People might be surprised to learn that Philadelphia has two agricultural 4-H clubs: the Manatawna-Saul 4-H club and the Fox Chase 4-H club. Many people do not know that 4-H is the largest youth organization in the U.S. – about six million young people complete hands-on projects in areas like health, science, agriculture and citizenship.
Actress and comedian Aubrey Plaza, best known for her role on “Parks & Recreation,” country star Jennifer Nettles, celebrity chef Anne Burrell, host of Worst Cooks in America, and Andrew Bosworth, inventor of Facebook’s newsfeed, were all 4-H’ers.
But without the support of the community and the dedicated 4-H leaders who donate countless hours of their own personal time, 4-H clubs could not exist, especially agricultural 4-H clubs in the city.
The Manatawna-Saul 4-H club, on Spring Lane in Roxborough, is not funded by the School District of Philadelphia or the City of Philadelphia. Although without the generosity of the school district, we would not have a place to raise our animals, which include pigs, sheep, cows and steer.
To care for the club’s animals, which are projects of the club’s youth members, the club raises money through petting zoos, nativity scenes and cow plops (think bingo with cow poop). Without these funds the club would not be able to buy feed, hay, straw, supplies or medicine for the animals.
Thanks to the generosity of local farmers, who often donate animals or sell them at reduced rates, community members and city officials like Councilman Curtis Jones, the club continues to turn today’s young people (especially inner city youth) into productive citizens and leaders in the community.
As a parent of children in 4-H, I often joke that I sold my soul to 4-H. For the last seven years, my only vacation has consisted of sleeping on the ground, Port-a-Potties and a makeshift shower.
While there is plenty of research supporting the benefits of 4-H clubs, I have personally seen its effect on my own kids. I have seen my two little girls grow to become fiercely determined young women. At 8-years-old, my oldest daughter was timid and reserved. I watched as older teenagers (many were students at W.B. Saul High School) took her under their wings and showed her the ropes literally. How to tie a slip knot and halter a sheep or steer. When my youngest daughter wanted to raise a steer at 10 years old, both my husband and I were hesitant. But when she appeared with a list of reasons why she should be allowed to raise a steer and show it. We couldn’t think of a reason to say “no.”
The work ethic my daughters have cannot be taught. Last year at the Pennsylvania Farm Show, despite my attempts to force her to stop hand trimming her Corridale sheep with shears, she refused because the job wasn’t complete. She only relented when the sheep leader Su Murphy said the sheep was tired and needed to be taken off the stand.
My favorite moment in 4-H was watching my teenager daughter and another 4-H’er walk together laughing arms around each others shoulder with their blue ribbons sticking out of their jeans’ back pockets. I overheard her friend say, “I like 4-H because you can just be yourself.”
Sue Ann Rybak