The squawking of chickens and the bleating of sheep wake Debbie Cooper each morning and she would not trade this for the world. The self-proclaimed animal lover and manager of 4-H enjoys raising sheep, chickens and a horse on her hobby farm and, in turn, sharing that knowledge with children of all ages.
“It’s bringing farming back to the kids. I don’t want farming and raising kids to be a thing of the past,” she said.
Cooper grew up in Esquimalt, located far from the sounds of livestock and the colourful culture of farmland. Years later she and her husband settled in Metchosin finding it an ideal place to raise children. They wanted their kids to experience childhood in the country with all the joys of playing in the creek and gathering eggs from the chickens.
The husband and wife team currently operate a hobby farm with 50 chickens, three sheep: Tulip, Rose and Diego, a miniature horse: Little Joe, honey bees, and several blueberry plants.
In 2011 Cooper opened up the first ever Metchosin/Sooke/West Shore chapter of 4- H.
“My eight-year-old daughter, Julia, got me into it. I was a city girl. I thought you had to have your own animals to join but you don’t. I began looking at starting my own club in Metchosin.”
From there things moved quickly. The first hurdle included a panel interview, reference checks, a criminal record check. Soon the 4-H club was up and running with a total of 15 kids.
It’s never easy to run a hobby farm, be a full time mother and run a 4-H club all on your own but as Cooper said, “it’s so important to me that I just make it work. I am totally hyped about 4-H and I am so proud to be a part of such a wonderful organization.”
The first year proved to be a real ‘learning experience’ with the second year running a lot smoother. “It’s getting easier. 2012 has just begun and already 17 kids have signed up,” said Cooper.
In Clover Buds; an entry-level 4-H program, kids are taught about honey bees, sheep, poultry, horticulture and outdoor living. When the kids enter high school some of their 4-H projects can be used as credits in high school. There are also bursaries and scholarships available to the kids, explains Cooper.
During the first meeting, kids play a game known as an Icebreaker. They sit in a circle, shake each other’s hands and introduce themselves to their neighbour. They have to find three things they have in common with each other before switching to the next person. “We want to boost confidence, self esteem and public speaking skills,” she said.
4-H now welcomes older kids. “Any kid between the ages of 9 and 20 is welcome,” she said.
Local farmers have granted 4-H permission to visit Perry Bay Farm and learn about their sheep. “Many retired farmers have called and wanted to help. It’s a great year so far. The interest has been incredible,” Cooper said.
One of Cooper’s goals is to give the children skills that will help them throughout their lives. She wants to see them leave 4-H with knowledge and confidence.
“In the future I hope to see kids raising their own animals and showing them at the local fairs. “
The program runs from January to October and costs $140 a year. For more information on 4-H you can call Debbie Cooper at 250-478-4677.
She leaves with a quote.
“We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt