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Raise

What 4-H Teaches Seven Million Kids and How Its Lessons Could Change Food and Farming Forever

Kiera Butler (Author)

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When city-dwelling journalist Kiera Butler visits a county fair for the first time, she is captivated by the white-uniformed members of the 4-H club and their perfectly groomed animals. She sets off on a search for a “real” 4-H’er, a hypothetical wholesome youth whom she imagines wearing cowboy boots and living on a ranch. Along the way, she meets five teenage 4-H’ers from diverse backgrounds and gets to know them as they prepare to compete at the fair. Butler’s on-the-ground account of the teens’ concerns with their goats, pigs, sheep, proms, and SAT scores is interwoven with a fascinating history of the century-old 4-H club as it solicits corporate donations from top agribusiness firms such as DuPont, Monsanto, and Cargill. Her quest takes her from California’s cities and suburbs all the way to Ghana, where she investigates 4-H’s unprecedented push to expand its programs in the developing world—and the corporate partnership that is supporting this expansion.

Raise masterfully combines vivid accounts from a little-known subculture with a broader analysis of agriculture education today, using 4-H as a lens through which to view the changing landscape of farming in America and the rest of the world. Lively, deeply informed, and perceptive in its analysis, Raise provides answers to complex questions about our collective concern over the future of food.

Photographs by Rafael Roy.
A Note about Reporting
Introduction
1. “I Wanted to Be a Cowgirl”
2. Learning by Doing
3. “I Do Sheep the Way Other Kids Do Soccer”
4. Bringing Up Baby
5. The Big Business of 4-H
6. “We Are Praying That DuPont Will Continue to Provide for Us”
7. Winning Champions Love Root Beer
8. Grow ’Em Big
9. The Contra Costa County Fair
10. The Alameda County Fair
11. “It’s in My Blood”
Conclusion: After the Fairs
Afterword
Acknowledgments
Notes
Glossary
Kiera Butler, an award-winning writer and senior editor at Mother Jones magazine, has written extensively about the environment. Her work has appeared in Orion, Audubon, and Columbia Journalism Review.
Best Books of 2014 - The Plate, Serving Daily Discussions on Food—National Geographic
"A solid work of personal observation buttressed by Butler’s research."—C. M. Caminita CHOICE
"Kiera Butler's Raise is a delightful behind-the-scenes look at the fascinating subculture of 4-H. You'll root for the kids she artfully profiles, in addition to falling in love with the animals tended by these kids. The book proves once again that animals do make us human, especially when you are a teenager at a state fair, in it to win it."—Novella Carpenter, author of Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer

"With diligent, smart reportage and an often very funny narrative, Raise is a remarkable look at a world that deserves to be much better known." —Wendy McClure, author of The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of "Little House on the Prairie"

"Thoughtful and wide-ranging, Kiera Butler's Raise offers an invaluable look at the future of American farms—and the food they produce. Butler makes a compelling case that agricultural literacy is as important as its academic parallel."—Tracie McMillan, author of The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee's, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table

Chapter One

"I Wanted to Be a Cowgirl"

A confession: I reached the age of thirty-one without ever having darkened the doorstep of a county fair. I was living in Berkeley, California, where we had street festivals, which I studiously avoided on account of the annoying naked people who always showed up. Where I was raised, in the unleafy city of Somerville, Massachusetts, we had yearly carnivals with rides and maybe a depressing pony or two. Fairs, I had long believed, were a treat accessible only to people who lived in the country.

So when I happened to see a sign for the Alameda County Fair, just a half-hour drive east of Berkeley, in the suburb of Pleasanton, I made up my mind to go. One hot July day, two friends and I piled into my car bound for the fair.

Once inside the fairgrounds, I realized that this was no mere traveling carnival. Hoards of people streamed past us toward a cavernous building that promised exhibits having to do with "food and fiber arts." Another building was dedicated to minerals, gems, and history. Still another was labeled "Model Railroad." In an open space, kids in harnesses dangled on bungee cords over an enormous trampoline. Hot tub salesmen showed off their jets.

We debated our next move-games? rides? funnel cake?-when out of the corner of my eye I noticed a large, open-air structure labeled Amador Livestock Pavilion. I pointed to the sign excitedly and began striding toward it. My indulgent friends trailed behind.

You might be wondering why a grown woman was displaying toddler-like delight at the prospect of seeing barnyard animals. The truth is that I was going through a livestock phase. It was 2011. It seemed like everyone I knew was talking about farming. Michael Pollan's influential book The Omnivore's Dilemma had come out five years earlier, and more recently, journalist and farmer Novella Carpenter had written her book Farm City about raising turkeys, goats, and even pigs in one of Oakland's grittiest neighborhoods.

Chicken coops sprouted like toadstools overnight in my neighbors' yards. Hipsters began haunting the farmers markets, flirting with each other over baskets of kale and collard greens. The poorbutcher at the organic meat stall couldn't get a moment's peace, so constantly surrounded was he by swooning girls. My friends and I signed up for weekly boxes of farm produce, which resulted in acrobatic feats of menu planning. For a while, if I typed "too much" into Google on my laptop, it automatically filled in "kohlrabi."

My friends and I built a chicken coop from scratch and raised eight hens and, later, our two turkeys. We went to classes at a local urban farming supply store. We gave one another homesteading manuals as birthday presents, and we devoured Farm City.

So you can see why, like a lamb to a field of alfalfa, I was drawn to the livestock pavilion. Outside, we passed a few teenage girls soaping up sheep on what looked like small wooden platforms. Inside, we wandered up and down the lines of neat pens. Eventually we reached "Champion Row," where a few pigs, goats, and sheep milled about their beribboned enclosures. I looked at these champions, then back at the others, trying to pick out the winning quality that distinguished these specimens from the leagues of loser animals behind them. Were they fatter? Cuter? I couldn't tell.

Poster boards outside the pens announced that each row of animals was affiliated with a 4-H club. I passed by a line of pigs that belonged to the Mountain House 4-H club in Byron, California, then one from the Palomares 4-H club in Castro Valley.

I had only a very dim idea of what 4-H actually was. I knew it had something to do with raising animals, but I assumed that this took place in the country towns of states like Iowa, not in the Bay Area suburbs.

In one of the pens, a teenage girl dressed in a white uniform with a green hat and tie was fiddling with her sheep's water bucket. I asked if all the animals belonged to 4-H clubs.

"Yeah, pretty much," she said, giving me a teenage why-are-you-talking-to-me look. She went back to the water bowl. I continued down the row. When I turned the corner, I came face to face with a line of smaller girls, also in white uniforms, leading burly goats on leashes. The girls couldn't have been much older than ten or eleven; the goats seemed twice their size, yet the girls seemed to be in total control. When one of the animals strained and looked ready to bolt, its pigtailed owner gave a firm yank and it fell back into step.

I followed the signs pointing toward the small-animals area, which looked like a miniature version of the livestock pavilion. Instead of pens, there were rows of cages holding rabbits, guinea pigs, and chickens. I headed for the turkey area and found a science-fair-style three-paneled poster all about how to ensure that your turkey gets enough protein. At the top was a photo of a little boy in a white uniform holding a baby turkey, and toward the bottom were pictures of the grown-up bird, with lustrous white feathers and alert eyes.

It was as though I had entered a parallel farming universe. Right here in the suburbs was a network of kids quietly raising animals and producing literature about their protein needs.

And what was I? A city girl with a flock of impulse poultry. I was feeding them canned tuna, for God's sake. These kids-in their tidy white uniforms with their no-nonsense sheep platforms-were the real deal. And yet, not once in any of my urban farming classes, homesteading books, or flirtatious chats with farmers' market vendors had anyone mentioned 4-H kids.

I made up my mind to meet them. 

Fortuitously, one Saturday afternoon a few weeks later, I happened to run into my neighbor Kristen, who lived on my street with her husband, Matt, and her eight-year-old son, Caton. I told her about my visit to the fair.

"Oh," she said. "We were there, too. For 4-H."

"4-H!" I gasped. "I know them!"

Kristen told me that this was Caton's first year as a member of the 4-H club in Montclair, a neighborhood in the Oakland hills. He was in the club's rocketry project and outdoor adventures group, which Matt was in charge of. She hoped that when Caton was nine, 4-H's minimum age for livestock projects, he might join the club's goat group.

"So would you keep the goats, like, in your yard?" I asked hopefully. I would have loved to have some neighborhood goats.

"We've thought about it," she said. "But we wouldn't have to." She explained that there was a central place where kids in Oakland kept their goats, up in the hills in some old lady's yard.

A 4-H club in Oakland! I asked Kristen if she could put me in touch with the leaders. In the meantime, I got my hands on a copy of a 1982 book called 4-H: An American Idea: 1900-1980 and began to learn about the club's history.1

To me, the single most surprising thing about 4-H's origin story is that in the beginning, the club was not about kids. It involved kids-but they weren't the main point. The kids were simply the delivery method for the club's larger mission.

The 4-H story begins at the turn of the last century, when researchers at universities throughout the heartland were beginning to experiment with the idea of using science to determine the best ways to farm. They analyzed soil composition, created test plots to identify the highest-yielding crop varieties, and pressed newly invented machinery into service during harvesting. The new methods, the researchers hoped, would increase farms' efficiency and lighten workloads.2

The nation's farmers, however, had been working the land in the same way for generations, their methods imported by their forebears from Europe. They resented university outsiders peddling machines. The researchers found that even the few farmers who were willing to embrace the new ways were hard to reach geographically, scattered at the ends of winding dirt roads or perched on the edge of the forest.

In 1898, Will B. Otwell, the president of the farmers' institute in Macoupin County, Illinois, and a proponent of the new farming methods, was having trouble convincing farmers to come to his meetings. After months of sparse attendance, Otwell had an idea: he would invite the farmers' children instead. He offered a prize of one dollar for the child who could grow the best corn from his seed. According to Marilyn and Thomas Wessel, the authors of the 4-H history book, the contest was a great success. Over the course of the following decade, Otwell brought the concept to neighboring states. In 1905, he sponsored a national competition, and tens of thousands of children from eight states entered their corn.3

Meanwhile, in the rural township of Springfield, Ohio, a superintendent of schools named Albert B. Graham noticed in 1902 that, despite the fact that most of his students came from farm families, agriculture was not part of the curriculum in any local school. He began to offer classes on the weekends to teach his students modern farming methods. Eventually, administrators at an agriculture experiment station at Ohio State University got wind of the program. Soon more than a dozen counties in Ohio had similar classes. Farm experiment stations in other states began to hear about Graham's work and started offering classes of their own.4

Other superintendents of rural school districts liked the idea because enrollments at schoolhouses were beginning to decline. In his 1906 book, Among Country Schools, O. J. Kern, the superintendent in Illinois's Winnebago County, raised the questions that were on administrators' minds.5 "Has the improvement of the country school kept pace with other things?" he asked. "If so, why are so many people leaving the farm and moving to the cities to educate their children?"

Kern believed that the reputation of farming was suffering and that unless the profession could be brought into the modern era, more and more farmers would throw down their hoes in disgust and take the next train into the city.6 Kern's most notable accomplishment was the Winnebago Farmer Boys' Experiment Club, an extracurricular group that he organized in 1902 to "try to interest the big boys in the work of the Illinois College of Agriculture and the Experiment Station." Acting as a liaison between the college and the local country schools, Kern enrolled boys, ages five to twenty-one, in a program of lessons, field trips, and farming experiments based on research at the college.

By 1905, the club had more than five hundred members. Kern waxes rhapsodic about the club's power to interest the boys "more deeply in the beauty of country life and the worth, dignity, and scientific advancement in agriculture," but the boys' real source of motivation for joining was probably financial: corn and sugar beet experiments yielded real harvests, and Kern reports that the club members earned about $15 each in 1905-almost $400 in 2013 dollars.

If the boys' motivation was cash, then the agriculture college's was public relations. Kern explains: "The growing of high-bred corn by the boys is a movement to get both them and their fathers interested in improved types of grain." In the years that followed, agricultural colleges organized contests for boys to see who could grow the most corn. One awards ceremony dinner in Nebraska featured an all-corn menu, which included corn soup, corn relish, corn bread, corn pudding, and even a popcorn float.

Kern's, Otwell's, and Graham's efforts eventually collided and merged. The club-and-contest model worked so well that agriculture researchers began to use it to disseminate other farming improvements. In 1908, the USDA hired a former South Carolina superintendent of schools named Oscar B. Martin to expand the network.7 As the clubs spread, their focus widened. In Iowa, rural teachers taught their students how to test the butterfat content of milk. In some places, teachers started girls' clubs for sewing, baking, and, most importantly, canning. It was around this time that researchers were developing safe methods for putting up food, and girls' clubs were key to promulgating these new best practices. Martin worked tirelessly on the canning clubs. Wessel and Wessel describe how, in the summer of 1910, he dragged a tin can canner wherever he went for "canning bees," where girls competed to can the most tomatoes.8

In the South, agriculture professors seized on the club model as a way to encourage farmers to diversify their fields. Cotton had been the only cash crop in the entire region for so long that the soil was beginning to suffer. Through the clubs, the researchers launched a campaign to sell southern farmers on corn, which could be used as food for both humans and animals. To demonstrate corn's value as a livestock feed, a land-grant college in Mississippi launched the first pig clubs.9

The job of heading all the clubs became too big for Martin alone, so in 1910 O. H. Benson, an Iowa superintendent, joined him. Benson is best known for developing a partnership between federal and local governments to fund the clubs, but he was also responsible for publicizing 4-H's clover logo, which had been designed by a schoolteacher named Jessie Field Shambaugh, with whom Martin had worked in Iowa.10 The four leaves of the clover stood for the four H's: head, heart, hands, and health. By this time, some members were already referring to the clubs as 4-H, though the name wasn't officially adopted until 1924.

In 1914, the federal government passed the Smith-Lever Act, which created the Cooperative Extension System, a new partnership between the federal government and universities.11 The club model had proven that rural farmers could benefit from scientific research in college agriculture departments, and Congress had taken notice. With the passage of the Smith-Lever Act, universities began to receive federal and state funding for their work with farmers, of which the clubs were a major component. With this switch, Extension agents from the university-many of whom traveled for miles to rural areas-replaced superintendents as club leaders.12

Club membership rose steadily following the passage of the Smith-Lever Act, and when the United States went to war in 1917, demand for food for the troops skyrocketed, and even more children joined clubs to contribute to the effort. According to Wessel and Wessel, 169,000 children participated in clubs in 1916. Just two years later, more than 500,000 did.13 Livestock clubs, formerly relegated to the South, took off nationwide.

A few weeks after my conversation with my neighbor Kristen, I attend a meeting of the Montclair 4-H club at a community center up in the Oakland hills. It's controlled chaos: teenagers limp through Robert's Rules of Order, and as the evening wears on the littlest members-kindergartners and first graders, known in 4-H as "Cloverbuds"-start to lose it, whining to their moms and provoking one another. The group skews young, as does 4-H in general: it serves mostly kids ages five through nineteen, though there are also collegiate clubs. In 2011 membership nationwide peaked at close to a million in fourth grade and gradually declined as kids grew older; just 130,000 of 4-H'ers were high school seniors.

The items on the agenda tonight are mostly club business: fundraisers, carpools, snacks. Hardly anyone even mentions animals, and I begin to feel antsy, too. When the teenagers finally, gratefully, adjourn the meeting, I introduce myself to a few parents, most of whom live in Montclair and nearby neighborhoods. I ask whom to talk to about the goat project. Everyone says the same thing: you must meet the Hawkey sisters.

I learn that the sisters in question, Chloe and Serena Hawkey, are two of the teenagers who were leading tonight's meeting. Chloe, a seventeen-year-old high school senior, is the club's president, as well as the teen leader of both the goat and rabbit projects. Her fourteen-year-old sister, Serena, is vice president of membership. Both have been in the club since kindergarten-and, in fact, their parents helped found the club. These are girls who take their animals seriously, other parents say in reverent tones. They win prizes at the fair.

I e-mail Chloe and Serena's mother, Andy, thinking I'll be able to catch up with the girls in the week before the next 4-H meeting, but it turns out that most of their evenings have been spoken for. Serena has cross-country meets, Chloe has college applications to work on, and both girls have homework and hours of ballet classes. We make plans to meet two weeks later. I invite Chloe and Serena out to Fenton's, a celebrated Oakland ice cream parlor.

When the evening for ice cream comes, I drive up through affluent neighborhoods in the Oakland hills, past mansions and vast yards. Finally, I pull onto a narrow street that is so densely lined with trees it has a woodsy feeling about it. The Hawkeys live in a modest split-level set into the side of a hill.

Andy opens the door and greets me warmly. She is slight and sporty with straight brown hair and a friendly smile. In the homey living room, a 4-H skit project meeting is just wrapping up. A handful of elementary school kids race around, and Chloe and Serena and a few other teenagers pore over a binder. Parents trickle in, staying for a minute to chat, then cajoling their kids out the door.

After a few minutes, Chloe and Serena extract themselves from the group to say hello to me. Serena is unmistakably Andy's daughter-same long, straight hair, same athletic build. Chloe is tall and willowy, with an oval-shaped face framed by shoulder-length light brown hair. The girls have excellent manners for teenagers: strong handshakes, good eye contact. Despite the fact that I have never met them before, they don't seem at all shy. They say goodbye to Andy and we head out to my car.

Minutes later, we sit down at a table at Fenton's. As we stare down enormous dishes of Heath bar and peanut butter cup, the girls talk not about animals, but about school.

"Homework," groans Chloe. "I have so much homework."

"Me, too," says Serena. "I still have a test to study for when we get home."

"I gather that school is really important in your family," I say.

"Yes," says Chloe. "But our parents aren't the pressure kind of parents. It's more like we put pressure on ourselves." Their dad, she says, often finds her starting her homework at 10:30, after an evening full of activities. "He goes, 'Isn't it a little late to be starting your homework? What would happen if you just didn't do it? Take the night off and get some sleep?' And I'm like, 'Dad, I don't know what would happen if I didn't do my homework, but I don't want to find out.'"

Both Chloe and Serena have GPAs above 4.0. They attend a magnet program at Oakland Tech, a public high school that draws kids from all over the city. Only a few of Chloe and Serena's friends from school are members of 4-H. The rest, who fill their out-of-school time with sports, drama, and community service, occasionally express mild curiosity about the club. Someone recently told Serena that in middle school she was known as "goat girl," which she found funny.

"So is it nice to go to the fair every year, where people understand what you're talking about when you mention 4-H?" I ask.

Chloe and Serena look at each other.

"Kind of," says Serena. "But we're not like the other clubs." The county that the Oakland club belongs to, Alameda, is sprawling, she says. Out toward its northern and eastern borders are real agricultural communities. "Culture out there is very different from Oakland culture," adds Serena. "The girls out there listen to country music and wear pink cowboy boots."

"It's not that we don't like them, or that they're not nice," says Chloe. "But when it comes to 4-H, they definitely have an advantage. The main difference is that they have access to all things rural."Sometimes, says Chloe, she envies their feed stores, land, and family and friends who have been farming and ranching for generations. "We can do the things that take dedication," she says. "But not land."

"But obviously they don't have too much of an advantage," I say. "You guys win awards."

"We are extremely competitive," admits Chloe. "But just in showmanship."

Chloe explains that there are two kinds of competitions at the fair. "One is about how good the animal is," she says. "With dairy goats it's called conformation. With animals that are sold at auction-like pigs or sheep or steer-it's called market. For dairy goats, it's mostly the formation of the udder. For meat animals, it's their balance of muscle and fat. Other stuff, too. Like bone structure. To do well, you have to be extremely careful about how you raise and exercise the animal. You also have to have an animal with really good genes. Which means getting it from a breeder or working on breeding the right kind of animal on your own farm. That can take years."

"Showmanship is more about the kid," Serena chimes in. "How much control you have over your animal, and how much you know about it. The judge asks you questions. You have to study. We're really good at studying."

"Studying is definitely where we excel," agrees Chloe. "Some people might think it's weird, but I actually enjoy the process of studying for Rabbit Bowl."

"Rabbit Bowl?" I ask.

Chloe explains that it's a quiz-bowl-style competition that takes place at the fair, where contestants answer questions about rabbit trivia. The Montclair senior team-comprised of the group's high schoolers-has never lost.

"My best friend and I study a lot for it," she says. "We love doing nerdy things like that."

In fact, says Chloe, she even wrote her college application essay about Rabbit Bowl. She hopes it will catch the attention of the admissions committees at the liberal arts schools she's applying to. I can imagine administrators at Vassar, Amherst, and Middlebury enthusing over this high-achieving kid with an unusual hobby.

We finish our ice cream. I have more questions, but it's getting late, and Chloe and Serena have to start their homework, so I drive them home.

Over the course of several visits to the Hawkeys' house, I gradually learn more about Montclair 4-H. Andy and Steve Hawkey, a financial planner and college professor of finance, respectively, founded the club with a few other parents when Chloe was in kindergarten and Serena was in nursery school. Andy had heard of 4-H-in fact, two of her nieces out on the coast were members-but she was fuzzy on the details. One of the other moms told her that 4-H allowed kids to decide what they wanted to study and also to run the meetings themselves. That idea appealed to Andy. She did a little more research, and she liked what she read, especially the emphasis on "learning by doing." She and Steve liked the animal component, too. Steve had chickens growing up and wanted to try goats. Participating in 4-H would be the perfect way for the whole family to learn how to take care of them.

The Hawkeys and a few other Montclair parents recruited the club's first members through word of mouth and a few fliers. Steve Hawkey and another club dad led a poultry project, and other mothers and fathers offered cooking and sewing groups. Meetings were small and casual; the club had fewer than twenty members. After several years, the parents decided that Montclair 4-H was ready to go to the fair. "It was obvious we were green," says Andy. "We were city kids, not country kids. But people were very welcoming." After the club members showed their chickens, the judge called all the Montclair parents over for a talk and told them that their kids had been using the wrong kind of chicken. Show chickens are typically bantams-a smaller variety that elementary school children can easily manage. Montclair 4-H'ers were using full-sized chickens. Chloe, who was by then six, had a hard time keeping her huge chicken, Pepe, under control.

"The judge gave us a talking to," says Andy. "He told us that we had to get the kids animals that they actually could handle. We felt so bad."

Still, the Hawkeys were taken with the scene at the fair. Serena remembers idolizing the 4-H kids that she met. "I really wanted to be like those other kids at the fair," she says. "I wanted to be a cowgirl."

In fact, all four Hawkeys were in awe of the 4-H champions-kids who had learned to show sheep and steer from their parents and grandparents. They were fascinated by the farm jargon they overheard in the barn. What would it be like, they all wondered, to live on a working ranch? Andy and Steve imagined doing barn chores instead of office tasks, spending weekends at livestock auctions and riding horses into the sunset. "We all got cowboy boots and hats," remembers Andy. "We were a complete wannabe family." I could relate.

The club grew over the next few years. The Hawkeys decided that they wanted to add a goat project, so they partnered with another club mom and bought two Nigerian Dwarfs-a dairy breed popular among 4-H'ers because of its small size and relatively cooperative nature-and kept them in their small yard. The Hawkeys fell in love with these two curious wethers (neutered males), but the creatures proved to be deft escape artists, and it became clear that they'd need a dedicated space. Andy placed an ad in a neighborhood newspaper. Right away a woman answered. She owned a property up in the hills that had a yard overrun by weeds and brush. "She told us that if we could get the goats to eat all this brush, we could use the place for free," says Andy. The club transformed a few shacks in the messy yard into homes for the goats. They've lived there ever since.

Another Montclair family started a pig project in a similar way. At first, the pigs lived at one family's house, but as the project membership swelled, they outgrew the close quarters and were relocated to a shared space near Oakland's city-owned horse stables. Today the goat and pig projects have fifteen to twenty members each. Montclair 4-H has about a hundred members-the most it's ever had. Andy attributes the growth in part to 4-H's unique hands-on learning model, which she thinks appeals to parents. But she believes that the urban farming trend has helped, too. "Some of the parents are interested because they know it's a way that they can be involved in this farming thing," she says, "even if they don't live out in the country."

Andy is proud of the club's success, but she still sees room for improvement. She notes that the club is "very white." (That's true of 4-H in general: nationwide, about three-quarters of members identify as white.)14 Most of the Montclair members are from upper middle-class families. For a while, an Oakland city councilman showed interest in recruiting kids from other parts of the city. A few families joined, but it was often hard for parents to schlep their kids all the way up to the hills several times a week. Andy would like to figure out a way to make it easier.

Andy still devotes hours every week to 4-H, but her daughters are now busy teenagers, and the club is only one of their interests. A few other families have stepped into leadership roles, a development for which Andy is grateful.

I'm curious about the Montclair dairy goat herd ("the goaties," as the Hawkeys call them), so I arrange for a visit. Again, it's hard to schedule a time when both girls are free. Finally we give up on Chloe, whose weekend is jammed with ballet classes. It'll just be Serena, Andy, and me.

On a crisp Sunday morning in November, I ascend once again into the hills. The property is near a network of regional parks. A few spandex-clad cyclists whiz by me on my way up. After a tough climb, they'll be rewarded with sweeping views of the Bay. Most of the homes in this well-to-do neighborhood are meticulously maintained, with tasteful landscaped gardens. When I arrive at the address that Andy has given me, I see that the goats' home is different. The rambling old wooden house is in desperate need of a paint job, and scotch broom is colonizing the sloping yard.

Andy opens the gate, and we head down a path to a small structure, where Serena is sweeping the floor. Once she's done, I follow her to the yard out in back of the shed, where seven or eight goats contentedly munch on fresh grass. A few playfully butt heads. Their coloring varies; some are whitish with bands of honey-colored fur around their middles; others are darker all over. Nigerian Dwarfs are technically dairy goats, explains Serena, though the club doesn't milk them regularly. Nevertheless, at the fair, they'll be judged on the quality of their udders.

Serena recites the litany of their names so quickly that I only catch about half, but I notice an Italian theme: Perrugia, Fiera, Bianca, Valentina. "My family lived in Italy for a year, so we were giving them all Italian names for a while," she explains.

The group keeps food, medicine, and cleaning supplies in a closet attached to the shed. The goat duty schedule is posted on a calendar. The families in the project take turns letting the goats out in the morning, closing them back up at night, feeding them, and cleaning the pen. Goat duty typically takes between twenty minutes and an hour, depending on how messy the pens are.

We watch the goats nibble grass for a while, and then Serena has to return to her homework, so we part ways.

Over the next month, I begin to attend Montclair 4-H goat meetings. The kids' attention spans are short, but Chloe and Serena press on with their goat lesson plans. At one meeting, they divide the members into small groups and hand out crossword puzzles with clues having to do with goat trivia. I visit a pair of third-grade boys who seemed to be immersed in their puzzle-but when I get close enough to hear their conversation it becomes clear that they are actually just retelling the plot of The Empire Strikes Back. Chloe comes over to give them a few hints. Another day I watch Serena teach a group of squirmy grade schoolers an easy trick for memorizing parts of a goat's back-withers, chine, loin, rump: "Winning champions love root beer," she says enthusiastically. "Say it with me now." She seems surprised and pleased when some of the kids actually do.

Chloe and Serena are 4-H outliers in that they are livestock-raising members of an urban club. Today, most 4-H'ers come to the organization through its classroom, after-school, and camp programs. In fact, only a quarter of this generation's 4-H'ers belong to clubs. And even in clubs, not everyone raises animals. Members are busy building model rockets, preparing skits for drama night, learning about water conservation, or pursuing any number of other projects.

I was impressed that the Montclair group had found a way to raise animals in Oakland. But I was also curious about the other 4-H'ers that Chloe and Serena told me about-the kids who raise superior goats because they have "access to all things rural," as Chloe put it. I still wanted to meet one of those kids-the farm girl or boy who learned to show livestock from her parents and grandparents. I wanted to find the 4-H'ers who had made the Hawkey family all want cowboy boots and hats.

I would have to keep looking.

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