Becoming Gabby: How 4-H Changed Her World

By Rachel Coleman, Photos by John Kidd

Who says you can’t do it all?

At just 15 years old, Gabriella Miyoshi is well on her way to becoming a Renaissance woman, thanks to her spirit and determination—and a little club called 4-H.

“When Gabriella was younger, her dad left and she had a really hard time with that,” said her mother, Kim Miyoshi.  “She was kind of very to herself and would never speak in front of anybody or anything like that.”

These days, however, it’s hard to say where you might find her—at a local event educating the public, at a farm taking care of her award-winning cow and new calf, or at the regular meeting of the Maybrook 4-H group—which she founded herself two years ago.

“When she joined 4-H [it all] changed.  It brought her out of her shell,” said Miyoshi.  “She does so much now that she would have never done before. It gave her confidence, she made some great friends, and learned that things aren’t so bad that you can’t overcome it.”

It all started innocently enough at an open house for 4-H just five years ago.  Gabriella—or Gabby, as she introduces herself today—was interested in the animals, but quickly realized that 4-H offered a wide variety of opportunities.

4-H is an informal education program for youth across America to learn leadership, citizenship and life skills.  Their programs are “grounded in the belief that kids learn best by doing.”  Kids complete hands-on projects in areas like science, health, agriculture and citizenship, through the mentorship of individuals from the Cornell Cooperative Extension.

Youth can concentrate on one focus area or they can try a variety of programs throughout their 4‑H experience. Some of those programs include: rocketry, sewing, animal science (horses, cows, sheep, goats, poultry and rabbits), woodworking, photography, cooking, theater, robotics, outdoor explorers and public speaking, just to name a few.

“You could do anything really in 4-H.  There’s something for everyone,” said Gabby.

Gabby was originally in a 4-H group in New Windsor, as well as Girl Scouts.  When she moved to Maybrook two years ago, she was disappointed to find that neither group existed in the village—so she decided to start her own 4-H club.

The Maybrook 4-H club is a “general interest” club, meaning that they do a little bit of everything, rather than focusing on just one program, such as geocaching.

“Pretty much anything you’d like to do, we’ll do it,” said Gabby.  “We’ll do anything you’re interested in—especially something you wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else.  If you want to experience it, we’ll figure out a way to do it.”

Currently the group features elements of STEM-related projects (science, technology, engineering and math), community service and more.  They often join forces with neighboring clubs for different events and classes, like the one Gabby hosted recently at the Maybrook Senior Center on “insect hotels.”

Master Gardeners from Cornell Cooperative Extension came and taught youth from Maybrook, Montgomery and Pine Bush about beneficial pollinators and how to build “insect hotels” so that they can convince their flying, creeping and crawling tourists to stay at their home gardens.

Gabby and the rest of her club want to give back to the community, so they participate in as many village events as possible.  They often glean at local farms and orchards as well, gathering food that would otherwise go to waste and donating it to local food pantries.

The Maybrook 4-H club also participates in Dairy Explorers, an annual summer program which teaches youth about milking machines and the path milk takes from the cow to the grocery store.  Youth also learn how to raise a calf, feed it, brush it and on the last night, are able to walk it around a ring like they would in a show.

Gabby is very involved in public speaking and participates not just locally, but also on the county, district and state levels.

“My friend and I were both very antisocial before we got into 4-H.  Now, we’ll pretty much talk your ear off all day,” said Gabby.

Gabby is also interested in cooking.  She will be entering the Produced in New York cooking competition at the end of August.  Participants have to cook a recipe using New York State ingredients in under 30 minutes for the judges.

“I’m in pretty much everything,” Gabby admitted.  “Not everyone is in five clubs. I do it because I like things from every club and then I try to incorporate it all into the Maybrook club.”

Gabby explained that in 4-H, everyone likes to make what they find interesting available for everyone else, which exposes their group to things they wouldn’t have seen before.

“You get to experience new things with new people and they become your family,” said Gabby.

When Gabby first joined 4-H, she participated in a program that introduced youth to life on a farm. After moving to Maybrook, she began going to Spruce Gate Farm in Walden.

“I never grew up on a farm, but now I work on a farm every day,” said Gabby.

Gabby usually spends 3-4 hours at the farm unless she has something going on at school or with her 4-H group, and said she learns something new every minute she’s there.

“I enjoy the mental challenge of learning new things every day,” said Gabby.

She then passes on what she has learned to others, whether at public events, through the Dairy Explorers program, or by answering the most popular question among her youngest audiences: “Do brown cows make chocolate milk?”

Over time she’s come to realize that dairy farmers “don’t get the credit they deserve” and typically receive just 5 to 10 cents for a gallon of milk.  Meanwhile, the work is hard and constant and milk companies are fighting just to stay alive.

“People don’t see it. It’s not a struggle that’s well-known,” said Gabby.

The most surprising thing she’s learned at the farm is just how big cows really are.  Even at a respectable 5’6”, Gabby feels positively tiny next to the cows.

“They’re 1,500 pounds of pure muscle and kind of intimidating,” said Gabby.  “It’s kind of shocking to see how an animal of that size can be such a mush like a dog.”

Gabby explained that each cow has its own personality, from those that are shy to those that are friendly or grumpy.  She has developed a close relationship with all of them over the last couple years, cleaning up after them and above all, entertaining them.

“They’re just like people.  If you hug them, they really appreciate it,” said Gabby.

Gabby’s love of cows and time on the farm led to leasing her own cow at Spruce Gate, a 3-year-old named Bree.  Gabby has cared for her and trained her since she was just a few days old.

“At first she was my baby.  Then she had two kids and now she thinks that I’m her child.  In her mind, she’s 30 years old,” said Gabby.

Recently, Gabby added a calf to their “herd” named Sunnie.  At just 8 weeks old she’s not performing in any shows just yet, but her training is only beginning.

Gabby and Bree however, have competed and this past year Gabby received the top award for dairy science and a $500 scholarship.  Bree took home the supreme championship and senior best of breed.

Back in 2016, Gabby was presented with the 4-H Leadership Award and the Progression Award for a 4-H member who has demonstrated forward momentum and growth in participation, mastery and leadership.  She has also obtained her Silver Award through the Girl Scouts.

Gabby will be a junior this fall at Valley Central High School and she is already looking ahead to college, where she intends to major in food science and minor in animal science.  In the meantime, she’s caring for her cows, getting ready for the 4-H showcase at the end of July, and looking forward to the cooking competition in August.  And, all the while, welcoming new members and programs to the Maybrook 4-H Club.

“Life’s too short not to absorb as much as you can,” said Gabby.

For more information or to join Maybrook 4-H, call: (845) 344-1234.

 

SIDEBARS

 

Youth in 4-H can choose from over 85 projects and activities including:

  • Robotics
  • Public Speaking
  • Environmental Science
  • Sewing
  • Filmmaking and Photography
  • Woodworking
  • Theater
  • Cooking and Nutrition
  • Rocketry
  • Geocaching
  • Animal Science (Horse, Dairy, Sheep, Goats, Rabbits, Poultry and Camelids)

 

4-H Programs

  • Cloverbud Clubs – for children ages 5 to 7
  • 4-H Clubs – for youth ages 8 to 12
  • Teen Programs – for youth ages 13 to 19
  • After School Programs – for agencies and organizations
  • School Science Programs – for school districts

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