4-H projects provide more than milk and honey

ABBOTSFORD, B.C. — Mark Schmidt is taking no chances as he approaches a buzzing bevy of bees.

Looking ready to land on the moon in white coveralls and a white screened helmet, he slowly reaches into the hive box to remove the frames lined up like folders in a filing cabinet.

“You can never learn everything about them because there’s so much to learn,” he said, noting how each of the bee’s dances indicates what food they’re bringing to the hive and what kind of flower it came from.

The 15-year-old, who was among the first 4-Hers in British Columbia to work with honeybees, also has a goat project with the Fraser Valley Footprints 4-H Club.

This year, he will share what he’s learned at fairs in Abbotsford, Maple Ridge and Vancouver and learn more about agriculture at Food for Thought.

“People tend to be less aware of what’s happening in agriculture,” said Schmidt, recalling people at past shows calling a llama an emu or a goat a calf.

As busy as his bees, Schmidt also plays rugby, piano, violin and upright bass.

“It keeps me from being bored,” he said.

Schmidt does his chores before and after high school, which includes treating his bees for varroa mites and watching for tracheal mites that will keep them grounded.

“You can’t see them. You have to tell from the symptoms,” he said.

A safe distance from the bees, his goats are milling about in pens and a cherry red barn.

Schmidt is swarmed as he wades past them holding treats.

“You get connected to them,” he said of the goats’ personality, character and spunk.

“They want to play with you and hop on you.”

He trains them to carry packs and navigate obstacle courses and also shows does and kids together to demonstrate how breeding characteristics pass from mother to kid.

Schmidt aspires to be a veterinarian, so he is benefitting from his life on a farm with six cattle, two alpacas and seven llamas that protect the goats.

“They’re as strong as a horse but can kill a coyote pretty quickly with their kick,” he said.

Mark and his mother, Heather, said 4-H helps members learn the basics about agriculture.

Schmidt’s parents did not grow up on farms but bought this five acre farm in Abbotsford to raise their four children amidst a semi-rural lifestyle.

Heather said 4-H parents help with picking and financing projects as well as shuttling members and leading the club, whose ages range from nine to 17.

“4-H is a great leadership program,” she said.

It has taught her son how to interact with the public, give presentations, run meetings and set agendas, which has benefitted him at school, where he receives high school credits for 4-H work.

Heather believes children do better in activities when parents get involved.

“If kids are in it, we are in it,” she said.

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