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Park Rapids family focused on 4-H

SHANNON GEISEN/ENTERPRISE Miranda Kowalke, 7, tends to “Daisy,” a Black Polish rabbit. This breed, also known as “Little Aristocrat,” is one of the smaller domestic rabbits. As a Cloverbud, Miranda can bring three general projects and two animals to the county fair.1 / 2
Blake Kowalke chased insects through field and forest, with his homemade net in hand. Mom Richelle made the net out of tulle and wire. Sometimes bugs cooperated, landing on a family member. That’s how Blake caught the Spinx moth. It settled on his dad, Darin. After capture, bugs were placed in a “killing jar” with nail polish remover-infused cotton balls. Each is neatly pinned and labeled for the county fair exhibit. 2 / 2

On their 80-acre farm east of Park Rapids, the Kowalke family is a virtual 4-H factory.

Mallory, 11, has 72 projects prepped for the Hubbard County Fair, topics ranging from aerospace and sewing to food preservation and crafts.

"I like them all," says Mallory of her 4-H endeavors.

Brother Blake, 9, is no slouch. He has 65 projects.

Blake’s pièce de résistance is his substantial bug collection, featuring a white-lined Sphinx moth, a Clouded Sulphur butterfly and 30-some other insects. The budding entomologist also likes cows.

They’ll be exhibiting every animal species, except horse and sheep, this year.

The family farm is home to alpacas, ducks, rabbits, turkeys, chickens, goats and cows.

Youngest sibling Miranda, 7, will be showing her rabbit "Daisy" and calf "Clementine."

They are all members of the Stony Lake Beavers 4-H club, and mom Richelle is the leader.

4-H is truly a family affair for the Kowalkes.

Cousins Joel Kowalke, 11, and Sam Kluck, 10, were drawn into 4-H action last fall. After tagging along to club meetings, they soon wanted to join the activities, says Richelle. This will be their first time exhibiting at the county fair.

"I like that the whole family can be involved and we’ve sucked in the nephews," she said.

Grandmothers on both sides of the family assist with 4-H projects as well.

One grandma is a master gardener, explained Richelle, so she shared her green thumb with the children, nurturing both traditional gardening and Miranda’s fairy garden.

An avid seamstress, grandma also taught all the children – girls and boys – how to use a sewing machine. They constructed athletic shirts, a dress, a quilt and a fabric version of tic tac toe.

"It’s fun to have those generations helping with projects and sharing their expertise," Richelle said. "It’s passing it on to kids. It’s a life skill. There’s a lot of that in 4-H."

Growing up on a farm in Perham, Richelle was involved in 4-H as a child.

"It’s about the memories, and they are learning," she said of her own children’s involvement today.

Youth in kindergarten through second grade may join 4-H Cloverbuds. Cloverbuds do the same projects as older 4-Hers, but in an age-appropriate, non-competitive way. They complete fun activities under the guidance of parents or other mentors.

4-Hers (third grade through one year after high school) regularly meet to work on youth-led projects, community service and leadership skills.

There are seven 4-H clubs in Hubbard County: Stony Lake Beavers, Green Valley Livewires, Pine Cones, Laporte Comets, Shell Prairie Gophers, 4-H Riders and the newest club, Hubbard Prairie Dogs.

Membership has blossomed in recent years. Richelle has a roster of 40 kids in the Stony Lake Beavers Club. They meet monthly.

Throughout the year, the Kowalke set aside time each day to work on a county fair project or two, in addition to caring for their animals. Completed work is carefully stowed away until mid-July.

"They’re sacred until after the county fair," said Richelle.

A Hubbard County 4-H codes book sets out detailed requirements for each project area.

"I call it the Bible of 4-H," said Richelle.

County fair judges award ribbons according to the 4-Her’s knowledge of his or her exhibit (50 percent) and the quality of the exhibit (50 percent). Using a conference-style format, judges quiz 4-Hers about their projects.

There’s a separate codes book for animal science exhibits. Each species must meet certain standards.

The Kowalkes are busily preparing the animals – shaving, bathing, combing.

Mallory will continue last-minute training with her alpacas. They’ll must pass through an obstacle course, similar to one used for dogs.

"Mine doesn’t quite like backing up. She spits at you," Mallory explains.

"Mallory is short enough, she ducks," said Richelle, adding that persistence pays off for both the animal and the 4-Her.

Thanks to recent downpours, the alpacas "look like drowned rats," she joked.

The Kowalkes lease a couple of their animals to fellow 4-Her Emma Bliss. Last year, she earned a blue ribbon at the state fair with one of the Kowalke’s goats.

The family will camp at the fairgrounds this week so they can feed and water their seven pens of cows, three goat pens, one alpaca pen, 18 rabbit pens, plus chickens and turkeys.

4-Hers are judged on herdmanship. Judges make twice daily inspections of the animal exhibits.

"So the kids are going to be busy just keeping pens clean," said Richelle." No carnival time."

The 4-H horse show is 8:30 a.m. Thursday, followed by the poultry show at noon. General livestock judging is Friday morning at 8 a.m. Llama judging is also held at the livestock arena at 3 p.m. Friday. The dog exhibition is 6 p.m. Saturday.

All 4-H youth who receive a champion or reserve champion placing in any project are invited to participate in the Parade of Champions at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, July 17. Special awards will be handed out to top 4-H exhibitors, along with other 4-H awards, at 3 p.m.

CUTLINE: Blake Kowalke chased insects through field and forest, with his homemade net in hand. Mom Richelle made the net out of tulle and wire. Sometimes bugs cooperated, landing on a family member. That’s how Blake caught the Spinx moth. It settled on his dad, Darin.

After capture, bugs were placed in a "killing jar" with nail polish remover-infused cotton balls. Each is neatly pinned and labeled for the county fair exhibit.

CUTLINE: 4-H newbies Joel Kowalke and Sam Kluck assembled model rockets, dabbled in painting and tended various farm animals. "This is their first year, so we’re just trying a little of this and a little of that to find their interests," said Richelle Kowalke, their aunt.

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