’m glad I know how cheese and butter are made and where the meat and eggs come from.” Leo lived in an apartment but vacationed on his grandparents’ farm. Both find being one with nature and have a lifelong knowledge of plants and animals, so they researched About a childcare facility on a farm.

We have a challenging play area, so the occasional tooth through the lips, yes, that happens. When you eat, we tell you about the risks

The number of farms providing childcare has more than doubled in the past 10 years, says Monique Litgens, president of United Agricultural Children’s Care (VAK): In 2010 there were thirty farms, now there are sixty-five. “And everyone has a waiting list. Increasingly people are choosing the outdoors for their children.” According to Litjens, it is “conscious and critical parents” who choose this type of childcare. We have 340 parents in our database, and for just five, we’re the closest childcare center. Everyone drives through a different shelter to get here.” This is also the case at De Vrijbuiter, say Lilian and Mathé van Goch.

In their shelter, five thousand square meters of garden were created for children with a hut made of willow branches, an outdoor kitchen, a garden with goals (Lillian: “The average shelter has no place for that”), a spacious rabbit house, a skillful hut full of tools. , bee hotel and botanical garden. Under the large canopy are toy tractors, mini wagons, landing nets for hunting frogs, rain suits, spare clothes, and life jackets. Mathie: “No one stays inside when the weather is bad. In the winter the trench freezes. Little ones can slip and slide on it, while older kids take a sleigh on the ice.”

In 2009, Lillian and Mathieu Van Goech started childcare because they did not want to increase the size of their dairy farm. Lillian has worked in the healthcare field for years. “We chose to be multifunctional. In our area, almost everyone owns a second business in addition to the primary farm business. The neighboring farm has dairy cattle and makes ice cream, plus a farm has a mini golf course, another company organizes company outings, a game Farmers golf and team building activities, and the fellow has a small camping site in the yard.”

There are no set times

Not all farmers started with money, says Monique Litgens, who also owns an agricultural childcare facility in Leonen, Limburg. “In many cases, it was the farmer’s wife who started something on a small scale, which later grew into a professional.” Litgens saw how happy her children were to feed the calves, ride a tractor, watch the sunset in the meadow and harvest corn. “We see what rural life is doing to our children and we want others to experience that too.”

You don’t have to do any training to start a daycare, says Litjens. The employees in the group must be trained. In order to be allowed to be called a “plant nursery” (in VAK), you must meet various conditions. A regular day care center has at least 3.5 square meters of play space for each child inside and 4 square meters outside, in an agricultural nursery of 4 square meters inside and at least 10 square meters outside. “You also need to have a full-fledged agricultural business that generates significant income. We have a formula for that. We want to prevent someone from buying a farm, putting three sheep in the meadow and calling them a nursery because that term appeals to people now.”

Dewertje Bravenbauer photos

The agricultural aspect should be a part of the day for children. “When a calf is born, the intention is for the farmer to bring children.” Children are allowed to warm up and there are no set times to eat and play outside. Lillian: “Farmers say you have to make hay when the sun is shining, and we do that too with babysitting. When the weather is nice, we start the day outside. We are open early, from 7:15 in the morning.”

Farm life isn’t just beautiful, says Mattie van Gooch. A few weeks ago, twins were born very early. The vet came and gave them medicine. However, they both died. “Children also experience it.” “That was pathetic,” Katrina said. Mathie: “This is life. If the animal does not get better, it dies. Children may think this is pathetic, but we do not hide it.” Catherine nodded her head. Then: Yesterday we went to get eggs. and hit. We used to boil eggs and put them in the salad. But I don’t like lettuce at all. I washed the lettuce, it had sand on it. And they brought hay to Rita and Bilji. Those are donkeys.”

1 year waiting list

A moat, big machines and a bee hotel near young children: what do municipalities and GGDs that oversee day care centers think? “Everything has to be described in a political plan,” says Lilian van Goech.

How all activities are organized, that everything is fenced, and that security is carried out down to the smallest detail. She and her husband had to write a protocol for every conceivable scenario. Mathie: “Sometimes the baby falls in the mud. Occasionally even in the trench, but with a life jacket. And the protocol for that is that the child then has to take a bath, because some seasons there are snails in the trench that make swimmers itch.”

Screwdrivers, saws, lathes, and hammers hung in the shed of the handyman – everything is in abundance. Did something go wrong? Mathy: “Of course. If you let the kids play and explore on their own, sometimes someone hits their fingers with a hammer. We have a challenging play area, so the occasional tooth through the lips, yeah, that happens. Parents know that, and we tell you the risks while eating.”

The hourly rate of agricultural childcare is slightly higher than in regular day care centers. “The costs are higher,” says Lillian Van Goech. Despite this, her waiting list is at least one year. Monique Litgens says that if government plans go ahead and child care becomes free for nearly everyone, demand will grow even more. “The sector can’t handle that at all.” Many entrepreneurs affiliated with VAK already have expansion plans, she says, to increase their capabilities, but even that will not be enough.

Lillian and Mathieu Van Goech don’t want to get any bigger than they are now. That’s it, says Lillian, maybe another group. “I want there to be enough time and space for the kids to watch the Earth whenever they want. When we get much bigger, we have to plan for it.”

Young children stand in front of the fence overlooking the fields, watching the trucks go back and forth. Mathy: “Today the dung is scattered on the lawn that has just been mowed. We drive up and down with tippers all day. They love everything roaring and big.”

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