INDIAN RIVER COUNTY, Fla. – At 14, Joseph Semprevivo can tell you a lot about self-sustainability. He strives to live it every day while enjoying the things that a high school student can.
When he isn’t engaged in class or serving as president or vice president of the local chess, archery and Florida 4-H clubs, he is focused on tending to the animals on his family’s Vero Beach ranch. You might also see him growing and selling his own herbs, vegetables, fruit, eggs and organic fertilizer.
Now, as the proud winning entry of the Florida 4-H Dairy Heifer Chain Program, Semprevivo is taking his first steps toward possibly establishing his own cattle herd as he continues his sustainable lifestyle. Thanks to the generosity of Robin and D.J. McGlothern, the owners of Irish Oaks Farms in Belle Glade, the Florida 4-H program has selected Semprevivo to receive one of the farm’s dairy heifers, Cocoa. Now the Florida 4-H youth is on a journey to raise the calf, show her at local fairs and educate others about reducing their footprint.
“It makes me feel good that there are people who will donate animals,” said Semprevivo. “Mr. D.J. and Mrs. Robin of Irish Oaks Farms have been so kind and full of knowledge. I want to use Cocoa to learn more about cattle and further my animal knowledge. Being that she is a dairy cow, I want to teach self-sustainability to those who want to learn.”
The 4-H Dairy Heifer Chain program is made possible by the Florida dairies that donate calves. The program’s premise is for the recipient to raise, care for, train and show the gifted calf at the state fair. Eventually, the calf will grow to breed a new calf for the next recipient. Heifers are female cattle that have not had their first calf; dairy cattle are cattle breeds developed for milk production.
In addition to caring for the animal, youth work with a local veterinarian and their county’s 4-H Extension agent to make sure their animal gets routine medical care. As part of the training component of their animal, they must show at the state fair by teaching it to be led around the ring and stop on cue for judging.
“Like any animal project, youth learn a tremendous amount of responsibility and establish a work ethic, as a living creature is counting on them daily for their care,” said Chris DeCubellis, animal sciences state specialized agent for Florida 4-H, the youth development program of UF/IFAS Extension.
“They also learn decision making skills, record keeping skills and gain confidence as they enjoy progress and success with their project animal,” DeCubellis said.
At the fair, youth must be prepared to talk to the public about their animal and share their knowledge. In that time, the program helps participants gain skills in science, problem solving and communication, all critical to workforce development.
Semprevivo is no stranger to raising animals, public speaking or sharing information to interested parties, explains his mother, Memory Semprevivo.
“He is an enthusiastic entrepreneur and a self-starter by all means,” she said. “As the oldest of eight siblings, he is always learning and looking for ways to grow news things and be self-reliant. He’s managed to have us use his own moringa crop for health benefits. He is also no stranger to being on television or radio shows.”
Since his elementary school years, the young Semprevivo has been tending to animals including pigs, sheep, chicken and cattle on the family’s 10-acre property, showing the animals at local fairs. Currently, he produces and sells his own organic mint, basil, parsley, moringa, sweet potato, corn, mangos, sapote and organic fertilizer. He collects unwanted banana trees from anyone who doesn’t want them on their property and has started his own banana farm on his parents’ property.
His interests are varied, and daily tasks are many as he is also dual-enrolled in college courses. As vice president of the local 4-H club, his evening pastime is to continue learning about what he grows and raises, which now includes Cocoa, his latest ranch addition.
“I have to train her, and I know that will take time and patience for both of us,” he said. “We are planning the shows we will go to. I’m working her every day so I can walk into the show ring with confidence.”
–Lourdes Mederos, UF/IFAS