POMARIA — The name Isaac means laughter, but gardening is a serious matter for 6-year-old Isaac Epting.
This spring, he rolled up his sleeves and helped with a 4-H pilot project garden at Springfield Place. He also uses his green thumb on a 4-H garden at his Pomaria home.
Isaac has a row nearly 75 feet long where he raises cream peas, pink ladies, heirloom tomatoes, okra, watermelon, bell peppers, eggplant, jalapeno peppers and Lima beans.
He started in February with seeds and a hot box, and with his mom’s help, Isaac brought the plants in at night.
Now that they are in rows, he still tends to the plants almost every day.
“I have to water my plants and take care of them and save them from the weeds,” Isaac said.
He has learned more about gardening and ecology, such as the role insects play in food production.
“Ladybugs are good for my garden because they eat the bad bugs,” he said.
In keeping with promoting helpful insects, Isaac said he wants a bee keeper’s suit for his birthday so he can help his family raise bees.
His older brother Eli also does 4-H, but Eli works more with goats than gardens, specifically Wethered African Boers. His goat, Jack, he said, is a bit wild but they are working on leash training so he will be ready to perform when judging season begins.
But what started as a 4-H goat project grew and the family now has its own goat herd.
“Mom learned about the goat project on the 4-H website,” he said. “She was looking for something in the area for (her kids) to do.”
His mother, Sarah, liked the idea of the goat project due to the shorter time period versus that of cows, four to five months versus 18 months.
The family didn’t intend to have its own goat herd but it sort of happened.
“We needed to have a pair so the goat could have a bucking companion,” she said.
They started with a 20 x 20 foot kennel that evolved into a movable pen.
Then they brought in a few does and next thing they knew the herd took off. Now the Eptings raise goats for meat and milk.
The project helped her in more ways than just as an activity for her boys.
Epting’s system cannot process cow’s milk but she can drink goat’s milk just fine, which is another reason for the expanded goat herd. The family goats eat vegetable scraps and other goodies but wethers, or castrated males, must be fed more particular diets.
The family lives on a 20-acre farm in Pomaria, about three to four acres of which are pasture, and Sarah Epting also works as manager of the Newberry County Farmer’s Market. He checks the fences now via his go-cart.
Creative 4-H training regimen
To get ready for show season last year, Eli walked his goat every day and he continues that routine this year. He and his parents added a twist though.
They put feed in the back of their van and drove around the field as the goat followed, sort of like a donkey following a carrot.
In time the goat began to walk beside Eli simply for the goodies the goat smelled in his pocket.
He said raisins and cheese crackers were the treat of choice, though he feeds his goats special goat feed.
“The fun part is that it is so hands on. The boys have been present for the birth of most of the baby goats on the property,” Sarah Epting said. “I love that aspect where they learn where food comes from and to appreciated it and respect it,” she said.
Eli, 9, said he was excited for the 4-H to have a goat club this past year for the first time.
He did the garden project one year and he’d love to do robotics but scheduling conflicts made that impossible in recent years.
The boys are home schooled and attended Arron’s High School Academy in the afternoons so they can experience a classroom and be in an environment with their peers while still reaping the benefits of being home schooled.
Their father helps with math and earth sciences but the rest of the teaching falls to their mom.
Eli also helped 4-H set up for its speech competition held earlier this year at Springfield Place but he said of all his 4-H involvement, Eli said he liked the goat project best.
“I learned goats need a lot of time, at least 30 minutes per day, and special farm show goat feed,” he said. “People should join the club because it is really fun to have animals and do robotics and stuff.”
So far Eli has sold four billies through the 4-H project.
He hopes to expand his 4-H involvement to include more activities but that depends on his family’s schedules. Since Eli and Isaac have older siblings, travel time and other factors must be considered but their mom said she tries to get them to as many 4-H things as possible.
For the Epting family 4-H has become a way of life, one they’d like to share with others in the community.
4-H is looking for more members for a variety of activities. For more information about 4-H contact Clemson Extension Agent Alana West at 276-1091 extension 111 or find the Newberry 4-H page on Facebook.