08 November 2016
Ellie Pendleton coaxing a stubborn beltie
When my older daughter Ellie was in 7th grade, she discovered Aldermere Farm through the STAR afterschool enrichment program Farm Hands. She loved everything about Aldermere: the cattle, the quiet magic of the property, and especially Heidi Baker, who runs the Farm Hands program and the Aldermere Achievers 4-H club. Ellie finished the program and expressed interest in joining 4-H.
I was pleased but tried to appear ambivalent. I’d been active in 4-H when I was young and knew where this was headed; 4-H animal science projects are not for the faint of heart. Did Ellie have the passion and dedication required or would her interest fade? I suggested she do the next session of Farm Hands. Neither the hard work nor the bruises dissuaded her and she joined 4-H. Her younger sister Frances followed, and most of the memories our family made over the next 8 years had something to do with cattle.
We can usually pinpoint the moment we begin a journey. I’ve seen that moment with Ellie and Frances many times. It’s usually beside a fence. It’s always with Heidi. That moment is the day the conversation What does the future hold for that calf? takes place.
Aldermere Farm is a working farm and educational facility, and it maintains a string of show cattle. Every calf is assessed to represent the farm in the show ring. Physical characteristics and genetics are considered. Knowledge and opinions are shared. After that conversation with Heidi, the kids bring Heidi’s husband Jake in. Opinions are compared and rehashed, and eventually, as each Achiever chooses a show heifer, the entire show string is determined. Alliances are formed by those in agreement of the potential of a calf, and a fun rivalry and competition naturally ensue. Some “helping” inevitably takes place. Who was correct will be validated during the show season, but the projects begin in earnest.
Frances Pendleton in the Aldermere Farm barn
Hopes and dreams are born in moments, but it’s in the pursuit of them that life happens.
Aldermere Achievers work hard with the animals they choose to be their 4-H projects. Raising cattle to their best potential requires hours and hours of care and training, and skills and knowledge. Achievers learn Belted Galloway breed standards in terms of appearance and health, and every task is in pursuit of exceeding those standards. They also participate in youth activities and community service efforts. These events allow youth members the opportunity to showcase their projects and the knowledge and skills they’ve acquired, and to share it with others who share their passion. As an animal grows, so does the showman, and the showman’s community.
All the while, the conversations continue. How is she growing? Let’s clip her. Let’s take her to showX. How do you think she’ll do? How did she do? Let’s breed her! When should we breed her? To whom should we breed her? When is she due? What did she have?
And then, that moment. All over again. What does the future hold for this calf?
That moment hits me like a truck, now. Watching them do what they love with the people they love, I never could have imagined eight years ago everything the future held for those girls.