October 28, 2004
Raising farm animals is a vanishing trade in the ever-urban East Valley, but some families are staying connected to the region’s rural past through the 4-H Club.
"We’re wanna-bes," said Audra Delareto of Chandler, who drives nearly every day to a farm in the south East Valley where her teenage daughter keeps sheep and cattle. Her son was also involved in the club, she said.
"It teaches them a tremendous amount of respect for work," she said. "It keeps them busy."
Almost 2,000 Valley children and 275 adult volunteers take part in programs affiliated with the governmentsponsored club, said Larry Tibbs of the Maricopa County Extension Office.
The 4-H Club began in the late 19th Century and got its name in 1918 to represent values associated with the "head, heart, hands and health" of each young member. "Clover Kids" from 5 to 8 years old can join for noncompetitive activities such as feeding birds or learning about seeds.
For those ages 9 to 18, "more urban" 4-H programs teach leadership skills, baby-sitting and good nutrition, Tibbs said. Most participants, however, do traditional activities related to purchasing, raising, showing and eventually selling livestock.
Cows, chickens and other farm animals are no longer welcome in the Delaretos’ neighborhood near the Chandler Fashion Mall, which is zoned for household pets only. So 15-year-old Jennelle Delareto, a sophomore at Tempe’s Corona Del Sol High School, houses her lambs and steers at the R Country Farm near Chandler Heights and Cooper roads.
When Delareto first joined the club at age 11, cleaning stalls and caring for the animals seemed like hard work. But "I got used to it," she said. "I want to have a farm of my own."
She most enjoys hanging out with other people in the club, she said. And she’s learning a lot: Finances and record-keeping are an important part of the project, and participants learn how to plan a budget and earn a profit. Some members make hundreds of dollars.
The toughest part has been staying emotionally detached from the animals, which are typically sold to a slaughterhouse when a market project is finished. Kids can earn hundreds of dollars from the projects.
"At first I try not to name them, then I name them and get attached to them," she said. "It’s still hard, I guess. It’s a circle of life."
Natalie Whitlock and her family moved from Mesa to a more rural part of the south East Valley five years ago to take advantage of a "pseudo-rural environment for the kids." The building boom caught up to them quickly.
"This is definitely an area in transition," she said. "We didn’t expect it to change so quickly."
However, their 1-acre homesite near Ocotillo and Val Vista roads is on a county island not subject to city zoning rules. The family now has five turkeys, "a really huge sow, three goats and a bunch of chickens," she said.
Her children, Daniel, 14, Thomas, 12, Madelyn, 10, and Abigail, 7, all chip in for the many chores involved in keeping their livestock and garden. At the Arizona State Fair, which ended Sunday, the kids won three first-place ribbons for their turkeys, including the grand championship for turkeys.
"There are not enough legitimate tasks to keep you busy in a typical home environment," Whitlock said. "We moved to more land so they had more activities."
Find out more
To find out about local 4-H programs, call Larry Tibbs at (602) 470-8086, Ext. 346.