In January, freshman Elijah Stark won at the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg for showing some of his family’s sheep, but farming takes up a greater part of his life than just the week the farm show lasts.
Stark, whose grandparents own a sheep farm in Berks County, lived on the farm with his family until he was eight years old. At eight, he started showing sheep in fairs and joined Penn State Extension’s Berks County 4-H club to learn more about the world of farming.
“It’s just something I do,” Stark says.
Currently, Stark has registered 40 sheep under his name and is the vice president of his 4-H club, which meets once a month. Through 4-H, he has had the opportunity to be a counselor at the program’s summer camp, teach younger campers what he knows about farming, and speak with state representatives about Pennsylvania’s agriculture budget.
He also visits his grandparents’ farm “multiple times a week” to help take care of the sheep, and he works at the greenhouse they own on the weekends.
His mother Laura Stark, who manages the family greenhouse, grew up similarly to her son. When she was six, she says, her family brought sheep onto their farm, and when she was eight, she joined 4-H. She feels that “4-H makes well-rounded individuals,” and plans to have Elijah’s four and six-year-old sisters, Kinley and Molly, join when they turn eight.
“It’s all things to make you more worldly, more up and mobile,” she says of the opportunities Elijah has had through 4-H.
His mother feels Elijah has been a role model for Kinley and Molly, who both have goats of their own that they hope to show.
“They wanna be just like their big brother,” she says. “If you want a fan club, have little siblings.”
At the farm show, Elijah shows his animals through the 4-H program. He also participates in Skill-a-thon, an exam that tests students’ “general knowledge,” of agriculture and caring for animals, including topics like types of animal feed and wool, according to Elijah.
Apart from the Pennsylvania Farm Show, the largest indoor farm show in the country, Elijah participates in other shows as well. He shows his sheep in the Allentown, Reading, Oley, Kutztown, and Kempton shows, among others, and has won awards at many of them.
At the Pennsylvania Farm Show, he showed Gabby, who won Champion Ewe and Reserve Champion Ewe in the Natural Color category, as well Nikolai, who won Reserve Champion Hampshire Ram.
Although the farm shows take a lot of work, Elijah finds joy in the simple pleasures they bring. He says his favorite thing about the Pennsylvania Farm Show is “the milkshakes.”
“I can waste a whole paycheck on milkshakes in one week at the farm show,” he says.
Elijah feels that the experience of showing animals is “a fun experience” and that “it definitely teaches you responsibility.”
“It’s the experiences you get out of it,” he says. “You get to see how your work has paid off.”
He recognizes the balance between school work, showing his animals, and working at the greenhouse and at the farm.
“I have to keep up with school work while going out to Harrisburg,” he says.
His mother feels that balancing these responsibilities “has its ups and downs.”
“I hope in the long run it makes him a more responsible person,” she says.
His mother recognizes how Elijah, who wants to study at Penn State to become a geneticist, has grown since he joined 4-H and started showing sheep in farm shows.
“Watching him when he’s eight years old, in the show ring, and he’s just holding onto an animal as best he can, hoping it doesn’t run away, to the point where he’s first place showman in Allentown Fair,” she says. “You know, it’s really been amazing to see him grow.”
Photos courtesy of Laura Stark