Zethan Hill has a sense of humor, which is handy both in life and as a member of 4-H.
His first meat or market goat was named Joe. Zethan had been advised by goat veterans not to become attached to Joe. Good advice.
One day, after the fair was over, Zethan came home and asked his mother what was for dinner.
"Sloppy Joes," she said.
Joe was not only a good goat but "he tasted good too."
It's popular, almost a sport, for the old to criticize the young. They don't work as hard, appreciate as much or display adequate manners.
We can start with Zethan, Anika Parks and Linda Sneddy, 16-year-olds who are building empires goat by goat, leadership conference by leadership conference and one pre-dawn morning after another.
Anika, Linda and Zethan have the following things in common: they are home- schooled, have raised pygmy goats, and recently achieved the All Star designation in 4-H.
An All Star is to 4-H what an Eagle Scout is to scouting. It is a grand achievement on the kid's part and usually requires a Joan of Arc-like sacrifice on the parents' part. Only three students were chosen from Kern County for the designation this year.
Applications include an interview, a PowerPoint presentation (Linda's was on peer pressure), a team work project, and the high school student must have earned at least a Gold Star ranking in 4-H.
After being chosen, an All Star must embrace the white binder or the record book. Embracing something that dwarfs an NFL playbook, means detailing every period, dash and dollar sign of their 4-H experience for the next year: project meetings, expenses, income, community service, citizenship activities and all things grown or raised. Most keep it current as they go along, but a few, and Zethan may be one, opt for the all-nighter way of catching up.
Recently, Anika, Linda and Zethan came to The Californian's offices to chat. Sincere, well-spoken, crisp, look-you-in-the-eye. I would have adopted any of them or given them a job, if I had a job to give.
I thought I knew something about 4-H but I didn't, so the three All Stars set me straight. 4-H is not just about raising pigs, meat goats, chickens, turkeys, rabbits, spring heifers and lambs for the fair.
4-Hers can pursue excellence in sewing, horticulture, Hawaiian dancing, sports appreciation, veterinary science, shooting and gun safety, entomology and a boatload of other activities.
Last year's big event for the All Stars was a leadership conference at Disneyland that was more than riding the Tea Cups. The students learned how Walt Disney built an empire by saying, "Yes I can," rather than "The obstacles are so formidable I might as well roll over and put my feet in the air and give up."
One of their leadership exercises had the All Stars walking through Disneyland arm-in-arm without losing contact. The goal was to communicate with one another and with the other patrons without inciting a Disneyland riot.
Walt Disney would have been proud.
Animals, animals, animals
The All Stars' days are busy, but hands-on busy, and in a way that might be more satisfying than the high school experience many of us had. Although 4-H doesn't have to involve raising animals, Linda, Anika and Zethan do, which makes their days packed.
For example, Linda is up at 6, feeds her chickens, starts school work by 8, works four hours at the Bakersfield Large Animal Veterinary Hospital on Mondays and Thursdays, takes piano and bagpipe lessons, is the president of the 4-H club, goes to the gym five days a week, travels to UC Riverside for bagpipe band practice on Sundays, has bagpipe competitions once a month with the band and plays bagpipes for weddings, funerals, Veterans Day and Bakersfield Police Department events. In her free time, she draws, paints and relaxes at night with an episode of "Doctor Who," "Bones," "Sherlock" or "Once Upon a Time."
"My parents help make this happen and give up a lot to do that -- like we drive a really old car," Linda said.
Anika, in addition to caring for her pygmy and Boer (meat) goats, takes seven classes -- including FFA agriculture and advanced placement U.S. history and chemistry -- and also does four hours of ballet, tap, modern or pointe a day.
Zethan, one of nine brothers with four sisters, is raising a pig this year. He is a good caretaker, but knows enough to keep his distance.
With pork chops and breakfast bacon a possibility, who can blame him?