by Sue Ann Rybak
For a city kid, Raphael Rabin, 14, of Mt. Airy, knows a lot about raising livestock. He spends every Saturday and even some Sundays working at the Manatawna Farm in Roxborough.
“The hardest part for me is waking up in the morning when I want to sleep in,” he said.
Rabin is a member of the Manatawna-Saul 4-H club, which operates through a cooperative agreement with W.B. Saul High School (one of the largest agricultural farm schools in the United States).
The club owns sheep, yews, rams, steers and cows.
Rabin has raised a Yorkshire pig named Frankenswine and two lambs – “Princess” and “MC.” When asked what was his favorite thing about 4-H, he replied, “working with the animals and the people.”
“All the kids in the club are really important to me in unique ways,” said Rabin, who plans to study animal science at Saul next year. “I have learned a lot about animals, but I have also learned the importance of team building.”
Club members show their animals at the Pennsylvania Farm Show and other fairs and events throughout the year.
“The Farm Show is a great experience,” Rabin said. You get to show your animals and compete against other people. It’s a lot of fun to show your animals and to have all eyes on you while you’re walking around. The judges try to say nice things about your animal, even if you don’t make it into the final round. It’s very special because you know it’s going to be the last time you see your animal before it goes to the market.”
When asked if it made him sad, knowing the animal could end up on his dinner plate, he replied:
“The first animal you have you get really attached to. My pig was really hard because I really loved Frankenswine. He was a fairly big Yorkshire pig. He was really cute.”
Rabin said he had not considered becoming a vegetarian.
“I still like bacon,” he said.
Tom Whitman, Rabin’s father, said Rabin had loved 4-H “from the first moment he got here.”
”He was always interested in animals, and 4-H was a natural fit for him,” Whitman said.
Whitman, who grew up in New York City, was surprised to learn there was a 76-acre farm in the city. He said 4-H has taught his son to be more responsible.
“I think middle school years can be very difficult for kids,” Whitman said. “I think kids who come to 4-H have very unusual interests and, because they have unusual interests, they support each other in ways that often aren’t seen in middle school kids.”
Monica Sohler said all five of her children have participated in the 4-H club from the time they were 8 years old until they were 18. Sohler, who supervises the sheep club, attributes a large portion of her children’s success to 4-H.
“Both my older kids have master’s degrees,” Sohler said. “One of my daughters studied science because she wanted to become a large animal veterinarian. She ended up going into bioarchaeology. These are kids I think wouldn’t have done as well if they hadn’t learned certain skills in 4-H. And that’s why I keep coming back and lose all my Saturdays to the farm.”
Scott Moser, who supervises the 4-H club, said often when kids first come to the farm they are timid, especially with the larger animals, but as they work with the animals they become more confident and sure of themselves.
“We have children who come into the sheep club, including my son Thomas, who are very timid when they first join, and within a year they turn into another child,” Moser said. “Thomas used to be afraid of dirt. He used to wash his hands all the time. It’s really great to see kids come out of their shell.”
Jane Arbasak, another 4-H supervisor who teaches at Saul, said her son Nick, who now attends Saul High School, has become more confident and mature as a result of the program.
“Not only is he confident, but the leadership and responsibility he shows – a lot of it came from 4-H,” she said. “He was given a lot of responsibility and, as a result, he’s not afraid to take on a lot of responsibility. It’s been a great experience for him.”
Moser, who works at Saul High School, said his son “not only knows what to do, he makes sure it gets done.”
“If he sees something that has to get done he does it without being told,” Moser added.
Arbasak said it has made a difference that her son had a parent guiding him.
“When I first came here when Nick was 8 years old, I had to do everything with him,” she said.
“One of the things we stress in the club is parental involvement,” Moser said. “The more parental involvement there is the better the kid is going to do.”
Sohler said she enjoys watching the children grow up into confident young men and women.
“One of the things that impressed me at the farm show was watching Thomas patiently standing there with one of the younger kids helping them shear the sheep,” Sohler said.
She added that in the past Thomas, her younger son, used to follow his older sister Mary everywhere, but that now Thomas is the one who is mentoring the younger kids.
Sohler said that in school, kids are grouped according to age and academic level.
“They tend to go in packs of the same age, and you don’t have that here,” Sohler said. “The kids here all work together.”
She said kids in 4-H must be committed and willing to work hard every Saturday.
“You don’t gain confidence by being told you’re a good person,” Sohler said. “You gain confidence by accomplishing something.”
And there is no doubt that the kids in the 4-H Manatawna-Saul Club are doing just that. By working on the farm and raising livestock, they are learning the skills necessary to conquer tomorrow’s challenges. No matter what career path they take in the future, they are on the road to becoming confident leaders and active citizens in their community.