BRIGHTON — The 134-member Seminole Indian 4-H club celebrated another year of accomplishments at its annual awards banquet June 4 at the Fred Smith Rodeo Arena in Brighton. Youth participants, adult volunteers and cattle owners were recognized for their work and commitment to the program.
“What we take away from this is teaching kids the responsibility of taking care of animals,” said Brighton Board Rep. Larry Howard. “It teaches them something powerful. This is part of the history of our Tribe and we are proud of what you’ve accomplished. It is something you will carry with you for the rest of your life.”
This year saw an increased number of activities, including the chicken, sewing, photography and cooking clubs. It also marked the first time the Seminole 4-H attended the annual 4-H Day at the capitol February 22 in Tallahassee, where 15 kids learned about the workings of state government, took meetings with legislators and toured the capitol.
“We are expanding the horizons of 4-H,” said Lonnie Gore, 4-H special projects coordinator.
Participating in 4-H requires a serious commitment of time, resources and energy by the kids and their parents. The kids learn to balance school, homework, sports and other youthful activities while raising steer, heifers, swine and/or small animals.
The work begins in July, when the steer are mere 500 pound calves, or in the fall when the young pigs are only 75 to 85 pounds. Until the show and sale in March, the 4-H’ers take responsibility for the care of the animals which includes early morning feedings, daily exercise and math. The 4-H program gives its participants real-life business experience and a mandatory log must be kept of every dollar spent while raising the animals. When the animals are sold the day after the show, the kids pocket the profit.
Children may join the 4-H Cloverbud program at age 5 and raise small animals. By age 8 they are ready for a hog and at 10 should have enough experience to handle a steer.
4-H is usually a family activity; it’s common for parents to assist the kids with their duties. Some families take it further by getting numerous kids involved. The Baker family of Brighton is an example of a fully engaged 4-H family; eight kids participated this year.
“My dad [Preston Baker] inspires us,” said Ivess Baker, 18. “I’ve been in 4-H for 18 years. I’m leaving now, but I’ll stay in agriculture and help my brother Ramone with his herd.”
Volunteers are the backbone of 4-H and each was honored and thanked by Florida Cooperative Extension agent Aaron Stam, who heads up the program. Graduating seniors were also recognized. Ivess Baker, Troy Cantu, Dayra Koenes, Camryn Thomas, Cyrus Smedley and Samantha Veliz all left the program with their high school graduation.
The Herdsman Award is a surprise to its recipients, who have been secretly judged throughout the year for their leadership qualities. This year the awards were presented to Ramone Baker for swine and to Troy Cantu for steer.
Cattle owners were recognized with their own awards for providing the winning steer and heifers. The awards were presented to Mary Jene Koenes for the Grand Champion Steer raised by Dayra Koenes; Norman Johns ND Ranch for the Reserve Grand Champion Steer raised by Jacee Jumper; Cory Wilcox for the Grand Champion Heifer raised by Jalee Wilcox; and Paul Bowers Sr. for the Reserve Grand Champion Heifer raised by Brianna Bowers.
Another new program will be kicked off in August when a few yearling wild mustangs will be trained by 4-H’ers in 100 days.
While looking back on the year, Stam was struck by how impressed the show’s judges were with the Seminole program. They each pointed out that the youth knew more details about their animals than kids outside of the Tribe did.
“This was a great year,” Stam said. “We had smaller numbers but the kids operated on a higher level than we’ve seen in a while. It’s a testament to the leaders and the kids. I’m real pleased with how the kids, parents and leaders worked together; that’s how it should be.”