COOK- There was a time this past spring when Cook’s Country Connection owner Lois Pajari wondered if the only kids she would see at her farm this summer were baby goats. With stay-at-home …
COOK- There was a time this past spring when Cook’s Country Connection owner Lois Pajari wondered if the only kids she would see at her farm this summer were baby goats. With stay-at-home orders in place and schools shifting to distance learning, Pajari’s plans for a third summer of offering day camps for children from 6 to 12 years old were in doubt.
“How do you plan for life when you don’t know if it’s going to happen or not?” Pajari said. “I actually stalled out planning all the summer events. It’s hard to plan when you have no guidance.”
Pajari said she scoured news reports, the CDC website, and any information she could find for clues about what the future would hold but had a minor setback in early May.
“The governor’s stay-at-home order was supposed to be lifted at the beginning of May and it wasn’t, so we were stalled again,” she said.
Once the go-ahead for outdoor group activities was given, Pajari was ready to get going. With a base of happy past clients and people who had expressed interest in January and February before coronavirus restrictions were enacted, she started marketing her day camps in earnest.
This past Monday a group of ten youngsters ages six, seven, and eight from Cook, Angora, Babbitt, Chisholm, and Virginia eagerly kicked off the farm’s first three-day camp of the summer.
“We limited the camps to only ten kids at a time,” Pajari said. “It’s at each person’s acceptable level of risk. If you’re not comfortable bringing your child, for heaven’s sake don’t.”
However, families didn’t seem to be deterred. The first two sessions were booked to capacity, and the others are filling fast.
“We didn’t lose any of our past camp kids,” Pajari said. “All the families believe this is OK. Most of our activities are outside, so we feel it’s pretty safe.”
The camps are structured around things Pajari said she liked doing when she was young, although it’s not just play time – education about animals, plants, and farm life is woven into activities throughout the day.
“We play in the gravel pit, play in the woods,” Pajari said. “They collect eggs, do farm chores, take care of plants and critters. It’s great. We focus on a different animal group every day. We’re teaching kids respect, responsibility, how to be outside, and how to care for things. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Another thing the youngsters learned about Monday was flexibility, as intermittent rain fell throughout the day.
“The rain wasn’t great, but we rearranged the day. We’ve got a lot of inside activities as well as outside,” Pajari said. “You come in and work on the inside stuff when it’s raining and go outside when it stops, or you put on rain gear and go out anyway.”
The day camp is the first opportunity many of the children have had to socialize with peers since school buildings were closed in mid-March, so Pajari also adapted her plans based on what the children wanted.
“They’re wanting a lot more free outside play together,” she said. “They don’t necessarily know each other, so that’s fun to watch. We just watch and see where it goes.”
Haley Bogdan, who just completed her sophomore year at North Woods School, has been coming to Pajari’s farm since she was two years old, and helped with the first day camps two summers ago. She’s back this year to help out as a paid staff member. She’s worked with another day camp in the past, but likes helping at Cook’s Country Connection.
“It was a lot of fun to do it again in a more familiar setting,” she said. “There were some girls today who were kind of shy but they really came together and had fun. It’s nice to see kids back together, especially now.”
Pajari has a space on the farm where people can camp, and she picked up an extra volunteer in Emily McCarthy, who was staying there with her father and sister.
“I love animals,” she said. “It’s nice to help out. I volunteer at a day care so I’m used to it. It’s pretty fun.”
“Emily came here with her sister as a little kid before this was ever open to the public,” Pajari added.
Meanwhile, Sasha Hansen isn’t an official volunteer, but as a veteran day camper of two years, he knows his way around the animals so well he might as well be on staff.
“Lois let me and my mom raise a pea hen,” he said. “She turned me and my mom pretty much into a farm. She started us with chickens and then guineas and now rabbits.”
“It all started with black dirt for your garden,” Pajari chuckled.
Hygiene was already a regular routine at Cook’s Country Connection, so handwashing and sanitizing wasn’t an issue. Pajari has health department signs posted “everyplace,” has limited the number of people who can be inside the barn, and has closed off an indoor play space.
“We do disinfect our coin-operated feeders every hour and we wipe down the playground equipment every hour, so that’s a little different,” she said. “We’re outside. It’s pretty safe.”
Three-day camp sessions are held Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, with sessions scheduled in June and July. Cost per session is $150, or $50 per day. More information, including enrollment, can be found online at cookscountryconnection.com.