WOODBURY — Several days a week at Nonnewaug High School, 17-year old Courtney Rowland spends time with her favorite animal — a pig, which she named Penelope.
“I’m trying to work on getting a better connection with her. She likes to play a lot, so I’m trying to get her to calm down a little bit,” said Courtney, of Watertown. “I want her to trust me, and hope to start training her to react to a cane I will be using to give her commands.”
Courtney is working with Penelope as part of her project for a new 4H club called Flanders Trail Blazers, which is based out of the Flanders Nature Center & Land Trust in Woodbury and has 50 members from the surrounding area.
“We are a youth leadership club for ages 5 to 18,” said president Marissa Uva, 17, of Woodbury. “They grow leadership and they prepare themselves for their future so they become career ready.”
Members meet twice a month and also take part in group activities. The next activity will be sap collecting (weather depending) on Saturday, March 6. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, meetings are currently being held virtually. When the weather gets warmer, they’ll take place on the nature center property.
Through yearlong projects members choose, they can learn firsthand about caring for farm animals, beekeeping, responsible land care, gardening and forestry, maple sugaring, the environment, and surviving in the wilderness.
“The opportunities are endless,” Marissa said.
According to Marissa, the Flanders 4H club is unique in that all members do their own project.
“All 4H’s are project-based. The difference with Flanders is that it’s not specified to one project,” she said. “All members can do a project they like. Projects are age appropriate and meant to challenge members and overcome different obstacles. There are officers and leaders helping them succeed in their project area.”
Members keep track of their project in a journal, keep track of how much money they spend on that project, and what they do each day for it.
Members work on their project all year and present it at a yearly 4H Fair in August on the Goshen Fair Grounds, where they’ll get a chance to compete for trophies and prizes.
“Clubs all around the county will be presenting,” Marissa said. “The animals are judged based off of how they’re presented. You also have your showmanship and how the person who is in charge of the animal interacts with the animal itself.”
According to Marissa, projects can last for many years. “There’s always more you can do with it,” she said. “There’s different levels of each project.”
Courtney said she chose working with Penelope as her project because she likes pigs and finds a lot of enjoyment from them.
“They are really smart animals,” she said.
By the time she’s ready to present Penelope to the judge at the 4H fair in August, she hopes to have more control over her.
“The judge will see which pig reacts the best, which is the most calm, and which one responds to the cues in a certain way,” Courtney said.
Lauren Lyons of Southbury, who is the mother of Flanders 4H members Abigail, 8, and Gabriel, 6, said through the club, kids learn from one another and from the leadership of the older club members.
Marissa said at Flanders 4H, young people learn “life skills, leadership, career pathways, how to vouch for yourself as a person, and shape your character and personality — You learn to find yourself.”
For more information, visit flandersnaturecenter.org and click on “Current Calendar” under “Programs and Events.”