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Cooperative creativity in the COVID-19 era

A group of children learm about pigs at Laughing Buck Farm in Fort Collins, Colo.
Photo courtesy Laughing Buck Farm

When Gregory and Rosemary Graff bought their little farm in 2008, they noticed an interesting skull mounted on the tack room wall. Not an unusual Colorado wall bauble except for the fact that the bony face looked as if it was laughing. Granting that skeletal overseer naming rights, Laughing Buck Farm was born.

Twelve years later, the grinning mascot still smiles down on its kingdom 7½ miles north of Fort Collins. The property’s eight acres serve not only as a lovely rural residence for the Graffs and sons Larin, 16, and Tevis, 14, but also as a refreshing open-air classroom.

Rosemary Graff grew up in Paris, Ohio, where she had the opportunity to interact with horses. Throughout middle and high school she worked for a local dairy farm. College took her to Ohio State University in Columbus, followed by marriage and a California dreamin’ experience.

Graff’s address changed several times but her love for animals and the land remained constant. Obviously, an eventual move to Colorado could only be to a rural property so that her then preschoolers could absorb the same farm values she learned in childhood. The Graffs searched for, and found, the perfect place.

Perfect? What captured their hearts and inspired their vision for the future was a neglected weed patch of a property languishing in foreclosure, recalled Graff. But the couple’s “beauty in the eye of the beholder” eyes saw its exciting potential.

“I love sharing that we were lucky to get it,” she declared.

The family tackled necessary repairs and improvements. However, much like a city, it can never be really completed. In fact, that comparison is very appropriate about Laughing Buck Farm.

Graff confirmed, “It’s like a small town.”

Her small town vision included a barnyard full of assorted critters. She furthermore desired a true community of which her boys could become a part. Even though they are now teenagers, they still assist with maintenance. Larin is also a seasoned rider who is more than competent with the horses.

HANDS ON

There‘s never been a “hands off/don’t touch” rule at this school. The pandemic has obviously changed many things for safety’s sake but, through ingenuity and determination, Laughing Buck Farm’s programs remain fun and educational.

Farm School participants enjoy the farming experience with chickens by feeding, watering and egg gathering. Kids mix and feed pig slops. They fill goats’ hay bags, learn how to trim hooves, help break winter ice in troughs and even milk the nannies. Graff is adamant that children learn responsibility pro-actively.

“I like to develop in them an eye for what needs to be done,” she said. “You say the water trough’s low? Well, fill it!”

Other tasks include replacing fence panels, cleaning chicken coops, hauling aged manure to the garden and raking it in. Some children helped build a plastic-covered hoop house that warms soil for early crop starts.

Farm School runs August through May. Youngsters ages 3-7 enjoy the play-based Farm/Nature Preschool, a low-key introductory course.

In the Homeschool Learning Adventure, kiddos age 6 and up who are home schooled choose a class such as Hands-On Farm, Survival, Horses, Rabbits or Gardening to work at for a full year. The single subject focus is similar to that in 4-H.

Friday All Ages Family Day allows parents to participate (which most do) or drop off their child. Included in the activities are general farm chores, work in the orchard, ponies, etc.

FRESH, REFRESHED AND NEWFANGLED

For 12 years, Laughing Buck’s classes have totally enchanted eager children and proud parents. Then, beginning in March 2020, the farm mascot’s smile sadly turned a bit upside down with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sequestering at home curtailed all visits to the rural classroom since March. As elsewhere, the scenario appeared rather bleak.

However, beginning this June, innovative activities will herald new, social distancing-compliant rounds of fun.

Through August, Summer Day Camps will welcome a limit of eight children. Horse Lovers covers a myriad of equine topics. Farm Anatomy, for ages 7-16, includes some veterinary information.

Riders who’ve reached an advanced level will again be able to work with horses on their own. Co-op youngsters will again (while maintaining safe distances from one another) gather eggs; tend pigs, chickens, bunnies and goats; or, work with Graff in her extensive garden.

And, grooming tools will be busy because the ever-popular Pony Makeovers are back, delighting small humans and little equines alike. Littlest girls will especially love painting hooves charming colors and entering a Pony Fashion Show.

Graff also advised that limited internship and volunteer opportunities are available, with more coming once the pandemic is under control.

In 2019, Laughing Buck added Therapeutic Riding Lessons for ages 7 and up. There are current openings for children with cognitive, physical or social/emotional special needs.

Laughing Buck’s one-hour Family Farm Tours, currently limited to two per-week, satisfy those with a hankering for all things nature.

Graff noted that all equipment for each activity will be completely sanitized after each use. The website lists more detailed information during the COVID-19 pandemic.

ZOOM!

Can you say Zoom? That well-known online program’s popularity exploded with the pandemic as businesses halted office hours, including face-to-face meetings, and online learning moved kids from school desks to home school screens. Laughing Buck now rents out animals online to serve as furry/fuzzy guest moderators and lecturers for virtual gatherings and events.

The Graffs continue to cherish their home-grown community in which everyone shares work, fun, information and nature’s bounty. Hopefully, physical distancing will soon become just a distant bad memory as folks again enjoy up-close and personal contact.

Not exempted from that camaraderie and sheer delight, the buck on the tack room wall will continue to grin along with everybody else at Laughing Buck Farm.

For additional information on current programs, visit http://www.laughingbuckfarm.com, or call Rosemary Graff at (970) 493-0270. ❖

— Metzger is a freelance writer from Fort Collins, Colo. She can be reached at ponytime47@gmail.com.


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