Menifee Youth Learn Hands-On in Perris Panthers 4-H Club

Emilee Parco, 15, aims at a haystack target during archery practice at a recent 4H club meeting....

Emilee Parco, 15, aims at a haystack target during archery practice at a recent 4H club meeting.
Members of a local 4-H club want the community to know they're doing so much more than creating future farmers of America.

In fact, that's only a stereotype.

Lucy Cadenhead, 9, aspires to be a veterinarian, while 15-year-old Emilee Parco wants to be a labor and delivery nurse. Club president Courtney Baze, 17, is only thinking about which college to attend.

None of them are interested in farming, yet they're still members of the Perris Panthers 4-H Club, the longest standing organization in Riverside County that focuses on science, healthy living, and food security. The club is comprised primarily of Menifee residents and meets at the Antelope Menifee Rural Center on Haun Road.

Established in this area in 1953, the club has welcomed children ever since for the fun, while parents have been keeping them there for the empowerment.

Ask any mother or father at a recent meeting why their son or daughter is involved, and they're likely to use the words "responsibility" and "life skills."

The variety of projects 4-H offers is what helps youth grow. There are currently 20 different projects available in the club, including art, welding, cooking, animal showing, archery, and more. The group also offers opportunities in leadership, public speaking and community service.

Denise Parco, community leader of Perris Panthers 4-H, emphasized that the kids mostly run the club. The parents' only job is to supervise children as they raise animals, learn how to use a bow and arrow, decorate cupcakes, and more.

At left, Lucy Cadenhead learns the anatomy of a pig during a swine meeting exercise.

It's this hands-on learning that attracted Chris Castaing to 4-H when he was a kid, and why he got his 8-year-old son, Connor, involved.

"I wanted him to be in it because of all the things it exposes you to," he said. "And I don't want him to always be thinking of himself."

Connor's favorite part about 4-H is raising turkeys to show at the Perris Fair in October. Children ages 5 to 8 can show smaller animals, such as rabbits, chickens, turkeys and guinea pigs. Members age 9 and up can show larger animals, such as pigs, horses and goats.

Members can win awards for showing animals and sell them to buyers. Turkeys, chickens and pigs are sold for their meat.

"He's good at not getting attached," said Connor's mother, Jennifer. "He understands what it's for, and it never bothers him when it's time for them to go."

Connor is still too young to raise larger animals, but his father, Chris, is leading the club's swine project.

"This is a project that gives kids the chance to learn significant responsibility," he said. "They have to feed, clean, give their pig medications, and learn how the whole process works."

Members raise their pig from May to October. During that time, they must keep a record book on their animal and write letters inviting buyers to the fair.

Parco said raising animals from birth up until the time they meet the butcher's knife teaches children where their food comes from.

"Kids just know their mom goes to the store, buys chicken and cooks it," she said.

Everything, from the animal to the feed to the butchering, is done locally so kids can better understand how it all works.

"There's always one or two kids who get emotional, but from the beginning we tell them they're doing this for something to be served on the table, so don't get attached to it," she said.

Besides the poultry that the club orders from a nearby hatchery, parents must buy their children an animal to raise. According to Parco, pigs cost around $150. Add in the food and other swine equipment, and the total can reach $500.

When it comes time to selling at the fair, members are able to get back the money they invested and make more.

Parco's children, who've been in the club for several years now, put their money away in savings accounts. Her 12-year-old son, Ethan, already bought his first car with the money he made selling swine and turkeys. Parco said he'll spend the next four years fixing up the truck he purchased until he's of legal driving age.

Animal showing is a large part of 4-H, which is why many people associate the club with farming and agriculture. But Parco, who was a member of the Perris Panthers 4-H as a child, stressed that it's much more than that.

According to her, the four H's stand for head, heart, health and hand. The club teaches children to think clearly, be loyal, live healthy, and give back. They try to make these values tangible with every project they take on.

Despite its name, the Perris Panthers 4-H Club is comprised of Menifee residents who meet in the city regularly. Parco said the club was started by John Harrison, who lived in the Menifee area but held the meetings in Perris because that's where his feed store was, and still is, located. The name frequently causes confusion, but Parco would like to keep it because of its history.

There are currently 53 members, the majority of them being under 9 years of age.

Unlike other 4-H organizations nearby, the Perris Panthers don't cap their membership. They encourage people from surrounding areas to join, and are always looking for more volunteers to introduce new projects into the group.

It costs $70 to join for a year. An enrollment night will be held on July 8 from 4-8 p.m. at the Antelope Menifee Rural Center, located at 31850 Haun Road. There will be tables displaying information about projects the club offers, and current members will be there to answer questions.

To learn more about the Perris Panthers 4-H Club, visit or like them on Facebook. Email Parco at for more information.

Using lemons and dye, Alexis Nachtmann teaches Karissa Derham, 12, Sierra Knox, 13, and Emilee Parco, 15, how to give a pig vaccinations during a swine meeting exercise.


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