Zoe Murphy, 11, of Roxborough, holds a two-week-old Corriedale/Southdown cross ram lamb at the Manatawna-Saul Farm. Zoe, whose 4-H experience has done wonders for her confidence, loves animals so much that she has become a vegan. (All photos by Sue Ann Rybak)
Amaiah Irvin, 12, of West Oak Lane, works with her Suffolk sheep at the Manatawna-Saul Farm, 100 Spring Lane in Upper Roxborough.
Mary Sohler of Roxborough sits next to her sheep while reading a book at the 2014 Pennsylvania Farm Show. 
Caroline Rybak, 10, of Germantown, tries to calm her Suffolk sheep at the 2015 Pennsylvania Farm Show.
Caroline Rybak (center), a student at Green Woods Charter School, proudly displays the poster she made for school about Scott Moser. Students had to write about someone who inspires them. She wrote that Moser encourages people to work hard, help others and be themselves. Also seen are Amaiah Irvin, of West Oak Lane (left), and Sarah Rybak, of Germantown.

by Sue Ann Rybak

You wouldn’t expect to find young people raising sheep, pigs and cattle on a farm in Philadelphia, but that’s exactly what kids in the Manatawna-Saul 4-H club do every Saturday morning from 9 a.m. to noon at the farm located on Spring Lane in Roxborough. While most Hill area residents probably think that 4-H Clubs are only found in rural, agricultural areas, an increasing number of kids in our area are thankful the virtues and lessons learned from farm life are available to them as well.

Carol Goldstein, of Roxborough, said her daughter Yael joined 4-H when she was just nine years old. Yael loved it so much she decided to go to W.B. Saul High School and is now thinking about working in regulation and inspections in the food industry with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

“The Manatawna-Saul 4-H club provides youth an opportunity to belong to a community and experience things, people and animals they would normally never see,” said Goldstein. She added that through the 4-H program her daughter has experienced many successes and failures. When her daughter first started 4-H, Jenna Moser, one of the 4-H leader’s daughters, took Yael “under her wing.”

Goldstein said thanks to the 4-H club and its dedicated volunteers — Scott Moser, Monica Sohler and many others — her daughter has flourished. “I know agriculture is not for all kids, but I’m so happy that it suits Yael.”

Su Kleger Murphy, of Roxborough, whose two girls also participate in the club, said there is a strong sense of community in the club. “And while 4-H takes a lot of work, time and commitment, we love that it is something we can do together, as a family. It gives kids a wonderful opportunity to get one step closer to nature, to connect with our food source and to really participate in being stewards of something bigger than ourselves.

“I love that the girls get to be immersed in helping care for something they love – animals. Zoe has a natural connection with animals, and 4-H has given her an opportunity to express this aspect of herself and a place to really excel and thrive, so that has done wonders for her confidence. I am grateful that she’s been allowed to do it in a way that respects and supports her values as an animal lover and vegan. It has taught her that even if you choose to eat meat, you can still do it in a compassionate and ethical way by helping animals have wonderful lives by taking good care of them. And it’s a wonderful lesson in caring for something other than ourselves, which is so important to learn at any age.”

She said the program has given her youngest daughter, Maxi, 8, a chance to step up and show that being little is not a obstacle. “Maxi is proud that she can do it,” Murphy said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for urban kids to experience.”

Amaiah Irvin, 12, of West Oak Lane, also said 4-H has given her the opportunity to work with something she loves — animals. “I have been in 4-H for four years, and so far it has been awesome,” she said. “It allows me to interact with and meet other kids my age who share my love of animals. This year at the 2015 Farm Show I won the Champion Other Purebreds Junior Market Swine. Winning this award showed me hard work pays off. I am looking forward to the 2016 farm show and hopefully another win.”

Rebecca Dhondt, of Mt. Airy, said 4-H has provided her 13-year-old son Zander “a place to belong.”

“Besides helping him learn about the farm and farming, it supports him in being responsible, making social connections and building lifelong skills,” she said. “If you’re looking for an activity that is ‘not sports’ for your child but still has all the important elements of being on a team, 4-H is it. The children get physical exercise, learn to work together towards a common goal and to take on responsibility.”

When Zander was asked what he loves about 4-H, he responded, “Everything. I like taking care of the animals and spending time with my friends. And I really love fixing things around the barn.”

This past summer Zander and other kids in the club helped build a fence so the sheep could graze in the pasture. Zander hopes one day to move back to France, where he had lived with his parents for two years, so he can own his own dairy farm to make a special cheese from the region where he used to live.

Rebecca, 39, added that all the adult leaders are wonderful role models for the children. “Besides sharing their specialized expertise to teach them, they selflessly give up hundreds of hours in support of the club,” she said.

Mt. Airy resident Tom Whitman, 54, whose son Raphael is a member of the 4-H club, agreed with Dhondt’s statement. He commented on the dedication of 4-H leader Scott Moser, who has helped run the club since 1999. “Scott Moser is an extraordinarily generous human being,” said Whitman. “I am in awe of his capacity to give of himself to the 4-H kids and also of his patience in teaching city folk, like me, for whom so much of what we encounter on the farm is unfamiliar. We owe him an incalculable debt.”

Jackie Simon, Extension Educator for 4-H Youth and Development at Penn State, said without the dedication of wonderful volunteers like Scott Moser, who has been involved in the program for over 20 years, the Manatawna-Saul 4-H club and others would not be able to operate. “I am so thankful to have the dedicated 4-H volunteers that I have had the privilege of working with during the past 15 years,” Simon said. “I admire their passion and totally appreciate all they do for our 4-H youth livestock members.”

Roxborough resident Scott Moser, a mechanic and stock clerk at Saul High School, helps run the club and has been involved since it began in 1999. “Farming is in my blood. When I moved to Philadelphia to accept the position at Saul, I really didn’t know what to expect. I enjoy working with the kids and watching them grow and succeed,” said Moser, whose three children all participated in the club until they aged out of the program. “It’s gratifying to see the kids gain an appreciation of where their food comes from and the hard work that goes into producing it.”

More information about the Manatawna-Saul 4-H Club at 215-971-5425 or sistersrule60@hotmail.com.

— To be continued